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!


  1. Congrats Drew! It's great to see this lucrative fish has been added to your master angler collection. Glad all the research and long hours have paid off!

  2. Correct me if I'm wrong Drew, but the V.M.A. whitey was caught on Dave's rod, so wouldn't it be his fish? Just kidding, congrats man. "What a long strange trip it's been".

  3. Great read! THATS RIGHT THE WOMEN ARE SMARTER, THATS RIGHT!! Good stuff, congrats.

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