The One That Didn’t Get Away

Fishing Regulations Vermont Freshwater Fishing

Celebrating a half-century of record fish in Vermont

By Shawn Good, Fisheries Biologist, Vermont Fish & Wildlife

In the 1950s and 60s, as Americans enjoyed increased prosperity and free time, recreational angling grew as a favorite pastime nationwide and in Vermont. Stories of huge fish being caught circulated across the state, and department staff recognized the importance of documenting these so-called record fish. In 1969, the Vermont Fish and Game Department (as it was then called) began the Vermont Record Fish Program to document the quality and diversity of fishing across the state.

That foresight has proven lucky, because now, after 50 years of keeping fish records, many anglers recognize what the department knew all along — that Vermont has the highest quality and variety of freshwater fish in New England.

This fishing bonanza results from Vermont’s unique geographic features — being sandwiched between Lake Champlain to the west and the Connecticut River to the east, with the Green Mountains and rolling valleys running down the middle full of beautiful streams, rivers, lakes and ponds.

Then and now. In 1969, the first year the department kept track, only 13 record fish were entered. Those numbers quickly grew, however, and during the next decade, record fish catches came fast and furious. From 1969 through 1978, 68 fish records were set for 23 different species. New records were set quickly as they were surpassed by larger fish. Of course, 50 years ago, the entries were dominated by popular game fish such as brook, brown and rainbow trout, large and smallmouth bass, pike, walleye, and perch.

Despite the old saying that “fishing isn’t as good as it used to be,” Vermont’s record-setting pace has been fairly consistent during the last 40 years. For example, the first State Record smallmouth bass was established in 1969 at 6.44-lbs. That record has been broken three times since then, with the most recent and current State Record being a 6.81-lb fish caught in 2003. The first bluegill State Record was established in 1985 (0.75-lbs) and has been bested 8 times since then, with the current State Record being caught in 2016 at 1.98-lbs.
On the other hand, some records have been harder to break. While the first recognized State Record largemouth bass was set in 1969 at 5.63-lbs and has been surpassed 8 times since then (1970, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1982, 1985, and 1986), the current record set in 1988 is holding steady 31 years later. The first northern pike record was also set in 1969 at 19-lbs, beaten the next year in 1970 by a 26-lb fish, and lastly in 1977 by a monstrous 30.5-lb pike. That was 42 years ago. Can that pike be topped in these modern times?
Despite these holdouts, fishing undoubtedly continues to be excellent across Vermont, and trophy fish are being caught with great frequency. In just the last 10 years alone, 21 new all-time fish records have been broken for 13 different species! No other state in the northeastern U.S. has broken as many records in recent years in the same amount of time!
Anglers are taking advantage of many of the overlooked fishing opportunities we have in our state, and while fishing remains excellent for more traditional species such as trout, salmon, bass, pike and others, there are many other species out there that can provide amazing action with real trophy potential.
If you’re looking for a new challenge, and a way to get your name into the record books, spend some time looking through the Record Fish Program listings on the department website. You’ll soon recognize that Vermont truly is an anglers’ paradise that is matched by very few locations elsewhere!

In 1969, the department first started keeping track of “record fish” as a way of documenting the quality and diversity of fishing across the state.

Notable State Records From the Last 10 Years