Ice Fishing Newbie

Picture this. It’s 6am on a cold February morning. The wind is blowing hard and there are a few inches of new snow on the ground. There’s a fire in the fireplace keeping the house toasty warm and the Mrs. is laying under a couple blankets snoozing softly. And there I am, sitting on a bucket in the middle of a frozen wasteland reeling in another football shaped perch to add to the bucket. Ahhhhh, heaven. The crappie bite was even better than the perch that day!

New to ice fishingI was an ice fishing newbie, relatively new to hardwater fishing prior to last year. I had only tried it once before with a buddy a few years earlier and we never got a nibble. Other than that, I never had much to do with ice fishing. I grew up fishing the shores of Long Island. Flounder and porgies were the usual fare with the occasional sea robin and dogfish. Not much ice. As a young man I moved to Colorado. I didn’t get much fishing in, I wasn’t used to that type of fishing. I was a beach bum! But one day, I was driving into the mountains one cold winter day just north of Boulder and passed a small lake. The name of the lake is gone from memory, heck, that was over 30 years ago. But the strange thing that I couldn’t forget was the small multi-color tents and sheds that seemed to look more like outhouses to my eye. All congregated in the middle of the lake! What the heck? Later that day I talked to a friend that grew up in the area and he explained to me the insanity of the sport known as “ice fishing”. I never gave it another thought after that, until I saw a fishing video where a guy went ice fishing with a couple buddies. It looked like they were having the time of their lives chasing flags and barbecuing burgers! Barbecuing! On the ice! It got me thinking about the outhouses on the lake in Colorado. Then a hunting buddy of mine mentioned that he was going ice fishing and that he had an extra jigging pole. I was in. I wanted to see if you could really catch a fish through a hole in the ice. Well as it turned out, nope, you can’t. We didn’t get a nibble, bite or even a nasty look! But it didn’t matter, it was fun just being out there on that ice. I got a lesson in checking ice thickness for safety, and why ice-cleats are a good investment. But I really didn’t know much about the fishing end of it. So where could I go to learn about ice fishing, about bait, and tackle, and tactics on the ice? Heck, where could I go to find out what kind of fish I could catch through the ice? I went were everybody else goes these days, the internet!

I googled around for a while and found a few ice fishing sites. But I wasn’t looking for a massive machine that scrolls threads by soPerch and crappie from the ice to the frying pan. fast that they get lost in the masses. I wanted a comfortable spot that I could talk to folks and get answers and help to get started. I signed on to IceFishin247; the guys there welcomed me with open arms! I guess most of my dumb questions had been asked before because everyone seemed to have the same answer, but some of my dumb questions ended up not being so dumb. It seemed a lot of guys were asking the same questions but didn’t know how to ask. Or maybe I just wasn’t as worried about lookin’ dumb! I was invited to hit the ice with a few of the guys so I showed up with my grandson’s snow sled, a bucket to sit on, and a couple jigging poles. I had some ok jigs, a pocket full of wax worms and an auger, I was set. Unfortunately the auger wasn’t drilling holes too well. I learned that you need to check your blade screws… lesson learned. One of the guys came over and gave me a few tips then drilled a few holes for me. He even let me try out his Marcum flasher for a bit. The bite wasn’t on, but I managed to pull my first fish through the ice! A chunky little slab! I met several guys from the site and even had a nice bowl of chili for lunch! It was a crash course on ice fishing, without crashing of course! One day on the ice and I was hooked. At the time, I didn’t realize just how deep I ate that hook! I started researching flashers and fishfinders. I even bought a few old fish finders and made them work to a degree. I made a jigging pole out of old busted rods that I loving named Frankenstein, I built a sled big enough to get my gear on the ice in style. I asked for advice and got it. Then tried it every other way only to find out why I should have done it right the first time. But I guess that’s how we learn.

This is going to be a great winter coming up. I have most of the gear I need, a good flasher, and a pop-up hunting blind for a shanty. I still have my home made sled. I intend to further customize it before first ice. I need to lighten it up and maybe add some removable wheels for pulling it on pavement and through woods.  I have a few light rods, and of course there’s ol’ Frankenstein ready to go, although I have no idea what I would try to catch with it?! I’m gettin’ some tip-ups for this year as well, but I’ll probably be asking a ton of dumb questions about them. I have an old pair of heavy lug, insulted hunting boots with screws in the bottom to keep me from slippin’ on the ice and busting something. And I have a bunch of buddies to hit the ice with. Yeah, I can’t wait for winter, the colder the better. Yep, I got hooked deep.

Northeast Pennsylvania Ice Fishing

Northeast Pennsylvania has consistant early ice fishing.

Northeast Pennsylvania Ice Fishing
Northeastern Pennsylvania is unquestionably the “ice fishing capital” of the Keystone State. This is due to the fact that it is blessed with a natural abundance of lakes to accommodate her legions of hard water enthusiasts. But, even more importantly, the geographic situation of NEPA Ice Country finds many lakes perched on mountain plateaus at elevations nearly 2,000 feet above sea level. Other NEPA waters are tucked in the hollows between these mountains and actually experience colder conditions than those reached on the mountain tops. Northeastern Pennsylvania is comprised of the following counties: Bradford, Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming. It is not unusual to find winter temps in the region rivaling or dipping below those found in upstate New York. One measure of the northeast’s domination of Pennsylvania’s ice fishing scene is early ice. Year after year “first ice” in NEPA is 4 to 6 weeks earlier than in the rest of the state. I have personally made my first foray onto solid ice in NEPA on or about December 10th every year for the last four years.

Lake Wallenpaupack is one of NEPA's premiere ice fishing destinations.

Lake Wallenpaupack is one of NEPA’s premiere ice fishing destinations.

Early ice is one thing, but the quality of the Northeast Pennsylvania Ice Fishing is another. With hardwater destinations like Lake Wallenpaupack, Lake Jean, Lake Lackawanna, Promised Land, and Shohola Dam topping the list of favorites, there are litterally dozens of opportunities for ice fishermen on any given weekend. Fish species targeted run the gamut from the big three trout species available in the region: brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout to bluegills, sunfish, crappie, and perch. There are walleye, bass and pickerel in many of the lakes and good catches of all are reported with regularity. For fans of the esox family (toothy critters), all of the state park lakes in NEPA are regularly stocked with muskellunge. Some of these lakes have yielded specimens in the 40lb class. The lake at Frances Slocum State Park has a history of producing trophy muskies through the ice. There are opportunities for exotic species to be had through the ice at some locations. Lake Wallenpaupack has a reputation of producing a few trophy striped bass, 20lbs plus, every winter. I personally caught a northern pike in the twenty pound class two years ago at the “pack”. If you are interested in a truly unique ice fishing experience the frigid temps in NEPA can on occasion cause the Susquehanna River to freeze. When this occurs there is a cadre of locals anglers who have been waiting and watching for the opportunity to fish the river ice. Ice fishing on the river is without a doubt more dangerous than ice fishing on the lakes and ponds but the rewards are significant. Walleye, musky and northern pike are the prime targets but, channel catfish, 10 to 12 lbs, and monster carp, to 40 lbs, are frequently pulled out onto the ice.

If you want to learn more about ice fishing or the fantastic hard water fishing to be had in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the community is here to be a friend, lend a hand and be a resource in your icy pursuits. Whether you are a beginner or an icy veteran seasoned by many winters spent on our frozen lakes, you will find a warm fire, good friends, and extraordinary tales when you step through the doors of  IceFishin247.

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