Monday, February 20, 2017

Vermont Master Angler Whitefish

Lake whitefish. I have spent much of my thought process on lake whitefish in Lake Champlain over the past 3 years considering these fish. What they eat, where they are and how to catch them. I spent that time compiling evidence through reading and conversations, and when there was ice, time out fishing for them. It has been both challenging and rewarding, but yesterday all of it paid off. 

I spent Saturday fishing by myself. First on, last off the ice in that particular location. It's a good spot. Pretty close to where I lost the fish a couple of weeks ago. Not the most fun walk when I initially got there at 5:30. I got into some perch. Had fun. Time alone on the ice can be like that. Also frustrating. Whitefish are frustrating. There is little question of that. 

My buddy Dave was joining me for Sunday. It is really nice to be out on the ice with
Dave and the hub. 
someone else. I had some gear that was going to make all the difference in the world: an 8" auger and a hub style shelter. I lost the last whitefish at the hole in part because when the fish got to the hole it wasn't going to easily fit through. Between the larger hole and the homemade gaff that I brought, I wasn't going to loose the next one that I got into. 

Dave and I walked through the slush to get out to where I wanted to be. I shifted the location a bit from where I had been the day before. This was partly due to the conditions near where I had been Saturday, but also because it was close to the edge of a small flat I was working. Edges are good. We were in about 55 feet of water. That thought process paid off. 

Sebile Vibrato- rather alewife like...
We set up, and for quite a while, not a thing was happening. Not even perch. The Vexilar was quiet, top to bottom. We had three rods rigged: two were set up for jigging soft plastics, both with a heavy tungsten jig for weight at the bottom and a drop shot hook with a soft plastic about a foot over it just above a micro swivel. The other rod had a Sebile Vibrato, which is a jigging spoon that had been suggested to me by John Whyte, an excellent outdoor writer that fishes whitefish on Lake Simcoe in Ontario. The two jigging sticks were Light rods, both in the upper 20 inch range (one 27, the other 28). The Vibrato was on a medium stick that is 26".

We were getting into some perch, but it was not hot and heavy fishing by any means. Dave and I were having a blast. Talking fishing and Dave had the Grateful Dead Channel playing. Sitting on 10" of ice, staring either at a rod tip or at the Vex screen is a lot more fun with a buddy and some great tunes. It was fun to teach Dave something new too. He had never used a Vexilar nor had he ever targeted whitefish. Around 8:30 I reeled up my jigs and said "Let's see if I can shake things up a little bit by flashing the Vibrato through the water column."

Feshly iced
I dropped that thing to the bottom. I smashed it into the bottom three times then raised it up a foot and held it there. BAM! fish on! It was a heavy fish. Definitely heavier than the dink perch that we had mostly been getting. It was a whitefish, I could tell by the fight. Dave said "You were right about the rod throbbing!" The fight on these fish is very different. They use their broad sides and powerful tail to their advantage. You feel every time they use that tail, hence the throbbing sensation when you are playing them. And The Music Never Stopped was playing. Funny how you remember these things. 

The fish started to get close to the hole. Dave grabbed the gaff. This one wasn't getting away. We had talked about how I had used a gaff with my buddy Matt Lavallee a couple of years before with lakers. I had told him a funny story about Matt just gaffing a laker broadside when I figured I was going to release that fish. It was released into a frying pan instead. But a new gaff style was born: the Matt L! 

Whitefish! Look at the light in the background. I commented
to Dave earlier about the light streaming through the clouds
"It was just like that when I got my cisco with Thorny, I feel
good about today."  Truth. 
The fish circled the hole, went on a couple of runs that made me push the tip of the ice rod down the hole to make sure nothing bad happened. Dave got the gaff in there and the Matty L did the trick!  Whitefish landed!!! Bam!!! A great fish! After measuring it, it was 20". A bit short, but this fish was coming home with me. There is an amazing woman that has put up with a whole lot of talk about whitefish (that she mostly tunes out) and talked me off the ledge with whitefish a couple of years ago. I promised her a whitefish and this one was hers. I hope it is super tasty Darienne!

We took some pictures, had some laughs then got back to it. Dave was almost as excited as me. 

Time went by. Perch were playing, but it was not an easy bite. The bigger fish seemed to be suspended and we were getting them thanks to the Vexilar. Without the sonar you would have no idea those fish were there. And periodically we dropped that Vibrato through to see what would happen. No players though. 

Dave needed to grab something and handed me his rod. He had switched the reel to reel lefty. I reel righty. Easy to switch a spinning reel back and forth, but not something I am used to. Then there was weight. A lot of weight. We were both looking down the hole, waiting to see what was going to come up, but both knowing what it was. Dave said it first "That's a whitefish!"

Gaff in hand, Dave deftly hooked it near the dorsal. It came right up through the hole. No crazy fight. A solid fish. My hands were shaking as I took out my tape measure. Seriously shaking. There it was. 22". A Vermont Master Angler whitefish. My most serious fishing quest of the past 3 years on the ice in front of me. Reeled up on the wrong side too! (Well, wrong for me...) Then the photos started. And the hootin' and hollerin'... Yep, that box was now checked. For the record, Women Are Smarter was playing. There might be some wisdom there...

So, the nitty gritty of the set up. It was a Berkely Lightning rod, 27" , a Pfleuger Trion with Trilene Ice Braid in
Mr. Funnyface. Yes, both of them. 
10 pound with Orvis Mirage 5X leader on it. The jig on the bottom was a 5.1 gram tungsten with a Maki Michigan Wriggler with a micro swivel about a foot up. On the line above that was a Gamakatsu #6 Drop Shot hook that was tip hooked with a little crappie soft plastic. That soft plastic had been suggested to me by Dustin at Dockside Outdoors in Colchester. He and I have talked whitefish a lot and the knowledge that the whole crew at Dockside has been willing to share has been amazing. That little glow crappy plastic did the trick. Major props to Dustin for the suggestion! I will be back for more!

That's the one. 

We kept fishing, but honestly, we were both kind of out of it. We got some more perch, and I had something bigger on a Vibrato, but it got off. We walked out, popping holes and fishing our way back around 3. 

I cleaned the fish and filleted them when I got home. The smaller whitefish had a pretty empty stomach. The bigger one, however, had a bunch of alewives in it and some grey matter which I suspect were insects. 

Coregonus clupeaformis. I will be back after you. But first, I have a hybrid to get!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Losing the Whitefish

Making the walk
It started as a gorgeous day. Beautiful sunrise. Pretty cold, but we needed the cold to build the ice. This winter has been difficult on the ice. Warm days have not been kind to making ice on Lake Champlain. I knew with the weather we had had for the week the ice would be in better shape. 

I got out early and set tip ups in hopes of finding a Master Angler pike/pickerel hybrid. I was in a high percentage spot for this species. I was following up on a lead from several people and hopeful. I had done really well here the weekend before. Lots of flags on tip ups. And my good friend Mike would be joining me later on. 

All the holes were drilled, the tip ups set, and I got into a rhythm of jigging for pike. I haven't had a ton of success jigging so far, but it is fun to pass the time doing it. Nothing happening. A bright sunny, cold day. Mike joined me and I popped a few more holes and he set up his tip ups. We started checking the tip ups, and moving a few. When it is cold you have to chip the ice out around the tip up so it doesn't freeze in. At some point I need to make hole covers to make it easier on myself. 

Around 11 Mike started up a stove and cooked us a hot lunch. It really hit the spot. But not a single flag (no tip ups had bait taken). The pike just weren't on at all. An idea struck me and I asked Mike if he would be willing to bring in my tip ups and associated gear. He said that he would be happy to drop it off at my vehicle. I had been given some intel that a guy had hooked a whitefish about a mile from where we were the week before. I could tell that the pike fishing wasn't going to improve and morning fishing the next day proved that to be true as well. So the whitefish hunt began.

I have a harness for dragging my flip over sled. It makes things a lot easier since I have my hands free. I had to walk out to a spot I had thought looked good on Navionics. Navionics is an app that provided a bathymetric map of the bottom of the lake. It is incredibly useful for ice fishing and has helped me find the locations that I want to fish. I would be using charts instead, which would get me in a general location but not the pinpoint spots that I really need. While it isn't perfect, it makes a huge difference. 

I got to the place that I was interested in. It was a small flat near a drop off. It spoke to me. I set up and started fishing. I was using a dropper set up with a Berkely Power Nymph on the top and a heavy tungsten jig on the bottom. The jig had a Maki Plastics Jamei on it. Those things are super wiggly and look pretty similar to a Hexagenia nymph. I know that whitefish love to eat Hex and other critters on the bottom and I thought it seemed like a good combo. 

I got into some perch, some pretty nice ones, but the bit was slow. Then I had a light take and when I started reeling I could tell that this fish was different. It had a lot of weight to it and the fight was much stronger. It didn't pull off line but it did "throb". The rod pulsed as the fish was fighting against me. I took my time getting it up. I threw back the top to my flip over and pulled the sonar puck out of the hole. I didn't want to take any chances. 

Then it was there. The fish was at the hole... it broadsided the hole. It was a massive whitefish. The fish I needed. I kept the rod high with my left hand as I took my glove off with my right. Then it was off. It was off. It sat there under the ice. The ice was pretty clear, only about 4". I could see it clearly not 4 feet away from me. I dropped the jig back in the water as a pathetic attempt to hook the fish, but after about 10-15 seconds, it just swam off. 

Wow. I had it and I lost it. And it was big. The fish took up either side of the hole, so it was at least 6" deep. I could see the entire fish under the ice as well. My guess would be between 24 and 26 inches. I need 22" for the Master Angler Program. I had the fish I needed and it got away. But, I learned from the experience.

I have analyzed what happened. When the fish got to the hole and broadsided the ice the line pulled the jig out. I should have played it longer. When I checked the jig, it wasn't super sharp. I will be checking the points on anything I fish from here on. And I shouldn't have worried about my glove. Just jump in there and get the damn fish. 

The good sides that came from this. I upgraded my auger to an 8". The surface area of a 6" hole is about 28 square inches. An 8" hole is 50 square inches. Big difference and should help tremendously. I know another location. I have already returned there, no other whitefish but a couple of salmon. I will be back there soon (this coming weekend...). I have learned a lot of what not to do but also more about what to do. 

I will have that Master Angler whitefish this year. I am confident of that. Then it is on to the hybrid... 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Master Angler Entries for 2016

I had a lot of fun with the Vermont Master Angler Program in 2016. There were two big challenges for me with it- add to the species total (I started the year at 29 species) and in 2016 the state launched the Bonus Challenge. Being an angler that is completely obsessed with this program (yep, total fanboy... I own it...) I had to get both of these done. And I ended up adding two new species and was only one of two people that got the bonus challenge. 

The two species that I added were the American shad and the cisco. Both really neat fish and deserving their own post each, which will happen soon. 

The Bonus Challenge was a different animal. 5 randomly picked species and there was a prize for the winners.  So that drove me to chase those 5 species, species I had caught before but ones I may not have been quite so driven to chase without the program. More on that in another post soon...

So here all the entries are:

Yellow Perch 13", Lake Champlain

White sucker, 20" Mill River

Bowfin, 29", Lake Champlain

Smallmouth bass

American shad, 26", Connecticut River

Northern Pike, 36", Lake Champlain

Chain pickerel, 24", Lake Champain
Longnose gar, 47", Lake Champlain

Fallfish, 15", Otter Creek

Brown trout, 23", 6 lbs, Lake Champlain

Cisco, 16", Lake Champlain

Landlocked Salmon, 25", Clyde River

Lake trout, 30", Lake Champlain

White perch, 13", Lake Champlain

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Vermont Master Angler Quest- The Final Two- I Could Use Your Help

Hey folks,

January 2017- 37" 10 lb Master Angler pike through the ice
If you have been watching this blog for a while, you will know a couple of things- first, I haven't been posting a lot. Second, you will note that I have been rather obsessed with completing the Vermont Master Angler Program before anyone else. Let me address both of these. 

Why haven't I been posting? Well, honestly, I don't have a lot of excuses. I have been lazy about posting, I have had a lot of other things that I have been doing, and honestly, when fishing for myself I have done a bunch of fly fishing, but I have been exploring other avenues of catching fish. More on that in a later post. 

What is with my obsession with the Vermont Master Angler Program? There are several parts to this:

Master Angler smelt- a massive 9"!
- I love this program! It was set up to show the amazing diversity of the fisheries available to anglers in Vermont. It does that and it has encouraged me to try new techniques, fish in places I never have before and learn more about fish I knew virtually nothing about. All good things!

- It builds excitement for angling in Vermont and recognizes anglers that have caught impressive specimens. The pins are pretty darn cool and only enough are made to provide one to each angler who earns one plus three to have for display. In other words you really have to earn one to get one.

- The last one is the most personal. I don't plan on having children. I don't have any kind of long term career (yet?). But I would like a legacy. I do hold a state record and have clients with IGFA world records but records can (and will be) broken. To be the first to do something is just that- the first. No one else can do that. I can do this with the Master Angler Program.
Master Angler cisco.. a what? A post coming on it soon! My thanks
to Captain Thorny and Cowboy!

I am really close. In the past year I added two species to my total bringing me to 31 out of 33 species. I got an American shad in the Connecticut  River in May and then in September, with the help of Captain Thorny, got a cisco (which would have been another state record... story later). I just have two left- the lake whitefish and the pike/pickerel hybrid. 

Here is where you can help. I work as a paraeducator at a middle school. This means that while I have great benefits and a lot of time off with school breaks, it also means that I don't get paid particularly well. I am an hourly employee and school breaks I don't get paid for. I love my job- I support some really amazing kids that just need some extra help to move forward. That is where I am right now. I want to move forward with my next steps in life but I need to complete this goal first.  

I know that I can get these last two species this winter through the ice. As a matter of fact, I had the whitefish I needed at the hole last weekend and lost it (another post on that soon!). I have a week and a half off at the end of February and beginning of March. That gives me a lot of time to do this. But I need some help financially to help with gas, bait, food, and all the stuff that goes around the end of this quest. With your help (and some luck) I can get this done! 
Master Angler shad. And, yes, just like Jim Morrison once
said "Some of my worst decisions have been haircuts..."

I started a GoFundMe to help out. So far I have had a great response. I hope you will consider helping me out too. I am very close to my goal. I am going to send a personal letter written on the back of one of my Master Angler Certificates to everyone who donates and if you are planning on booking a trip with me this year I will take your donation off the trip. Please help me get this done!

Thank you for reading this! Thank you to all of my generous contributors! Thank you for your consideration! And thank you for all the support that everyone has given me over the years! It means a great deal to me and had helped get me through a lot of rough patches.