Maine Sportsman VT Column, May 2022
“Open Water Fishing”
May usually brings warming water temps and an itch to get a line in the water. Trout season opens the second Saturday in April in the bulk of the waters of the state but I often find that fishing improves as spring runoff recedes and the water begins to warm up. One of my favorite recipes is freshly caught brook trout with fiddleheads picked near the same stream and I often get that early in the month, especially if I hike toward headwaters of our many streams.
In addition to classic New England brook trout, there are a lot of other fish species out there to chase in VT. A little research and the willingness to get out and try something new can yield some great results and a whole new species to chase. The Department of Vermont Fish and Wildlife recently went through and simplified regulations and while I don’t necessarily find them simple, they are a bit easier to digest than they used to be.
There are basically three kinds of places to fish in Vermont; Lake Champlain, the Connecticut River, or all the stuff in between. Lake Champlain is New England’s largest lake at 440 square miles and it holds an incredible variety of fish and options to target them. There are abundant access areas along the lake, and lots of opportunities to fish from shore as well. This can be big water, so watch the weather. Those anglers with a boat and a Vermont fishing license may fish Lake Champlain west of the Vermont/New York border to the New York shore, but may not fish in South Bay or New York tributaries to Lake Champlain. There are a lot of shoreline options for fishing if you don’t have a boat; from the Colchester Fills along the bike path to the Colchester Point Fishing Access Area on the Winooski River. This access area is an easily-accessible fishing spot within a short walk of downtown Burlington. Check the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife website at www.vtfishandwildlife.com for more information.
Vermont’s warm-water fish is the walleye. The season opens on Lake Champlain the first Saturday in May and the walleye fishing steadily improves through the month as the fish spawn early and then start to return to their more normal haunts as June approaches and they resume their predatory habits. These fish tend to be found near sandy, gravely or rocky bottom areas and associate with structure like sunken rock piles, submerged weed edges and sunken trees or logs that function as cover where they can ambush prey. Their preferred open water feeding temperature is 65-75 degrees F, but they are certainly active below that as well since they are caught through the ice and with early May water temperatures. A number of tactics can work, but these fish are most active at night and early in the season may be found in more shallow water than they are later in the summer. The VT state record walleye was caught through the ice in 2010 on Lake Champlain and weighed in at 14 pounds, 8.8 ounces, but in 2020 there were several walleyes over 10 pounds reported to VT Fish and Wildlife in the month of May.
Walleye are brought to hand early in May on the big lake and one of its tributaries, the Winooski River, with trolling and casting as the primary techniques. Folks I know set up for walleye by fishing a jig tipped with a night crawler, minnow or leech, by trolling or retrieving a spinner and crawler harness near the bottom or using a minnow-shaped crankbait.
Anglers need to remember that there is no open season on sauger, which closely resembles the walleye. These fish can be differentiated by their first dorsal fin which is dusky colored and spotless on walleye. On Champlain the minimum length on walleye is 18” and the limit is three, though it is important to remember that those big fish over 25” are often females that produce upward of 150,000 eggs, so a quick picture and releasing her is always welcome.
The CT River is the longest river in New England, flowing for 406 miles through four states. It holds walleye along most of its length and is an option for folks wanting to target this species coming from the east. I hear about walleye being caught at a number of reservoirs along the eastern border of the state. The regulations are different for walleye on the big river, where no person shall take walleye 16”–18”; the daily limit is four fish, of which only 1 can be larger than 18”. Your Vermont license allows you to fish all waters of the river including the bays, setbacks and tributaries, only to the first highway bridge crossing said tributaries on the Vermont and New Hampshire sides. Thankfully, the tactics on the river are similar to those on Champlain. Many anglers troll for walleye behind one of the several dams that create lake-like fishing, but targeting the spring spawn may allow an angler on foot to have success where the fish move upstream into the inlet areas or tributaries.
If you decide to chase these fish in a boat, remember to clean, drain, and dry it so you don’t move invasives around. Familiarize yourself with the regulations before you go, check here: https://www.eregulations.com/vermont/fishing. The VT F&W Department website is a treasure-trove of information if you’re willing to search around a bit. Get out and have some fun!
Madison Parah of Alburgh, VT with a 27.5 inch, 8lbs, 4oz walleye caught on May 1st of 2021. Photo credit Devin Cameron
(Reprinted with permission, Maine Sportsman)