The Winooski is one of the most popular fisheries in the state. From clear, cold mountain streams full of wild brook trout in the headwaters, to the lazy meandering bass, perch and panfish habitat in the final stretches, it is home to a multitude of species. Some of the most popular game fish to be caught are: brook, brown and rainbow trout; perch and walleye; smallmouth and largemouth bass; and landlocked salmon.
Be sure to purchase a fishing license and check state regulations for fishing season dates and times: click here to get to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department for all the details.
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Trout fishing is open from the second Saturday in April to the last Sunday in October. Trout can be readily caught on live bait such as worms or grasshoppers, artificial flies and nymphs, or with lures such as spinners and spoons. Some popular lures are Mepps, Panther Martin and Rooster Tail spinners, Phoebe and Daredevil spoons. Popular flies include Woolly Bugger, Hare’s Ear Nymph, Hendrickson patterns, beadhead nymph, Muddler Minnows, Golden Demon, Hornberg.
Trout can be challenging to catch. There is often a lot of the river where they simply aren’t dwelling. Long shallow stretches of river with no logs, ledge or stone to hide behind will most often be devoid of trout. They prefer the oxygenated water below falls or riffles. They almost invariably orient themselves upstream so they are often best approached from the side or from downstream. If you can see them, they can often see you and may have already “spooked”. Luckily the bigger waters of the river from East Montpelier down are easier to fish because they tend to be deeper and provide much more cover.
The section of river from the top of Bolton Dam upstream to the Route 2 Bridge east of Waterbury Village is trophy water. Affectionately called the “Waterbury Zoo” by some anglers, this stretch holds some monstrous fish. Catch and release is strongly encouraged! The daily creel limit is 2 fish.
When the river warms up in July and August, many of the trout species congregate in the mouths of feeder streams where the water is cooler. The outlets of Hydro dams - the Little River in Waterbury for one - tend to be cooler and more oxygenated, making these waters prime location for rainbow and brown trout in the summer months.
Salmon may occasionally be hooked in lower reaches. They are stocked by the state as fingerlings or Parr. Adult fish are often netted and trucked upstream of Hydro dams as they migrate to spawn from Lake Champlain. These fish put on a remarkable fight for their size, but read the regulations carefully about limits and season dates.
Bass, especially smallmouth, have made the lower reaches a popular destination for anglers in love with this feisty fish. From Bolton Falls down to the lake they can be readily caught on many of the same lures and baits as trout. In addition bass bugs and hula-poppers are popular fly-rod choices for surface fishing
Perhaps one of the finest tasting fish in the world, Walleye can be found in the lower reaches of the river and - like the salmon - is trucked past the hydro dams on it’s way to spawn. Large double-jointed weighted Rapala type lures fished slowly through eddies will sometimes hook this sluggish fighter. It does not like the heat of summer and will often hole up in cooler waters through July and August.
PERCH and PANFISH
Found in many of the slower moving stretches and impoundments these fish are eager to bite and provide hours of enjoyment especially for children. They require minimal skill to catch and they exist in abundance. The same goes for the fallfish, a huge member of the minnow family. This fish puts up a noble fight and tricks many anglers into thinking it is a trout. Small weighted jigs and live bait are effective for panfish as well as smaller spinners and spoons.