Ice is nice for winter fishing

For hundreds of nature lovers in the region, winter offers the rare opportunity to experience the freezing magic of Old Man Winter when it turns water to ice.

The ice is nice for people who like to get out on our local lakes to try their luck coaxing a hungry fish into taking their jigs or baited hooks.

I’ve enjoyed ice fishing on occasion, but I’ve never caught anything yet. I dutifully hiked the frozen Lake Ontelaunee with friends, gear, a good attitude, and hopeful expectations. But, just like my surf fishing record, so far my record is zero catches, despite numerous catch attempts.

OK, last season I caught an unfortunate horseshoe crab while surfing the Jersey Shore. You should have seen me put the hook on what I thought was a tasty king fish. I used my best form to catch and land the mystery fish which turned out to be a crab.

As I was turning the crab, a young man passed by and asked quizzically, “Do you fish for horseshoe crabs?”

If I could have hidden somewhere, I would have, but there we were – me, the crab and the curious boy. It was an awkward situation and I think I just smiled and changed the subject.

Back to the ice, around these parts, I believe favorite public destinations for people who ice fish include Lake Ontelaunee and Lake Antietam. These lakes offer more stable ice than Blue Marsh Lake, which can be tricky and dangerous.

Naturally, the ice fishing season only takes place once a year in winter, and even then it is not 100% guaranteed in our climate zone, which is why fans of this sport make a ritual of going out into nature to try their luck.

Why are they doing this? Some ice fish so they can get to sections of the lake that could never be reached by land, the theory being that Moby Dick or a legendary fishing tale awaits them as a reward for their bravery.

Personally, having never caught fish while ice fishing, I can tell you that I find being on the ice very peaceful and it is a powerful reminder of the beauty of nature.

The sun’s rays aren’t as direct as in summer, days are shorter, temperatures drop, and glistening bodies of water turn to glistening patches of ice. You can hear things on the ice that you can’t hear anywhere else. If you’re not used to the music the ice makes, you need to breathe deeply, stay calm, and listen as the ice moves and sometimes cracks, sending waves of sound in all directions.

While I was outside taking pictures at Antietam Lake for this column, I heard creaks and the music the ice makes when it is under pressure. True, the crackle immediately catches my attention and I have to remind myself that everything is fine.

I asked some people who fished how thick the ice was and got reports ranging from 7 1/2 to 8 inches. It’s thick enough to walk, fish and ice skate.

It’s a good idea not to go out on the ice alone, and checking the thickness of the ice beforehand knowing that it’s always thinner where the tributaries flow into the main lake is the best precaution to take. take to avoid an accident.

The next good idea is to invest in a pair of those ice-catching cleats that you can put on your boots. These will give you great traction and confidence.

Thus, catching fish is not the only motivation for people who venture into the adventure. Sure, hauling in a trout, pumpkinseed, yellow perch or catfish is exciting, but it’s not the end of the tradition. Some people catch and release even while ice fishing.

In some areas where the winter climate creates ice depths of a foot or more, entire tent-and-bungalow villages or slums are springing up as people clamor for places on the ice. Heck, they drive their jeeps and other all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles straight onto the ice and set up camps that stay put through the winter. Some of these places have luxurious accommodations like stoves and sleeping quarters sheltered from the wind.

Some areas hold annual “Ice Out” festivals where residents bet on when the ice will break in the spring, signaling the perfect time for a festival with great food, music, and libations along the shore.

Some places allow ice boats to speed across the frozen surface of the lake, propelled by the wind in a sail. This ice adventure is on my bucket list.

When I was younger, a friend and I used to go to Lake Angelica (before the flood destroyed the dam and the lake), with an old bed sheet. On windy nights, we would put on our ice skates and stand at one end of the lake, then, as we each held the sheet tightly, we would pull apart and create a giant sail. The wind was billowing in our sail and we were off, as fast as we allowed, heading for the end of the lake. It was fun and, of course, memorable.

Dave Kline is an award-winning writer, photographer, host and producer, singer-songwriter, travel guide and community advocate. Contact him at [email protected]

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