Casting Call: Spring Fishing Season Beckons Anglers To Area Waters

May 5, 2011  
Filed under Things to do

By Adam White

The spring fishing season for four popular species got under way in April in Vermont.
Charlotte’s Converse Bay provides a launching point for anglers to pursue three of the four species: smallmouth bass, lake trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon. Lake Champlain is a hotbed for salmon in particular, having produced the three largest fish of that species ever caught in the state.

“A number of people in town fish, and we provide an access point for many more people with our state boat launch (at Converse Bay),” Charlotte Conservation Commission chair Robert Hyams said.

While many recreational activities have seen a dip in participation due to the economic recession, fishing remains wildly popular in the Green Mountain State and across the nation.

“Fishing is the No. 1 recreational sport in the country,” said Eric Palmer, Director of Fisheries for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It beats out NASCAR, it beats out football. And Vermont has the second-highest participation rate in fishing and other wildlife-related activities of any state in the U.S.”

April 9 marked the official start of the spring season for small and largemouth bass (catch-and-release until June 10) and trout and landlocked salmon (until Oct. 31). Bass fishing doesn’t really heat up until later in the summer, however; the 10 largest fish of each bass species that have been caught in Lake Champlain were done in July or later.
“Bass spawn out by mid-June, then they’re hungry,” said Ed Schirmer, who has run a fly fishing shop and guiding service in South Burlington since 1975. “As the water warms up, they get more food activity from frogs, crayfish and other things that they eat.”

Trout fishing typically produces favorable results in the spring, and Charlotte’s Lewis Creek offers a good habitat for that coldwater species of fish. The area where Lewis Creek feeds into Lake Champlain has been a point of concern for one fishing-related problem, however: the spread of invasive species of algae and other plants.

Boats, trailers, waders and other fishing and boating equipment have been found to spread invasive species from one body of water to another unless properly cleaned, dried or disinfected after use. Water in bait wells and outboard cooling systems can act as a carrier medium for non-native plants such as European frog-bit, which Hyams said is in Town Farm Bay.

“If it’s there, it’s going to work its way throughout the lake – or it has already,” Hyams said.

Boats aren’t the only culprit; similar invaders hitch rides into streams and other smaller bodies of water on individual anglers. The Vermont legislature has taken action this season to help prevent the spread of one invasive, non-native alga – didymo, commonly called “rock snot” – by prohibiting the use of felt-soled waders.

“There are lots of different things that can move didymo around, including wet clothes and the bottoms of canoes,” Palmer said. “But felt soles seem to be the ideal medium that moves it, so the state took legislative action to ban felt-soled waders effective April 1.”
Schirmer doesn’t anticipate the ban having much of an effect on his business, which he said, “has picked up in the last three weeks and should get busier.”

“It may impact some people initially, because they may not have the right wading shoes,” Schirmer said, “but there are other shoes with sticky rubber bottoms that we sell, that work well. We should be able to move ahead, right through (the ban).”

With the right gear underfoot and in hand (Schirmer also crafts custom rods for clients), the longtime guide sees success as imminent for the modern angler in Vermont. He said a decrease in active farming along the state’s rivers has led to a reduction in fertilizer and manure runoff, which has in turn helped boost the population of insects that make up 80 percent of the diet for trout.

“The environmental cleansing of Vermont’s rivers has been a tremendous boon to the health and growth of the trout population,” Schirmer said.

That is great news for the anglers who began casting their lines en masse on April 9. Palmer thinks that part of fishing’s popularity stems from its highly interactive nature, particularly between adults and children. Unlike other leisure activities like watching television and playing video games, fishing reconnects people with the natural environment through an actively shared experience.

“Fishing is a very relationship-building activity,” Palmer said. “When you talk to experienced anglers, you often find that it was a mentor, a friend or family member, who got them into the sport. So their memories of fishing are also about the time they spend interacting with other people, which is special.”

Palmer is building some of those memories himself, by introducing his 4-year-old son, Odin, to the sport.

“We go out fishing together, and he has a blast,” Palmer said. “He talks about it for days afterward.”


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