In recent years, Vermont's Lake Champlain has received national attention in the U.S., consistently being named one of the Top 5 bass destinations in the country, and for good reason. Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are incredibly abundant in this 112-mile long lake that forms the border between Vermont and New York, and extends into Quebec. Not only are the bass plentiful, but they also grow large with bass averaging 2-3 pounds and fish over 5 and 6 not uncommon throughout the summer.
While bass fishing is great during the whole season, truly exceptional Champlain bass fishing occurs in the early spring during Vermont's catch-and-release season.
The state of Vermont allows bass fishing in the spring on a catch-and-release basis.
Vermont's catch-and-release Spring bass fishing begins the second Saturday in April and runs through the Friday before the second Saturday in June. During this time, you can legally target bass; however, angling is catch-and-release only and all bass must be immediately released
(after a quick photo, of course). Anglers are also prohibited from using live bait - only artificial lures are allowed. Click here for season dates »
This is an excellent way for bass fishing enthusiasts to quench their thirst after a long winter. If you're a visitor to our state, this is an opportunity to shake off the winter doldrums, and engage in your passion several months before you can legally do so in your own area !
Both smallmouth and largemouth bass overwinter in deeper regions of a lake. In the early spring, however, as water temperatures approach the 50ºF mark, they begin to migrate towards shallow protected spawning areas. Bass generally move straight up out of deep water to the closest shallow shoreline, and then make their way along it towards spawning sites, resting at predictable locations along the way. This is where you want to intercept them ! Because hard lake bottoms such as gravel, chunk rock and ledge absorb the sun's rays and heat up a few degrees more than the surrounding water, bass will congregate or "stage" on such structure while they wait for adjacent spawning bays to reach the low to mid-60's.
These pre-spawn staging bass are not like bass on a nest. Pre-spawn bass are hungry and aggressive and will absolutely crush artificial lures. The best bets at this time of year are slow, wide-wobbling diving crankbaits, slow-rolled spinnerbaits, or jerkbaits. Crayfish and bluegill patterns with a splash of chartreuse work the best.
This is fun and easy fishing at this time of the year. Simply find a rocky shoreline or a long tapering point near a potential spawning flat, position your boat a cast-length away, and work your way along, casting tight to shore. Vary your retrieve until you find what mood the bass are in. Use diving crankbaits that run a little deeper than the water depth, so the lure ticks the bottom every once in a while. This will often trigger vicious strikes. Letting a lipless crankbait sink to the bottom and reeling it back just so it ticks the bottom every few feet works wonders as well.
A common assumption of anglers not accustomed to spring bass fishing is that you're cherry-picking nesting bass. This couldn't be further from the truth. Nesting bass are notoriously difficult to catch and generally aren't worth the time and effort targeting them. Instead, the best fishing occurs prior to the spawn, when the bass can often be found in large groups, staging in the main lake, waiting to move up into their spawning bays.
At this time of year, with 2 people in a boat, you can expect catches of 50-75 bass per day. Some anglers report having spring days of more than 100 bass ! Fishing pre-spawn staging bass can certainly spoil you for the rest of the season!
Although phenomenal spring bass fishing is good throughout the entire length of Lake Champlain, the shallower, narrow southern end of the lake is your best bet in the early season. This end of the lake is more like a meandering river, with the widest point less than a mile across. It's highly productive with plenty of rocky shoreline, points, and marshy back bays, and it warms up early, reaching that magical 50ºF to 55ºF mark weeks before the north end. The last week of April and the first two weeks of May are usually prime. The "south lake" officially starts at Chimney Point, where a bridge crosses from New York, and runs south for approximately 40 miles. Prime locations to access the lake are the free public ramps owned by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
Also, keep in mind that Vermont's early season bass fishing regulation applies to all of the state's inland lakes and ponds, not just Lake Champlain. Bass fishing is exceptional in most waters throughout the state. For Rutland County in the southern Lake Champlain area, best bets include Lake Bomoseen, Lake St. Catherine, and Lake Hortonia.
One of the wonderful aspects of fishing southern Lake Champlain is that the shoreline is practically undeveloped. Most of the shoreline is either densely forested, or rolling fields and farmland. However, accomodations for visiting anglers are not far away.
For accessing the southern end of the lake via Benson Landing, Larabee’s Point, Lapham’s Bay and Chipman Point, check out the City of Rutland, Vermont - just a short drive away from southern Lake Champlain as well as the “lakes region” containing Lake Bomoseen, Lake St. Catherine, Lake Hortonia, and many other small waters.
Rutland City Chamber of Commerce
website has extensive accomodation listings.
For accessing the northern part of “southern Lake Champlain” via the Chimney Point boat launch under the Champlain bridge, the quaint Vermont city of Vergennes is just 15 miles away.
Check out the Mid Vermont Chamber of Commerce website for accomodations information.