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Walleye Week: Connecticut River is a Top Northeast Walleye Destination

If big walleyes are your game, you need to visit the Connecticut River!

Walleye Week: Connecticut River is a Top Northeast Walleye Destination

Besides being New England's longest river, the Connecticut River is one exceptional fishery. Actually, it might be more accurate to call it several exceptional fisheries.

From where its headwaters rise in the far northern tip of New Hampshire, to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Long Island Sound some 400 miles later, the Connecticut River boasts a wide mix of angling opportunities. To properly fish the trout-filled waters of the north, the striped bass hotspots near the mouth, and all of the water in between would require spending a lot of time and money buying a wide variety of gear at your local tackle shop.

But a large stretch of the big river requires only some basic tackle and a decent spinning rod. That's because it's teeming with walleye, a fish that can be caught on tackle as simple as a jighead and a minnow or a weighted nightcrawler bounced along the bottom.

If we use the town of Monroe, NH, as our starting point and head downriver to about the Massachusetts state line, there are about 150 miles of the 'Cut that can rightly be considered some of New England's best walleye waters.

"It's a very fun river to fish," said Zachary McNaughton, a Vermont-based angler who lives in the Connecticut River valley. "It's a numbers game there. It's not necessarily a place where you're going to catch a lot of giants, but you're going to catch a lot of walleyes."

Adapted Nicely

Walleyes are not native to the Connecticut River drainage. Likely, the population now firmly entrenched in the middle reaches of the river can be traced back to illegal stocking sometime in the middle of the 20th century. The accepted theory is the transplanted fish came out of Lake Champlain where they are a native species.

The number of ways that human activity has altered the history and makeup of the Connecticut River is mind-numbing. The Industrial Revolution saw hundreds of dams built in the mainstem of the river, and in the name of progress, populations of anadromous Atlantic salmon and American shad—to name just two—were destroyed. ¬Today, there are still more than five dozen dams on the main river. Some of the historic fish populations and angling opportunities have been restored thanks to the coordinated work of state, federal, and non-profit organizations—the shad fishing, for instance, is terrific below Bellows Falls, VT, each spring. But cleaning up the river and adding environmental protections to the remaining dams has allowed introduced species like walleye to thrive.

Anglers can, and do, catch walleye as far downriver as below the Holyoke Dam in Massachusetts. That said, by far the best stretch of the 'Cut for walleye is from Monroe, NH downstream to the Massachusetts border.

Area Of Interest

The many miles of river below Monroe, NH, and Barnet, VT can be accessed fairly well along roadways in both states. In New Hampshire, Routes 135 and 10 parallel the river, while in Vermont it's US 5 that runs alongside it for much of the way.

river-walleye-1

We've mentioned the copious number of dams on the Connecticut River, and it's below many of these dams where the best walleye fishing is had. Also, below many of these dams are boat launches. While walleye fishing from the river's banks can be productive in the spring, a boat is a big bonus later in the year when the fish head to deeper water.

McNaughton says he frequently launches at a site in Walpole, NH, which gives him access to nearly 12 miles of water.

Granite State Rules

The portion of the Connecticut River that forms the border between Vermont and New Hampshire flows 255 miles through 26 New Hampshire and 27 Vermont communities. It can be fished with a license from either state, but it's the State of New Hampshire Fish & Game Department that has oversight of the rules and regulations.

Recommended


New Hampshire regs allow walleye fishing on the Connecticut River year-round, with a slot limit in effect. There is a closed season on the upper stretches of the river, so do check the rule books of either state. There is a daily limit of four fish, and all walleye between 16 to 18 inches must be released. Additionally, anglers can only keep fish over 18 inches. These regulations were implemented in 1998 to protect the most productive spawning females.

"It seems you'll catch a lot of fish in, or near, that slot," said McNaughton.

Generally, the walleye fishing begins to heat up by the middle of March when the walleye start to spawn, and many of the sandbars and mouths of small streams will hold fish in the spring. But walleyes can be caught at all times of the year in the river.

How To Fish

As mentioned above, walleye fishing doesn't require a whole lot of special equipment. A spinning rod with 6-pound test on the reel will work just fine. Jig heads (1/4- to 1/2-ounce) will do the trick, tipped with either live minnows or nightcrawlers. You will be bouncing bottom, so plan on some snags.

A crawler harness, with enough weight to get it near the bottom, is another go-to method. McNaughton, who runs a YouTube channel with educational videos for anglers, says the keys to fishing the Connecticut year-round is finding the structure—gravel beds and timber frames left from a bygone era when the river was a conduit for logs felled in New England's Northern Forest where the river rises and shipped to the metropolitan region at its mouth.

And while a lot of the fish caught on the Connecticut are going to be right around that 16- to 18-inch slot limit, be aware that there are much larger walleyes swimming in the big river's waters.

Case in point: New Hampshire's state record walleye came out of the Connecticut River. Caught by Anthony Bartolini in May of 1992 near Wells River, VT, the 34-inches tipped the scales at 12 pounds, 8 ounces.




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