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Vermont’s Lesser-known Sport Fish

Fishing Regulations Vermont Freshwater Fishing

Cast of Characters

By Shawn Good, Fisheries Biologist, Vermont Fish & Wildlife

An impressive-looking fish, longnose gar are native to Lake Champlain and can grow to nearly five feet in length.

If you’re like most anglers, you probably have a favorite fish species you target when you grab your rod and head for the water. Maybe you like hauling largemouth bass out of heavy vegetation or drifting a small piece of worm or a fly through a pool in a pristine mountain stream for trout. Maybe you prefer trolling spoons or streamers on big lakes for landlocked salmon and lake trout or dabbling small jigs for tasty crappie, perch and sunfish. Or perhaps it’s walleye or northern pike that hold your attention. The list goes on and on. That’s the great thing about fishing in Vermont: Our lakes, ponds, rivers and streams hold an enormous diversity of fish species and provide a wide range of fishing opportunities. We are truly fortunate.

But beneath these same waters, probably in the same areas you spend time casting a line, lurks an entirely different cast of characters, fish species so far removed and different from the traditional “sport fish” we all know and catch that most of them are overlooked and may even be completely unknown by many Vermont anglers.

Bowfin, redhorse sucker, longnose gar, freshwater drum, lake whitefish, cisco, burbot, fallfish, eel, shad and many more. The lineup of these lesser-known native Vermont fish species is almost as long as the list of the more frequently targeted species most anglers seek. And they are every bit as catchable on a rod and reel as the others. Even better, many of them are highly abundant and grow to huge sizes; some are even considered delicacies on the table.

Catching some of these fish species might mean fishing a little differently than you’re used to, but with a little online research or help from friends, you could soon be laying your hands on a type of fish you’ve never caught before!

Start with a trip to the Vermont Master Angler Program website. Here you can search more than 4,000 trophy entries for fish caught in the last seven years. Searching by species will quickly help you learn about what waters harbor some of these more unusual fish species. Once you know the “where,” you just need to figure out the “how.”

Spend some time talking to bait and tackle shop owners, other anglers, or reading about these fish to learn about the types of habitats they live in and what they feed on. The more you know, the better your chances will be of connecting with one of these fish.

For example, freshwater drum, also known as “sheepshead,” grow to more than 20 pounds in Lake Champlain but feed mostly on small snails, clams, worms and crayfish on the bottom. Fishing a small jig tipped with a night crawler around rocks can be very effective.

Another example is fallfish, the largest native minnow species in Vermont; it grows up to 20 inches and lives in most of the larger rivers and streams around the state, as well as some reservoirs. It feeds on insects and other small fish, so casting in-line spinners, small spoons and crankbaits on light tackle around submerged trees and deep, slow pools is a surefire way to hook into the hardest fighting native minnow we have!

Gar, bowfin, redhorse suckers and many others …
each fish is unique in its habits and habitats. Taking some time to learn about its preferences will help you pursue and catch these mysterious species.

Fishing is a lifelong learning opportunity. Break away from your normal fishing routine and see what fun it can be. This year, shake things up and set out on a personal challenge to catch one of Vermont’s lesser-known sport fish!

Bowfin are an ancient fish native to Lake Champlain and can be caught with fast-moving lures around vegetation.

Lake Champlain’s population of channel catfish is a real treasure for Vermont anglers.

The freshwater drum can be caught from shore along Lake Champlain by slowly fishing live bait around areas with a rocky bottom.

(3) Courtesy of Vermont Fish & Wildlife

Common carp are found along the marshy shorelines of Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River. Growing up to 30 pounds, carp are a hard-fighting fish that can be caught from shore on a variety of baits.