When I moved from southern California to Vermont in 2001 to buy the October Country Inn, I wondered how I would adjust to the image I had of ferocious New England winters.  A local Vermonter told me to find a way to enjoy winter because there’s no place to hide from it.  That was good advice.  There’s plenty to do during the Winter, and I’ve grown to look forward to this season for the specialized variety of outdoor activities that are only available at this time.  One such activity is ice fishing.

Ice must be at least 5 inches thick.

Safety chart illustrating depth of ice to support various weights.It’s usually around mid-January that the ice on nearby Echo Lake forms a good, hard layer of clear, blue ice between 4 and 6 inches thick.  This is the minimum thickness range that would be considered safe for a person or small group to venture onto the ice, fishing equipment in hand, and settle in for a fun winter activity that allows plenty of time for socializing between parents and children, relatives and friends.  There’s always a good chance of bringing home fresh fish for dinner.

First ice is most productive.

Seasoned Vermont ice anglers know that there are three general ice-fishing seasons: first ice, mid-winter, and last ice.  Many believe that first ice is the most productive, as fish are actively feeding, often still in shallow water.  But first ice can be dangerous if the surface ice is not yet fully frozen to a minimum 4 inch depth.  In mid-winter, weeds along the shore die and fish tend to move into deeper water.  As light diminishes and temperatures plummet, feeding tends to slow.  But if you can locate schools of crappies, perch, or walleye in pockets of deep water, vigorous jigging and the right lures can bring success.  Last ice brings new weed growth along the shorelines, as well as more warmth and light, so fish tend to move back toward shallower water.

Ice fishing requires a specialized set-up.

An afternoon's catch around a hole in the ice.To begin ice fishing, you need a couple of lightly-rigged jugging poles, a few jigs and lures, small bobbers, split shot, live bait such as minnows or waxworms, a bucket to transport gear and to sit on, an ice auger, and ice skimmer.  Build yourself a tip-up.  Designs vary, but the essential feature is a flag that tips up when a fish strikes.  The example shown at left has a vertical bar that anchors the device with a pivoting horizontal bar with the fishing line dropping into the hole from one end and a small flag at opposite end.  When a fish strikes, it pulls the end with the line attached down, and tips the flag up.

Dress in layers.

Ice shanties scattered around the frozen surface of Echo Lake.

By early Ferbruary, serious ice anglers have staked out their spots with a wide variety of “shanties.” Some are heated and equipped with sound systems or satellite TV.

The only equipment about which anglers totally agree on is clothing and boots.  Be sure to dress in layers, including a wind-breaking layer.  You can always shed a layer or two if you’re too warm.  The single most important item in the ice fishing wardrobe is footwear.  Insulated rubber boots, or boots with separate, thick felt liners, are the best insurance against cold feet.  Boots should fit loose enough to accommodate extra socks and to allow maximum blood circulation.  Good headgear is particularly important when ice fishing.  Up to 80% of the heat lost on a cold day leaves the body from the head and neck.

Get a fishing license.

The winter access area to Echo Lake is located about 8 miles from the October Country Inn on the west shore alongside Route 100.  The lake contains large and smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, bullhead, and pumpkinseed sunfish.  Recreational fishing in Vermont requires is regulated by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and requires a fishing license.  Check out their website for  details.