Ice-fishing season hits early: State plans clinics, annual free-day festival

Photo courtesy Vermont Fish & Wildlife
Vermont Fish & Wildlife says conditions for ice fishing are good on many lakes but safety precautions are still very important. Check the ice fishing section at vtfishandwildlife.com for more information.

From staff reports

January’s cold means ice-fishing season has arrived a little early and the state Fish & Wildlife Department is gearing up for multiple events while reminding Vermonters to be safe on the ice.

First, the experts advise anglers to seek out areas with at least six inches of solid ice for safe fishing, something that usually isn’t found until late January. Smaller lakes and the bays of larger lakes are good bets now, officials say.

Of course Lake Champlain is the state’s most popular venue for ice fishing, which often is more popular than summertime 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.

Along Lake Champlain’s 120 miles, many species are found including landlocked salmon, lake trout, northern pike, yellow perch, white perch, walleye and crappie.

Traditional northern pike hotspots include Lake Champlain’s Kelley Bay, Missisquoi Bay, Dillenbeck Bay, Carry Bay, Keeler Bay, St. Albans Bay, the shallow flats south of the Sandbar Causeway between Milton and South Hero, and the area south of the Champlain Bridge from Addison to Benson. As more ice forms, landlocked salmon will be caught in the Inland Sea north of the Sandbar Causeway. There is no closed season for trout and salmon on Lake Champlain.

If cold weather provides good ice on deep-water areas, lake trout will be found off the west shore of Grand Isle and in Outer Mallets Bay, Shelburne Bay and Button Bay south to the Champlain Bridge. Walleyes can show up anywhere in Lake Champlain but the most reliable spots are south off Benson and Orwell, and north near Swanton and Alburg.

Vermont’s ice fishing season for trout, salmon and bass starts Jan. 20 and continues through March 15 on more than 40 Vermont lakes. The Fish & Wildlife website has a list of those lakes and all regulations along with safety tips and lists of approved bait dealers. The website is vtfishandwildlife.com.

Upcoming ice-fishing clinics, free day, festival

Some upcoming ice-fishing events include a series of clinics geared toward beginners. The department cautions that dates may change based on weather and conditions. The clinics will cover ice safety, hole-drilling, equipment, regulations and techniques for different fish.

Each clinic will last approximately three hours, and exact location details will be given when people register for the event. Pre-registration is required with Fish & Wildlife Education Specialist Corey Hart at LetsGoFishing@vermont.gov or 265-2279.

Upcoming clinics are scheduled for:
• Jan. 16: 10 a.m. Introduction to Walleye Fishing at Lake Carmi.
• Feb. 1: 10 a.m. Basic Ice Fishing at Shelburne Pond.
• Feb. 3: 10 a.m. Introduction to Walleye Fishing at Chittenden Reservoir.
• Feb. 8: 2 p.m. Basic Ice Fishing at Lake Bomoseen.
• Feb. 15: 4 p.m. Introduction to Smelting at Waterbury Reservoir.

In addition to the clinics, Fish & Wildlife sanctions Vermont’s fifth annual Free Ice Fishing Day on Jan. 27 when everyone is invited to try ice fishing statewide without needing to buy a fishing license.

Also Jan. 27 is the Free Ice Fishing Festival at Lake Bomoseen State Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. New and experienced anglers of all ages are welcome. Staff from Vermont Fish & Wildlife and instructors from the Let’s Go Fishing Program, will attend to teach ice fishing basics including knot tying, drilling holes, rigging and using an ice fishing rod, and preparing for a day on the ice. Fishing regulations and fish identification will be covered. Instructors will have some gear to lend. Participants are reminded to wear ice cleats if possible.

Fisheries biologists will also run a fish-fry station to cook up participants’ catches; refreshments will include plenty of hot cocoa in the warming huts. Lake Bomoseen State Park also offers ice skating opportunities and a playground.

Nicole Meier, information and education specialist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife, said the free-day event is perfect for families. “We encourage people of all ages to come out for the day, wet a line, try some fresh-cooked, local fish and enjoy all that Vermont has to offer during the winter,” she said.

Pre-registration is encouraged but not required, and can be done online. For more information, contact Meier at 318-1347 or nicole.meier@vermont.gov.

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