Whether you're dreaming of reeling in The Big One or you want your child to get excited about their first fish, the Lake Champlain region is a great place for all of those angler delights.
From the big lake to fast rivers to little ponds, we've got it all. Here are some tips to make sure that fishing trip will be full of memories.
The big one
We are thrilled to announce that our own Lake Champlain is not only a big lake, it is the home of big catches, too. A couple of summers ago, someone caught a record-breaking fish. And she was only 12 years old!
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that Amelia Whalen of Witherbee caught a record-breaking freshwater drum from Lake Champlain in Essex County on June 4, 2016. The fish measured 36.5 inches and weighed 29 pounds, 14 ounces, breaking the previous state record set in 2014 by more than 3 pounds.
Wow. It looks almost as big as she is. Amelia caught her fish with a Lazer Blade lure.
"It was a phenomenal memory that I'll always have — reeling in the monstrous sheepshead that day," Amelia said. "I was unimaginably surprised when my dad told me that it was definitely going to break the record."
Freshwater drum, also known as "sheepshead," get sizeable on their diet of freshwater snails, clams, and crayfish, and are known for putting up a good fight. Part of the reason sheepshead is treasured as a game fish is because of its uniquely large skull, which contains many cavities and supports for the muscles needed to grind up the hard-shelled foods that comprise the bulk of their diet.
They are humpbacked because of their strong muscular structure. In fact, they can use the muscles around their swim bladder to make a drumming sound, hence their name. So they are a strong, challenging fish to land. Under New York state regulations they are always in season, without restriction.
Freshwater drum are common in many large freshwater areas of North America, but especially the five Great Lakes shared by the United States and Canada, and Lake Champlain. Along with their big heads, freshwater drum are known for their large otoliths, or ear bones. Round, smooth, and unusually large compared to other fish ear bones, they have the reputation of being "lucky stones," and have been used for currency among Native Americans living great distances from the species' habitat: as far south as Utah and as far west as California.
Biologists collect these bones, too; but for scientific, not lucky, purposes. Just like the rings on a tree, these bones grow larger in layers, collecting information about the fish's habitat through the years. These are fun items to look for when searching the shoreline for shells, too.
Let the river flow
Of course, for many anglers the real zing in spring is the opening of trout season on April 1. The Boquet River runs from Dix Mountain all the way to Lewis, with plenty of places to cast that fly.
The Boquet takes a long tumble downward in its journey to Lake Champlain. Brown trout and steelhead migrate upriver, and brown (some a hefty two years old) and brook trout are also stocked every year.
Section I: New Russia, runs south from New Russia until it meets Beaver Meadow Brook. Most of the left and right banks are accessible for fishing.
Section II: Elizabethtown, moves north from New Russia, running past the gravel pit near Otis Mountain, and then into Elizabethtown itself, to the north alongside state land and to the south, below the golf course.
Section III: Wadhams, runs along most of the Boquet's length through the town of Lewis, with the eastern right bank access reaching almost to the Elizabethtown-Wadhams Road. To the west, access areas reach to the meeting of the river with Steele Woods Road.
Section IV: Whallonsburg, has mostly right bank areas on the section south of town, before and after Beaver Brook.
The fishing regulations for the Boquet River, from Wadhams Falls upstream to Route 9N in Elizabethtown, is a five-catch limit on trout from April 1 through Oct. 15. They must also be at least 9 inches long. For more, download the Boquet River PDF map.
The other fine spring river fish is salmon, and once again, the Boquet does not disappoint. It has Atlantic salmon runs in the spring and fall, when salmon migrate upriver over 12 miles, all the way to the falls at Wadhams. Below Willsboro is another great spring run for salmon, and the lower reaches are stocked with the landlocked variety.
Have a strategy
Spring is the time to go after lake trout, too, because of the freshly melted, icy temperatures they enjoy. Hungry (and maybe even bored) after a long winter, they come out of the depths, where they lurk in warmer seasons. This is the most accessible they will be all year. Once the waters warm up, they will head back to deeper water.
Taking a boat out on Lake Champlain is the best of all worlds, but even from shore they will grab a spoon or smelt if you cast in the right place. Look for a public spot with a good dropoff, the way they like it. Try a Little Cleo (or another of that type) for high odds when they are stacked below.
Likewise, be on the lookout for landlocked salmon that have been feeding on the abundant alewife population and growing to impressive sizes. Their spawning season increases their density, and your chances for a hit.
Be aware there is a three-fish daily limit on lake trout, and a 15-inch minimum size. For landlocks, it's two fish daily and a 15-inch minimum size.
Another fine fish, especially for children, are the abundant panfish family. Some say they were named for their round, flat shape, others say it is because they are good eating! Yellow perch and sunfish are so easy to catch they are often a child's first fish. Just look for a weedy shore and let the child have fun with no more than the classic worm, hook, and bobber combination.
Another possible catch in such waters is brown bullhead, a species of bullhead catfish that can reach two pounds. They are a fine fish for children to catch because they can thrive in marginal waters, which is reflected in their nickname "mud cat." But be aware that they are only good eating in cool spring temperatures, in clear water. All else should be caught and released.
The season for these fish is all year, any size, and any number. But do get a New York state fishing license for anyone catching fish. This is how we support our thriving ecosystem for the present and future.
We want all of those little anglers to grow up to be big ones.