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Due to lack of ice, Vermont anglers return to open water

A white man in a camo jacket and wool cap holds up a recently caught fish, with snow in the background.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist Shawn Good showed off a freshly caught largemouth bass in February 2021.

This winter's warmer-than-usual weather has changed the landscape for Vermont's anglers.

Many ponds and lakes that typically freeze over in the winter still don't have enough coverage for ice fishing, particularly in southern Vermont and the Champlain Valley.

Some anglers are using the opportunity to continue open water fishing deeper into the season than is typically possible.

One piece of evidence? This year's first entry in the state's master angler program — an award program for catching large fish — was caught in open water, rather than ice.

That's a first, said Fish & Wildlife fisheries biologist Shawn Good on Vermont Edition. Good has been running the master angler program since he co-founded it in 2010.

The entry came from a fisherman on Lake Champlain near Charlotte. "There's always some open water on Lake Champlain, in the middle part of the lake," said Good, "but this year was very unusual in just how long the open water fishing season has extended." Good said he hasn't seen those kinds of conditions in the 26 years he's been with the department.

Longer open water seasons

In part as an acknowledgement of the climate change's lasting effects on Vermont winters, Fish & Wildlife updated its fishing regulations last year to extend the trout fishing season past the official Oct. 31st end date. Anglers can now continue trout fishing on rivers and streams through the winter on a catch-and-release basis.

Good said the changes came about "with the recognition that people are out fishing at a time when we might have normally had ice."

"Trout season in the wintertime used to open the third Saturday in January," Good said. "Now, people are actually out in a period of time where you might not have any ice at all, or you might have early formation of ice but it's not as safe or developed."

Conditions vary across the region

While some water bodies have little to no ice, others do have enough ice for fishing. Many lakes and ponds in the Northeast Kingdom and at higher elevations have frozen over completely.

Last week, Vermont Fish & Wildlife decided to move the location of its annual ice fishing festival due to the unfavorable ice conditions at its original location, Lake Bomoseen in Rutland County. Bomoseen didn't have ice at the time, Good said.

The festival will now take place at Lake Elmore State Park in Lamoille County on Jan. 27. Visitors can attend ice fishing workshops, where they'll learn safety tips and fish identification. Hot cocoa will be on offer at a warming station, and anglers can get their catch of the day cooked in front of them at a fish fry.

Broadcast at noon Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.