They all say that last winter was a real doozy, but actually, this winter is much colder than last year. With that, there is an abundance of clear, hard and safe ice on much of our waters that would permit ice fishing - a gig I have always loved to do, but have usually had to travel to find "safe ice." Safe ice is defined as clear, hard ice that is 4 inches thick or more. Most of the ice I have been on lately has been 6 inches or better. But it is always a must to check ice thickness before any adventure, and always with a friend. Check ice areas thoroughly.
So, since we have good ice conditions locally for the first time in many years, I have had a ball fishing primarily for bluegills and bass in local lakes and ponds along the Mason Dixon area. Basically, we have been fishing a variety of small ice lures just off the bottom and tipping them with wax worms. Kastmaster spoons have been hot, also. Using small jigging rods, we gently bounce the lure and keep a sharp eye on our spring bobber strike indicators for the slightest of movement, which signals a strike from a winter panfish or bass.
In recent years, I have always had to travel west to Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County to cash in on the yellow perch bite up there. But with the safe ice close by, I don't have to hoof it up to DCL. Places like Marburg, Sheppard Myers Dam, Pinchot Lake and Lake Redmond are all enjoying safe ice in nearby Pennsylvania.
I recently had the chance to fish a couple of farmponds locally and managed to catch some of the better bluegills I have gotten so far this winter - fish up to 10.5 inches. Bluegill fishing is so much fun through the ice, and the delicious fillets they yield make for a fish fry fit for a king. At Faylor Lake in Perry County, Pa., we caught 60 fish between four of us and were able to enjoy fresh coffee and hot soup out on the ice. Ice fishing is also somewhat of a social event, with anglers gathering and setting up food and beverage opts at many ice venues.
But for the gills at the ponds, we just set up in the deeper areas and move around until we find them. Surprisingly, we caught some as shallow as three feet, but in a shallow body of water, they are where they are! In some lakes like Deep Creek or Marburg, bluegills can be as deep as 35 feet, even more. Every lake is different, and you just have to move around until you find the fish. This growing sport has seen many innovations over the past years, and electronics, portable shelters, sonar units, clothing improvements and more have enabled anglers to stay out longer and with greater comfort than ever before. If you're a fisherman in Minnesota, then you'll have about five months of ice fishing!
But for me, I just as happy to sit on a bucket and catch a dozen or so bluegills for a tasty meal. Be sure you are walking/fishing on a minimum of four inches of clear, hard ice, as melting snow on top of the harder ice is not near as strong as the hard stuff. Use caution as the ice begins to deteriorate. Yup, fresh bluegill fillets! Fried crisp and golden brown, I think I'm getting hungry right now!