With most people on skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles this time of the year, January isn’t generally thought of as being a great time for fishing Lake Champlain — or anywhere for that matter.
Despite the fact that it’s frigid outside, anglers flock to the hard water as ice fishing takes over.
This year, January has brought some great success on Lake Champlain, for both open water angling and ice fishing.
The 120-mile long lake is one of Vermont’s jewels, and during the summer, people flock to it to fish along with various water sports. But who knew that Champlain was twice as busy in the winter than it is during the summer for fishing.
“Lake Champlain attracts twice as much fishing activity during the winter as during the summer, particularly in the northern third of the lake,” said State Fisheries Biologist Brian Chipman. “The plentiful yellow perch is the mainstay of the winter fishery, but many ice anglers also find good fishing for other species.”
Some good spots to try early, according to Fish & Wildlife, include pike hotspots like Kelley Bay, Missisquoi Bay, Dillenbeck Bay, Carry Bay, Keeler Bay, St. Albans Bay, and the area south of the Champlain Bridge from Addison to Benson.
With colder weather and more ice, salmon and smelt can be caught in the Inland Sea north of the Sandbar Causeway, and with even more cold weather, deep water fishing for lake trout can be caught off the west shore of Grand Isle, Outer Mallets Bay, Shelburne Bay, Converse Bay and Button Bay south to the Champlain Bridge.
But right now, it’s all about the panfish and pike.
It’s been the perch that have been showing up in good numbers and featuring some healthy fish with fat bellies as anglers fill buckets, as is usually the case.
The department says Champlain offers landlocked salmon, lake trout, northern pike, yellow perch, white perch, walleye, crappie and smelt.
Ice fishing has really just started on Champlain’s northern reaches in bays and near shore, where ice thickens first.
Already, anglers have been icing some nice perch, pike and sunfish up north with some quality specimens of each showing up on social media sites like Facebook.
Marshall Maynard posted a photo of a real nice perch but wasn’t too keen on giving up where he caught it, and another photo featured a pair of anglers with about three dozen perch on the ice.
A bluegill photo was posted featuring a gill that was the size of a coffee saucer and fat as a shortstack of pancakes.
And Justin Boyer of Colchester posted a photo of a pumpkinseed he caught that he said went 1.02 pounds on a certified scale. The fish was “a little over 10 inches long.”
The current state record pumpkinseed is 1.04 pounds, and Boyer said he caught it prefishing for a tournament on Mallettes Bay two weeks ago.
Joshua Adams of the Fly Rod Shop in Stowe posed for a photo with a fat 36-inch pike, but he wouldn’t fess up online as to where he caught it.
James Vladyka, of Fish Hounds Outdoors in Benson, has been showing off photos of nice looking crappie and bluegills he’d pulled from holes in the ice.
Before the warm up, ice was iffy in some places and a popular tournament moved their operation from Dillenbech Bay to Malletts Bay because of sketchy ice.
Then the warm up hit and made a lot of ice flat out unsafe. Five people went through the ice at one point. All were successfully rescued.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department recommends 6 inches as minimum for humans and they recommend leaving the vehicles on shore.
Safe ice is returning, but some locations will still be dangerous. Follow safety rules, wear a PFD, carry your ice spikes and a throw rope and use a spud to test ice as you go. Most importantly, tell someone where you’re going and take a friend.
But all the action hasn’t been on the ice.
Folks in boats have been catching some great landlocked salmon and lake trout while trolling in deeper water including a 27-inch, 8.5 pound landlocked.
And if you haven’t been out yet this season, don’t forget you need a new fishing license after the first of the year.
For more information on guides and where to go, click over to the Vermont Outdoor Guides Association website at www.voga.org
and click on “ice fishing.”