When many people think of ice fishing they think perch, crappie and other panfish that are popular with winter anglers. But from the third Saturday in January to the second Saturday in March on Lake Whiloughby in the Northeast Kingdom, fishermen turn their attention to bigger game under the ice. That's when lake trout season has anglers dreaming of twenty-pound-plus lunkers being pulled through the ice. The lake is famous for producing some of the largest trout in New England. A good-size laker trout in Whiloughby is between eight and ten pounds. But in 1986, Barry Cahoon of Danville went into the record books by pulling a twenty-six pounder out of the lake. Going after trout in January isn't for everyone. You have to be willing to dig through two feet of ice and put in some long hours watching your tip-ups in cold conditions. But for many New Englanders a day on the lake is more than just fishing. It's a chance to catch up with old friends, experience nature in the winter and, for a moment, dream a little of a big one on the end of your line. Host Lawrence Pyne joins Barry on a brisk February morning of fishing for big lake trout on Lake Whiloughby.
When the first settlers arrived in Vermont, Lake Champlain teemed with lake trout and land-locked Atlantic salmon. But by the early 1900s, over-fishing, sea lampreys and degraded spawning habitat had wiped out the lake's once great trout and salmon fishery. Thanks to a 30-year cooperative program involving the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, New York DEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the big lake's trout and salmon have come back in a big way. Today, Lake Champlain is one of the country's top producers of lunker lakers and trophy landlocks. Of the two, lake trout are particularly abundant, and they provide a high-quality, year-round fishery. Host Lawrence Pyne heads out onto Lake Champlain with Captain Dick Greenough of Sure Strike Charters in search of lakers. Dick is also the creator of the Hot Item Lure, which can be found at your local bait and tackle shops in the Champlain Valley.
Vermont's Northeast Kingdom abounds with brook trout, in large part because of the helping hand played by a local sportsman's club. Volunteers with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Conservation Group refurbished the former state fish hatchery in Morgan, where they now annually raise thousands of brook trout fry. They oversee an annual program called "The Morgan Hatchery Project" that involves getting members of the community to fan out across the Northeast Kingdom on cross-country skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles to stock local beaver ponds and other remote waters with these colorful, native fish. On a good day volunteers can distribute 60,000 fry to throughout the Northeast Kingdom. Though the stocking benefits the fishing community, the real satisfaction comes from practicing responsible habitat stewardship, and giving back to nature. We follow the brook trout journey from incubation to release on a wintry spring day in Morgan.
For information about volunteering for the Morgan Hatchery Project or for stocking location information, contact Byron Fish at (802) 723-6385.
The Rapid River in Western Maine is 3.2 miles long. Forming an outlet of the Rangeley chain of lakes, it begins at Lower Richardson. From Middle Dam to Lake Umbagog, it drops about 180 feet, making it one of the fastest falling rivers east of the Mississippi. It flows constantly, and with the help of the cool, oxygen-filled water released by Middle Dam, it creates the perfect habitat for trout — big trout. Three- to six-pound native brook trout can be found on the Rapid River along with landlocked salmon that were introduced in the late 19th century. It's a difficult river to get to, but for New Englanders used to pulling in ten-inch "brookies," the Rapid presents a rare opportunity to catch the trophy-sized fish of their dreams. From opening day in May until the end of the season in September, Aldro French of Rapid River Fly-Fishing guides trips on the river. The trout fishing on the Rapid is legendary and, being a guide, French is always asked the same questions: "What's the best week in May? What's the best week in June? What's the best week in July?" According to French, "It's the best week when you hit it and … you're in hog heaven when you hit it because you can catch 40 or 50 fish and half of them would be big fish." French lives and works out of his summer home, Forest Lodge, located near the Lower Dam. It's one of two sporting camps on the Rapid River and is the former home of Louise Dickinson Rich. It was there that the Maine author wrote her bestseller We Took to the Woods in 1942. In this segment, host Lawrence Pyne joins Aldro French on the Rapid River in search of trophy brook trout.
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.
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.
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.