Feb. 19, 2009
By Tim Simard
Frigid winter temperatures — including record lows in January — have frozen ponds, lakes and Lake Champlain bays in some of the thickest ice in years, according to local ice fishing enthusiasts. Thanks to Mother Nature, the 2008-2009 ice fishing season is producing ideal conditions, and the best fishing might still be in the future.
Observer photo by Pogo Senior
Bill Hollingsworth of Hinesburg waits for a bite while fishing on Monday at the Sandbar, which is located across from Sand Bar State park on Route 2 between Colchester and South Hero.
Reports from fishermen and bait shop owners say the fishing on northern Vermont ponds and lakes have been outstanding, and parts of Lake Champlain have yielded large catches as well.
George LeClair, owner of the outdoor sports store Big River Dog Supply in Hinesburg, said he’s had a hard time keeping ice fishing gear on the shelves. Business is up, and he thinks the struggling economy is causing people to look for outdoor activities that are close to home and relatively inexpensive.
“People are using their money and they’re buying good, quality stuff,” LeClair said. “A lot of people are back to fishing who haven’t been fishing in a long time.”
It’s been so busy, LeClair said, that he has yet to go out on the ice to fish.
And while the early season and mid-season have passed by, some fishermen are gearing up for late winter and early spring conditions. Ice fisherman James Ehlers said the late season is his favorite time of year to get out. Fishing for northern pike and walleye in the spring is one of his favorite pastimes.
“Those are some of the most exciting ice fishing days I’ve ever had,” said Ehlers, who is also the executive director of Lake Champlain International, which hosts fishing derbies in the spring, summer and fall.
“For pike fishing, the best is in March,” he said. “If you get ice into April, it’s even better.”
Ehlers explained that fish’s metabolism slows in late January and early February, making them more lethargic and more difficult to catch. But they start to become more active toward the beginning of spring.
“That’s when they get hungry,” Ehlers said.
And with the frosty temperatures Vermont has experienced this winter, Ehlers believes ice in April could very well happen.
For some, this season on Lake Champlain has been hit or miss. Linda Rosario said she hasn’t been fishing as much as she’d like this winter. And while she’s had some success off Porters Point in Colchester and on Shelburne Bay, it’s not as much as she’d like. Still, it beats staying indoors, she said.
Not long ago, the St. George resident pulled 15 pounds of fish out of the lake near Shelburne. Last year it would have been a typical catch. But this year, the fish haven’t been biting as much and she said she was fortunate in the catch.
“When the big ones come in, you want to be there,” Rosario said. “It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”
LeClair said he’s heard from area fishermen that alewives have been a problem for them. These tiny fish, an invasive species in Lake Champlain, have been a main food source for bigger fish like perch, walleye and pike. As a result, the larger fish are full and less likely to take the bait.
Ehlers has heard the alewife theory, although he’s not sure he believes it.
“I don’t know if that’s fisherman folklore or something,” Ehlers said, claiming that the fishing near Grand Isle and Isle La Motte has been fantastic.
LeClair said he’s been steering a lot of newcomers to the sport to smaller ponds and lakes inland from Lake Champlain. Shelburne Pond in Shelburne, Lake Iroquois on the Williston-Hinesburg town line, Monkton Pond in Monkton, Baldwin Pond in Starksboro and the Waterbury Reservoir toward Waterbury and Stowe have been successful. Shelburne Pond is especially popular with out-of-state fishermen.
“It’s the most fat little pond,” LeClair said.
Ehlers said no matter where people fish, it’s become a long-standing tradition for Vermonters to get outside and enjoy the cold weather.
“It’s important to a lot of people,” Ehlers said. “These are people who are doing it religiously and that’s what they do for fun every weekend.”
Rosario agrees with that sentiment. For her, ice fishing is a time for socializing and getting the freshest catch she can. If she’s lucky, she’ll go home with some fish and perhaps some fish stories.
“Just being outside in the winter and the fact I love to fish,” Rosario said. “I look forward to it every year.”
Popular ice fishing spots
Malletts Bay, Colchester
Porters Point, Colchester
Isle La Motte
Sand Bar State Park, Milton
Knight Point State Park, North Hero
Shelburne Bay, Shelburne
Button Bay State Park, Vergennes
Around the Valley
Indian Brook Reservoir, Essex
Lake Iroquois, Hinesburg/Williston
Milton Pond, Milton
Monkton Pond, Monkton
Shelburne Pond, Shelburne
Baldwin Pond, Starksboro
Waterbury Reservoir, Waterbury