Finding a Fresher Fish Come Winter

Pry Family Quilt

No matter your experience level, ice fishing offers a winter adventure with a delicious twist.

by Joe Byers

Ice fishing in the Great Lakes region is nearly as popular as summer angling, and adventuresome types seize the chance to beat cabin fever and tackle winter’s bounty with fresh fish and exciting recreation. In areas where ice freezes to more than a foot thick, anglers drive their snow machines and vehicle onto the ice, set up shelters — called shanties — and practice all the shenanigans of tailgating inside a shelter where temperatures are moderate and revelers fish, drink, and grill comfort foods just like at a football game.

Rarely does ice freeze to those depths in the four-state area, yet ice fishing is a great way to get outdoors and catch a perch, trout, or bass dinner at a time when fresh fish is difficult to find.  Greenbrier Lake, Big Pool, Blairs Valley Lake, Indian Springs Pond, and other impoundments offer ice fishing potential when ice freezes to four or more inches thick — usually in January and February. Adults do still need a Maryland state fishing license (available online), while youngsters 16 and under can fish for free.

High Or Low Tech

Allen Klotz is the Western Maryland Fisheries manager and described the type of gear that anglers use ranging from as little as two buckets — one to sit on and one for fish, a short rod, and mealworms, to the far more advanced. Some anglers use a pop-up blind over the fishing spot for added warmth, a power ice auger to cut a hole in the ice, and even fish-finders that show if fish are below your spot. “They have gotten so advanced that you can actually watch a fish take the bait,” he says.

successful northern pike fisherman pulling freshly caught pike up through hole in ice, catching it on a tip-up

Like most outdoor activity, remember, safety first! Ice anglers must take precautions entering and walking on ice that normally must be at least four inches to be safe. One way to test the thickness is to use a cordless power drill with a long bit and drill a small hole. Once done, you can drill a test hole with an ice auger in shallow water to get a better gauge of ice depth. Keep in mind that ice doesn’t have universal thickness, and that clear blue ice is best, while yellowish ice is less safe. White ice or “snow ice” requires twice the thickness of clear ice to be safe. Additionally, ice with overflowing water may be less thick — yet this is usually not an issue in lakes and ponds.

Ice anglers should always wear an approved flotation device (life vest) under their clothing “just in case.” Since these are often insulating as well, they fit in well with the multi-layered approach to keeping warm. You’ll need a heavy windproof jacket and pants, and insulation underneath since you will be sitting or standing much of the time. Waterproof gloves (to handle fish) and boots with good traction are also important. And it’s best to bring a backpack with a thermos of hot chocolate, snacks, and extra safety gear such as a stretch of rope and ice safety picks. This YouTube video is very helpful.

Getting Started

Like most subjects today, if you want to learn how to ice fish, there’s a website for that, and you couldn’t ask for a better one than, which is an information-packed resource supported by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation. Below is a summary of their get-started tips with the full version readily available online:

1) Learn to properly identify each different type of species you may catch and be aware of limits that may apply. Learning various fish species is especially fun for youngsters.

2) Use a fishing rod that has plenty

of sensitivity. Ice fishing rods are usually only 3 to 4 feet in length since long casts aren’t necessary for this type of fishing.

3) Get an ultralight spinning or spin-casting reel that is rigged with eight-pound fishing line. Keep your ice fishing gear simple to start.

4) Decide when and where to ice fish. Check the weather forecast, dress appropriately, and educate yourself about ice fishing safety. Learn about which types of spots on a frozen waterway are both safe and likely to hold fish.

5) Choose the type of bait that you would like to use (live or artificial), but keep in mind that live baits are best for beginners. While learning how to ice fish, it’s best to use live minnows or meal worms. Once you have some experience, you can switch to jigs, spoons, or other artificial lures to make it more of a challenge.

6) Test the ice and drill a hole using an ice auger. Using extreme care, position the auger blades on the ice and apply pressure as you drill the hole.

7) Most fish are found on the bottom where the water is warmer. Once your line hits the bottom, reel your baits or lures up a foot or two. This should position your bait within striking range. Then wait to feel a bite. The bite will be very light during the cold winter months when the fish are less active.

If that doesn’t work, jig your rod tip to give the bait more action. Also, try various depths of the water. You can return to the same depth by beginning on the bottom and counting the number of turns you reel up.

Good luck, stay warm, and catch a big one.

Deep Creek Lake

If you are up for a road trip, Deep Creek Lake features a variety of fish; yellow perch and walleye typically are plentiful in winter. Others may include northern pike, bluegill, pickerel, trout, bass, crappie, and sunfish. Try keeping your line near the lake bottom, where fish are more active. You can find out where the fish are biting this winter at Deep Creek Lake by way of the Maryland Weekly Fishing Report Overview. This informative weekly report provides anglers details of conditions and considerations while fishing Maryland public waters and streams. Be sure to stay up-to-date with weather conditions and record catches. For those interested in extending their stay a bit, Blue Moon Rising offers a wide variety of cabin rentals and is a prime source for other winter activities in the area. They can be found on the web at

Hagerstown Magazine