Milton, Vermont Angler Catches Muskie Through Ice
When the flag on one of his tip-ups sprang to life on Lake Champlain on a clear February morning, Ryan Carpentier didn’t know what was lurking on the other end.
Just before sunrise about three miles off shore, near Tyler Place in Swanton, Carpentier set up 15 tip-ups, rigging them with 50-pound test, pike minnows and a circle hook with red and blue beads.
Around 8:30 a.m., he got his first and only bite of the day.
“I knew it was one of the biggest fish I had ever caught just by the way it ran,” Carpentier said. “I thought it was huge northern [pike]. It did four or five nasty runs like I’ve never experienced before. It was definitely a fight,”
After a ten minutes struggle, Carpentier hauled a 38-inch, 14.1-pound muskellunge through the ice with the help of two friends.
After hauling the fish out of the water, the group quickly measured, weighed, photographed the fish and got it back in the water as quickly as possible.
The catch was the first muskellunge Carpentier had ever caught, but it was also one the few successful wintertime muskie catch and releases documented on Lake Champlain in Vermont.
After he released the fish and posted the photos on social media, Vermont Fish & Wildlife fisheries biologist Shawn Good contacted Carpentier.
“What I can tell you is I’ve never heard of a muskie getting caught through the ice in Vermont,” Good said. “It is important to say that because they do get caught through the ice in other states where they’re more abundant.”
Good has headed the department’s muskellunge team since 2008, a group that has spearheaded the muskie restoration movement on Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain’s muskie population was assumed lost between 1970 and 1980, Good said.
In the 1970’s-1980’s the muskie population was depleted and surveys and efforts to find any evidence of muskies in the lake by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife staff came up dry. Wildlife officials speculate the sharp decline was a reaction to poor water quality in the Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay after a chemical paper mill spill on the river, a tributary of Lake Champlain.
Good said overfishing did not play a role in the hurting the population, but he stressed the need for anglers to follow Vermont’s strict catch and release muskie policy.
To help revive the population, Good and his team have stocked 5-6″ muskie fingerlings. On average, Good said he stocks between 6,000 and 7,000 summer fingerlings per year. Since the start of the program, Good said he has stocked 50,620 fish in the Missisquoi River and Missisquoi Bay – the last known place where the native population was known to exist.
“We’re trying to return a species that was native to Lake Champlain back to the lake and reestablish its place in the fish community,” Good said. “We stock them in August and they’re hatched in April or May, so they’re four months old. The theory is, the larger they are when you stock them, the higher the probability of them surviving.”
Other states stock muskie at different stages including fry, which are typically 1 inch long, and fall fingerlings, which are about 10 inches. The number of fish stocked is relative to the size of the fish being stocked, Good said.
For instance, stocking muskie fry means that between 80,000 and 100,000 are stocked per year, with the expected survival rate hovering around 10 percent.
While Good noted Carpentier’s catch was uncommon because muskies are elusive, low-density predators he pointed to the instance as a larger sign that the restoration program is having a noticeable impact on the muskie population.
“At some point in the near future, there could be a recreational, targetable population of muskie that can sustain a sport fishery,” Good said. “It’s really encouraging.”
Vt. Fish & Wildlife fisheries biologist Shawn Good confirmed the catch and release of a second muskellunge, between 34-35 inches, through the ice on Lake Champlain less than 10 miles. That fish was caught by Gage Honsinger.
A Reminder to Remove Ice Shanties
Vermont state law requires that ice fishing shanties be removed from the ice before the ice weakens, according the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
The name and address of the owner must be affixed to the ice shanty, and the shanty must be removed before the ice becomes unsafe or loses its ability to support the shanty out of the water, or before the last Sunday in March — the 26th this year — whichever comes first. All contents, debris, wood, and supports must also be removed so they do not become a hazard to navigation in the spring.
The fine for leaving your ice fishing shanty on the ice can be $1,000, and shanties may not be left at state fishing access areas.
District game wardens are available for questions via the Vermont State Police radio dispatcher.
Essential Ice Fishing Safety Gear
With the arrival of winter, Lake Champlain’s hard water anglers have brought their ice augers out of storage. Before you bundle up and head out on the ice, review this checklist of essential ice fishing safety gear so your trip is fun and safe.
1. Ice cleats or creepers.
Ice cleats or creepers attach to the bottom of your boots. They can have adjustable straps or be rubber overshoes with metal teeth or spikes. They provide more traction on slippery ice and can help to prevent falls.
2. Ice chisel or spud
An ice chisel or spud is a long-handled blade that comes to a point on one side. You use an ice chisel to punch a hole through the ice before you take a step. This helps you to check the ice thickness.
3. Ice safety picks.
Ice safety picks are two spikes that are usually connected by a cord. The ice picks are stuck into the ice and used to pull you back onto the ice if you happen to fall through. Always bring two ice picks and wear them around your neck so that they are within quick reach.
4. Floating rescue rope.
A floating rescue rope can be used if someone falls through the ice. You can help them by throwing the rope to them from a safe distance. If you should fall through, throw one end of the floating rope to a rescuer.
5. Ice fishing suit.
Many ice anglers wear ice fishing suits or flotation suits to help to keep them warm, but the suits can also make it easier for you to climb out if you fall through the ice.
When spending cold days outdoors on the ice, a significant amount of body heat can be lost through the head. A thick hat that covers your ears is important to help keep body heat.
Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves because they trap more body heat. If you wear base layer gloves underneath your mittens, you can just take your mittens off and still have your fingers free when you need to tie lines or take a fish off of a hook.
8. Hand warmers.
Hand warmers are a good way to help keep your hands warm during ice fishing season. Buy a pair of hand warmers to put into the pockets of your jacket or inside of your gloves.
10. Cell phone or radio.
You will need to have a cell phone or radio to make calls for help in the event of an emergency. If you plan to fish in a remote area, make sure you have a radio in case your cell phone won’t work. Pack cell phones and radios in sealed, moisture-proof bags.
You wouldn’t want to leave the dock without a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) in the summer months, and winter shouldn’t be any different. Always bring a life jacket or personal flotation device with you when ice fishing.
Now, you’ve got your gear ready to go. Get out on the ice and enjoy your ice fishing safely.
Ice Fishing: Tightlining
One ice fishing technique you can try is called tightlining. Tightlining is a technique where you don’t move the line and lure once you’ve dropped them in the water. Instead you watch the line for movement. When the line becomes “tight” you know you have a fish on the line.
When tightlining, you’ll need to use a lure that is heavy enough to let your line to drop straight down to your desired depth, but not so heavy that your line won’t move when a fish strikes. This usually requires trial and error to find the right lure.
Some anglers add a spring bobber to their line to help with strike indication. A spring bobber is a piece of metal or wire that extends off the rod tip. Any movement in the line will cause the spring bobber to move alerting them of a bite.
Check the regulations for the specific body of water that you fish at the sites below!
- New York State Fishing Regulations
- State of Vermont Fishing Regulations
- Province of Quebec Fishing Regulations
- Milton, Vermont Angler Catches Muskie Through Ice
- Reminder to Remove Ice Shanties from Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
- Essential Ice Fishing Safety Gear
- Ice Fishing: Tightlining
- Ice Fishing: Tip Ups