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When it comes to trout fishing, the upper Connecticut River is a cut above. As it winds its way south between the rugged mountains of northern New Hampshire and northeastern Vermont, New England's longest river offers miles of lightly fished water home to brook, brown and rainbow trout. And the scenic beauty is almost as good as the fishing. The best way to experience this water is to float the river, as we discovered when we hooked up with the oldest drift boat guide services in the North Country for a wonderful afternoon of trout fishing on the upper Connecticut River.
When the leaves fall from the trees and ice begins to form along the shores of Lake Champlain, most anglers have packed their gear and covered their boat for the season. But there is a small group of anglers that are just getting started. As long as there is open water, no matter how cold, Randy Colomb of Waltham, Vt., launches his boat for a thrilling day of winter fishing for lake trout and salmon.
Vermont has long been know for it’s fine trout and salmon fishing, and on Lake Champlain a growing number of anglers are now targeting a species that has historically been overlooked in New England. Channel Catfish are extremely popular in the south but only recently have anglers discovered that these large whiskered fish are also native to Lake Champlain. Ever since the Lake Champlain International fishing derby added catfish to its list of derby species, anglers have been weighing in giant catfish with increasing frequency. These strong bottom-feeding fish are stubborn fighters and real heavy weights and the long lovely lake of the north holds enough big cats to make any southern boy feel right at home.
Ever since 1999 when legendary fisherman Roland Martin won the first major professional bass fishing tournament on Lake Champlain, the big lake has been hooking pro bass anglers from across the country. Lake Champlain’s large size and abundant largemouth and smallmouth bass have made it a favorite destination on the world’s largest bass fishing tours. Even when the fishing’s tough Lake Champlain is still number one with many pros as we discovered when we went fishing with a North Carolina man whose success on Lake Champlain has made him a rising star on the FLW Outdoors tour.
Maidstone Lake was created when glacial ice carved out a deep basin along the northern stretches of the Connecticut River. The deep cold water left behind as a result of the glacier melt is now ideal habitat for salmon, rainbow and lake trout. Like many of the Northeast Kingdom lakes, Maidstone’s fish population was managed through creel surveys to help establish regulations and stocking efforts to provide anglers with a quality fishing experience. In recent years the focus on Maidstone Lake has changed . With access to genetic analysis fisheries biologists are discovering that Maidstone may hold a species of fish that is a direct descendent of the first lake trout left behind by the receding glaciers.
Lake Willoughby has long been known for it's lake trout, salmon and smelt fishing. But there are a handful of Vermonters drilling holes in the spring ice in search of a fish that most locals have never seen, burbot. The only freshwater member of the cod family, these odd looking fish can be found in several of the deep cold northeast kingdom lakes. And they certainly taste a lot better than they look.
Vermont is home to some of the best skiing in Vermont and with that, the state has become home to a growing population of ski bums. People that just can't spend enough time on the slopes during the winter season. Believe it or not this same phenomenon is happening on Vermont's trout streams. We caught up with a couple of young trout bums during the last days of the season on the Middlebury River. These two fishing guides may fish for a living but they also live to fish.
Canoes are perfect for fishing Vermont's countless small ponds. Native Americans developed these simple, versatile vessels over the course of thousands of years and they are well suited to exploring everything from tiny creeks to the shores of Lake Champlain. Today's canoes are lightweight, low maintenance and relatively inexpensive, and they open up a world of hidden waters that are either off-limits or inaccessible to larger boats. We visit Emerald Lake State Park as well as another local pond for some exciting bass fishing.
As winter slowly loosens its icy grip on Lake Champlain, activity on and around the lake is almost nonexistent. But under its slushy surface, it is a different story. As spring approaches, multitudes of fish are gearing up for the spawning season, and many of the lake's bays and marshy setbacks teem with life. For the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, it's the perfect opportunity to begin gathering data for its northern pike management project.
One of the best places to fish for brook trout are beaver ponds. A good beaver pond can hold Vermont's favorite fish in numbers and sizes rarely seen in streams, and a hidden beaver pond teeming with plump, colorful brookies is a treasured discovery. One of the best places to look for a productive beaver pond is Vermont's rugged Northeast Kingdom, especially in the fall, when the orange bellies and red fins of spawning brookies are a perfect compliment to the bright fall foliage. And thanks to the efforts of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Conservation Group, finding a good beaver pond is easier than ever.