Record fish proof Lake Champlain sea lamprey control program working
New fishing technique helped angler reel in record-breaking trout
ADDISON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont fishing fanatic was competing for first place in Lake Champlain’s International Basin Derby a few months ago. What he ended up catching, was a first for Lake Champlain.
During the entire 51 years the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has been keeping records, officials have never seen a catch like this.
“When you’re starting to see 19-and-a-half pound lake trout out of Lake Champlain, that’s big news,” said Shawn Good, a fisheries biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Angler Jeffery Sanford reeled in a 19.36-pound, 36.5-inch lake trout from more than 100 feet of water last August. It is the largest trout ever recorded in Lake Champlain.
“I didn’t realize how big it was until I could actually see it,” Sanford said.
Sanford splits his time between South Burlington and San Jose, California, where he’s currently living.
“We got within about 20 yards of the boat and I was like, ‘Oh my lord!’ It was the biggest lake trout I had ever seen,” Sanford said.
Something else Sanford noticed was there were no scars from sea lamprey.
“Which we were amazed by actually because we see so much of that,” he said.
“All of us fish biologists were ecstatic because this is what we’ve been working toward for 30 years,” Good said.
Good is one of many in the Lake Champlain Management Cooperative who have been working toward controlling this invasive species.
According to the National Ocean Service, one lamprey kills about 40 pounds of fish every year.
“What we’re seeing now is fewer wounds, open holes on the sides of the fish, and, because of that, these fish are able to grow longer, live longer and get bigger,” Good explained.
Sea lamprey don’t just attack lake trout. Any fish species that spends time in deep water is susceptible.
“This sea lamprey control program benefits everybody, regardless of the type of fish they like to go for,” Good said.
Sanford has benefited from the program, but for him, breaking a record doesn’t compare to the fun of just being out on the water.
“Some of these fish, the smaller ones will give you as much of a fight as a trophy-sized fish. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed them so much,” he said.
One large lake trout, evidence that this protection program is in good hands.
A new fishing technique helped Sanford land that fish.
Lake trout spend much of their time in deep water. So, anglers often using big boats, heavy equipment and a technique called trolling to catch them.
But Sanford learned a method that’s gaining in popularity. He was able to catch the record trout using his own boat and rod. It’s a matter of understanding lake trout habitat and behavior.
“They go out to sunken reefs and islands in 80, 90, 100 feet of water and you can just drop a heavy lure to the bottom that you would use for bass and pike and you just jig with it,” Good said.
“I learned how to do it, went on a couple of trips the last year and started doing it myself this year,” Sanford said. “I met a bunch of guys who also love to fish and was fortunate enough to meet these guys and be able to get out and do this kind of fishing.”
Sanford works security in Vermont during the summer, but thanks to the pandemic, there weren’t that many opportunities to work. So if he didn’t have the extra time to fish, there’s a chance he might never have made that record catch.
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