Lake Champlain anglers already have spring fever to get out and try for some of the lake's top sporting fish; lake trout, salmon, and northern pike. Abruptly following ice out, generally by mid-April, you will find early season anglers trolling the waters near the Lake Champlain Bridge. Later in the season these fish will head north to deeper water and cooler temps, but early on there is some great laker, salmon and pike fishing to be had in this more southern location.
"You'll want to troll a little slower for the lakers in the early season," Norm St Pierre, of Norm's Bait and Tackle, told me. Norm is my "go to" guy for all fishing questions. "The fish are a little lethargic in the cooler water. And, use about an 8-foot leader."
A simple "spoons" was his response when I asked about bait and he walked me over to a vast selection in his store. I suspect every angler has their favorite, but it looked to me like an impossible decision from so many choices. His shop has racks of these things.
Norm also reminded me that a little later in the season, his Bait and Tackle shop hosts a catfish contest. Beginning May 1 and extending to August 18 you can register and weigh-in your catfish catch at his shop; daily if desired.
Whatever fish you are after Lake Champlain, at approximately 125 miles long and 12 miles across at its widest point, offers over 435-square miles of surface area; a huge water-recreation playground particularly for anglers. Thinking of trying out your luck and testing your fishing skills on this vast lake? Here are a few details you may not know.
Tops in bass fishing
Lake Champlain consistently ranks in Bassmasters Top US Bass Fishing Lakes list. In fact, this lake ranked No. 5 a few years back. Bassmasters magazine is a publication of the Bass Anglers’ Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), and is considered to be the bible for bass fishermen. B.A.S.S. is recognized worldwide, as the authority of the sport. They have been around since 1968. Their early newsletter evolved into the Bassmaster magazine. Members have always been active in local, state, and national conservation issues. Their “Don’t Kill Your Catch” program, which began in 1972, evolved into today’s “catch and release” ethic practiced by nearly all bass anglers.
License and regulation
A few years back the states of New York and Vermont agreed to recognize either state’s license on Lake Champlain, or at least in certain areas of this huge lake. Fundamentally, a VT or NY fishing license can be used to fish in the “main” or “southern” portions of the lake between both states. Bays tend to be the sticky spots, so it’s best to recognize what state you are actually fishing in and don’t expect this reciprocity deal to work unless you are out on the water. Also, the two states often do have their own species restrictions, length requirements, seasons, etc. Again, know which state you are fishing in and abide by their specific regulations to ensure an enjoyable experience.
Fishing license types and fees vary, but short term (one-to-seven-day licenses) are available and affordable in both NY and VT. And, every year the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency who governs New York’s fishing licenses, offers free fishing days, no license required! Check their website for the dates. If you are trying out the sport for the first time, haven’t fished in a while and want to give it a try again, or you want to introduce a friend or youngster to the thrill of the sport, these free fishing days are great opportunities. Vermont sponsors a similar program, but it is only for two days a year.
Ninety-three species of fish have been identified in Lake Champlain. About twenty of these are actively sought by anglers: large and small mouth bass, walleye, northern pike, lake trout, and landlocked salmon are some of the most popularly pursued. An interesting note is that commercial fishing is not permitted in Lake Champlain. The only fish that can be sold are what’s known as pan fish, species like perch and smelt. So, though you may not be able to try a local catch at the nearby restaurant, you can still have a lake-to-table flavor experience by catching your own.
You should be aware that what you use for bait may also be regulated. Baitfish must be certified. Certified baitfish have been tested and are found to be disease-free, protecting the spread of fish diseases. Hang on to receipts when you make a purchase. The seller must include seller’s name, date of sale, species, and number sold. Baitfish that was purchased ten days ago is considered uncertified. Reputable bait shops can not only recommend the appropriate bait for the fish you are after, but will also sort out the bait fish regulations, advise you, and keep you in compliance.
Norm and I discussed bait fish regs. He pointed out that only Lake Champlain certified bait fish can be used in Lake Champlain. His shop stocks an abundance. In fact, he told me that Lake Champlain certified baitfish is all he stocks, the only bait shop in New York state to do so.
Say you’ve had great first-timer luck trying for one of Lake Champlain’s hotly pursued lake trout. You landed a beauty and your buddy captured great pictures of you proudly displaying this unbelievable catch. What now? You are considering release, but you are also imagining a great evening meal. This beast would, no doubt, taste pretty darned good right off the grill back at camp. But how to get this monster prepped for the best cooking? I can relate to that. My attempts to extract perfect fillets often meet with disaster, despite watching my brother fillet with ease numerous times. And, should you fillet? Maybe it’s best cleaned and left whole?
Suggestion: Throw it on ice and get it to an expert. Norm at Norm’s Bait and Tackle will perfectly dress your fish. In addition he will probably give you some good grilling tips and recommended seasonings as well. I recently asked him about cooking our Lake Champlain salmon and he suggested to "brush it lightly with some garlic butter, then sprinkle on some rosemary and thyme. Pop it on the grill for about 20 minutes and it will be delicious."