Angler Lands Vermont State-Record Walleye While Ice Fishing on Lake Champlain

Richard Levesque was ice fishing on Lake Champlain when the flag on his tip-up popped a few hours after sunset on Wednesday, February 10, 2010. He knelt next to the hole and began pulling in his line, hand-over-hand, until he felt the fish on the other end. He knew immediately that it was a big one, and for 12 minutes struggled to pull the fish up through the hole in the ice. When the battle was over the fish weighed in 14.55 pounds. It was officially the largest walleye ever caught in Vermont.Richard Levesque
The fish hit while Levasque, of West Swanton, Vermont, was sitting in his homemade eight-foot by eight-foot wooden shanty, watching a movie on his portable DVD player. It was approximately 9 p.m. "The fish pulled line out though my fingers several times before getting its head into the hole where I could grab it," said the 25-year-old avid angler. "To tell the truth, until I saw it, I thought I was fighting a big lake trout." This is the first photo of the catch, taken just minutes after the fish was landed.Richard Levesque
Levesque's buddy, Shaun Chevalier (right), also of West Swanton, helped land the fish. "Catching a fish like this on a tip-up can be a two-man operation," said Levesque.Richard Levesque
The behemoth measured 32-1/2 inches with a pinched tail.Richard Levesque
Its girth was 20 inches around the belly. The hole Levesque drills with his Jiffy power auger is 10 inches in diameter.Richard Levesque
The fish was so fat it barely fit into the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's measuring box.Richard Levesque
"This is the fattest walleye I've ever seen," said Levesque. "It barely fit through the hole." "Champlain's walleye are getting larger then ever because the Department is better controlling the population of lamprey eels, which target the big females that tend to sulk on bottom. And, the fish have a rich diet of shiners, perch, blueback herring, smelt, and alewives to plump them up," says the Department's fisheries biologist Chet MacKenzie.Richard Levesque
The fish was weighed on a certified scale at the Hog Island Market, in West Swanton, the night of the catch. "We've aged a lot of walleye 15 to 20 years old, and up to 24, in our survey nets in the tributaries of Champlain during the spawn," adds MacKenzie. "My guess is this fish was at least two decades old."Richard Levesque
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist Brian Chipman (green vest) examined and verified the fish the day after it was caught and weighed.Richard Levesque
This picture was taken at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's office in Essex moments after the walleye was documented as state's newest record.William Crenshaw, courtesy of Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
Levesque sets a tip-up on Lake Champlain two nights later; in the same area his state-record catch was caught. That ridge in the background marks a crack where ice sheets have pushed together and heaved, which is caused when they shift in the high winter winds. These ridges often form over reefs and near islands.Richard Levesque
It's over a half-mile out to the reef where Levesque does most of his ice fishing. He rides out to his shanty on this 800cc Can-Am quad.Richard Levesque
This is the tipup that caught the record walleye, a Hi-Flag "Senior" manufactured by 40-Up Tackle Company of Westfield, Massachusetts. Vermont anglers are allowed to set out 15 lines each when fishing on Lake Champlain. Levesque and his fishing partner each had the max amount of lines out at the time.Richard Levesque
The fish ate a 3-1/2-inch golden shiner hooked just under the dorsal fin with a size-2 Gamakatsu Walleye Wide Gap hook and 8-pound-test Eagle Claw mono. Goldens are one of many natural shiner species that reside in Champlain.David Rose
The fish ate Levesque's shiner at the bottom in 25 feet of water, near the outer edge of the reef. "I've come to realize that I catch more fish after dark while fishing with tip-ups than I do by jigging," he says. The average size walleye he catches through the ice is five pounds.Richard Levesque
Levesque fishes nearly every day during the winter months. He works for his parents, who own a campground on Hog Island, so has plenty of time to fish.Richard Levesque
The wall at Mike and Matt Renaud's Taxidermy in nearby Winooski, Vermont. Levesque dropped his fish off here to be mounted.Richard Levesque
This photo is of the previous Vermont state-record walleye, caught by Doug Niles, of Newport Center, Vermont, on April 26, 1997. That fish weighed 13.44 pound, was 32 inches long, and had a 22-1/2inch girth. It was caught on live bait in the Clyde River. Levesque's walleye outweighed this fish by 1.11 pounds.courtesy of Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
Lake Champlain is a 440-plus square-mile natural lake bordering Vermont and New York, and Quebec, Canada. In places the lake is more than 400 feet deep. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department stocks its waters annually with walleye.Tom Jones, courtesy of Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department