Why Do We Fish?

Fishing Regulations Vermont Freshwater Fishing

How the Vermont Master Angler Program is motivating anglers to fish more and fish differently!

By Shawn Good, Fisheries Biologist, Vermont Fish & Wildlife

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

– Henry David Thoreau, 1853

Thoreau’s insightful observation of why people fish is more than 160 years old, but deep down all anglers know this quote is still true today. We fish for nearly as many reasons as there are anglers. For the excitement and enjoyment. To connect with nature. For peace and tranquility. To relax and unwind. To spend quality time with family. For healthy, locally sourced food. How about self-discovery and life-long learning? Or fishing for the challenge it can provide?

Yarrow Gombar caught this 31-inch freshwater drum while out fishing with his grandfather on Lake Champlain in June 2018.

Enter the Master Angler Program. In 2010, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department introduced the Vermont Master Angler Program to motivate anglers by challenging them to fish for and catch a wider variety of trophy size species. With a challenging list of 33 fish species and a minimum “trophy length” for each qualifying entry, the program motivates people to get out fishing more or to take up fishing again. With so many species to target, the program inspires anglers to “fish outside the box” to target and succeed at catching types of fish they’ve never caught before.

This process also creates learning and growth opportunities for anglers. To be successful in the program and catch a variety of species, anglers must research and learn about different fish species, what habitats they can be found in, what they eat, and then figure out what tackle to use to catch them.

In eight years, the program has served as a source of enjoyment for more than 1,000 anglers.

For example, Colchester angler Steve Mongeon says the Master Angler Program got him out fishing again, now with his 7-year-old grandson Yarrow tagging along:

“The Program has given Yarrow something even more to motivate him to fish, as if that was even necessary, and I’ve found an excuse to go out with him and try different techniques. Now we look for all kinds of fish to catch like sheepshead, carp, largemouth, bowfin … there are so many options!”

Father-daughter duo Robert and Lily Burnett of Alburgh have also created precious memories while fishing together. After Lily earned her Master Angler pin by catching her fifth trophy-sized fish of the year in 2016, Robert wrote:

“Most of [this summer] has been just fishing for fishing’s sake and stumbling onto youth qualifying fish. Once Lily made it to four species we came up with a specific plan to catch the fifth. We had never caught nor fished for bowfin before but … we researched how to catch them and tried our best to recreate what we learned. Worked like a charm! She was in tears when I netted her bowfin, and when we measured it and saw it qualified for size, she couldn’t stop hugging me. Thanks for helping to create a great set of memories for the two of us!”

Make 2019 YOUR year to take up the challenge. Look through the Master Angler gallery and annual reports and use them as sources of inspiration and motivation. Take your friends and family and try to catch something you’ve never caught before. Remember what it’s like to be hooked on fishing and create memories that will last a lifetime!

The Master Angler Program was created to motivate people to fish more, try new things, and create lasting family memories.

Lily Burnett caught her 5th Master Angler fish species to earn her pin in 2016 by reading up on how to target bowfin — a species she had never caught. This 26-inch beauty was caught on Lake Champlain while fishing with her father.

The diverse and abundant sport fishing opportunities enjoyed each year by anglers across Vermont are a direct result of fisheries management and restoration activities conducted by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. These activities are funded through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program — money generated by user purchases of fishing equipment and motor boat fuels. The department’s fisheries management and restoration projects help maintain and restore healthy aquatic ecosystems, clean water, and good habitat, benefiting anglers by supporting and providing quality sport and recreational fishing opportunities across Vermont.

A Master Among Anglers

Drew Price proudly displays his Master Angler pike-pickerel hybrid — marking his 33rd and final fish species. In 2018,
Drew became the first angler to catch all 33 Master Angler fish species.

For one die-hard Vermont angler, the Master Angler Program became a personal quest. Drew Price of Colchester began participating in the program in its first year and quickly came to realize he enjoyed the challenge of learning about and targeting species he’d never caught.

Drew had been exclusively a fly angler, and he challenged himself to catch ALL 33 Master Angler species using only fly gear. In the first year of the Program he caught 12 species, and by the end of 2013 he had hit 24 species — all on the fly.

However, Drew soon realized the 9 species left would be nearly impossible to catch while fly fishing. He had to switch gears — literally. With the winter of 2014 passing rapidly, Drew tried something completely new to him — ice fishing.

Through his friends and other anglers he met on fishing forums, Drew borrowed tip-ups and an ice auger, and he bought a cheap ice fishing jigging rod. Deciding to start with burbot, he read up on how to target them, and headed to Lake Willoughby to try his hand at catching one. In March 2014 he caught a Master Angler–sized burbot and became hooked on ice fishing in the process!

From ice fishing to open water spin-fishing with live bait, Drew kept at it, adapting his techniques, increasing his skills and knowledge, and became a consummate Master Angler.

One by one, he worked his way through the remaining nine species with non-fly-fishing gear. The pike-pickerel hybrid was the last one that eluded him, being that they are relatively random and rare. But Drew never gave up. He contacted people on forums who mentioned catching one and focused his efforts in areas where chain pickerel and northern pike overlap.

In June 2018, Drew finally caught his “white whale” — a 30” pike-pickerel hybrid.

Drew’s journey exemplifies the spirit of the Vermont Master Angler. Designed to inspire and challenge anglers, the program motivates them to fish more often and for new species, learning and growing as anglers along the way while taking advantage of all the wonderful angling opportunities Vermont offers.