Vermont Freshwater Fishing
Tips for warming up to ice fishing
By Jud Kratzer
Fisheries Biologist, Vermont Fish & Wildlife
Vermont is well known for its long, cold winters, which are dreaded by some but beloved by others, including many anglers. Undeniably, ice fishing in Vermont is a favorite winter activity among many and is an excellent way to beat cabin fever while spending time with friends and family. Even better, this pastime is one of the cheapest winter activities to take part in. If you’re interested in giving ice fishing a try but don’t know how to get started, this article is for you!
Ice fishing can be as simple or as complicated as you like. In fact, one of the benefits of ice fishing is that it doesn’t require a lot of gear. During the ice fishing season, people without boats can access parts of the lake that they can’t reach in the summer while fishing from shore.
The most basic gear would include an auger or spud bar, for punching a hole in the ice; a skimmer, for scooping ice chunks out of the hole; and a rod or tip-up, for catching fish. Of course, you will also need tackle and bait. A bucket makes a nice seat, and it can also help you carry your catch off the ice if you decide to keep any.
Perch are the most popular species sought during Vermont’s ice fishing season, and they are one of the best species to target if you are just learning to ice fish. Try small jigging lures tipped with a live maggot or a perch eye. Maggots — also known as “spikes” — are available at most bait shops in the winter. While using maggots or perch eyes may sound gross, they are among the best types of live bait you can use for perch. Fortunately, there are artificial alternatives that work almost as well. Try using small plastic “micro jigs” that you can buy at most tackle shops catering to ice fishing. These can be found in the shape of maggots, minnow heads, small fish, or even insects such as mayflies, many of which are also scented with an attractant. Small, live minnows under tip-ups are also a good option for catching perch.
Northern pike and chain pickerel are good quarries for the beginning ice angler as well. There are two main methods for catching pike and pickerel during the ice fishing season. Like perch, pickerel can be caught on jigging lures that are tipped with maggots, perch eyes, or small pieces of perch meat. However, the most effective method for both pike and pickerel is often to fish a minnow or small perch under a tip-up. If perch are abundant in the pond where you want to fish, you can often catch your own bait with little effort.
Yellow perch and chain pickerel are widespread throughout the state, northern pike less so. See the “Where the Fish Are” table to find a lake or pond near you where you can target these species. When you find a lake or pond that interests you, check the “Index of Lakes and Ponds” to confirm ice fishing is permitted on that waterbody and to check for any special regulations that might apply.
As with most activities, ice fishing does have a learning curve. While the best way to shorten the learning curve is to start out by fishing with an experienced ice angler, here are a few tips to help get you started:
- A good depth range to start looking for perch, pickerel, and pike would be 10 to 30 feet of water.
- The best fishing is usually within the first and last hours of daylight.
- Fishing is usually better early and late in the ice fishing season with the bite often slowing a bit from late January through February.
- If you are jigging and not catching fish, move and drill another hole. These fish usually do not move much in the winter, so don’t wait for them to come to you.
- Some people are nervous about venturing onto frozen lakes,
but ice fishing is a safe activity for those that use common
sense. Before getting out over deep water, punch a test hole
to determine ice thickness. Four inches of clear, black ice is
generally considered safe for foot traffic. Avoid areas of current, where the ice may be thinner. Go with a friend or fish within shouting distance of other anglers. For more safety tips, visit https://www.takemefishing.org/ice-fishing/.
We at Vermont Fish & Wildlife hope that you will give ice fishing a try and find it as thrilling as we do. Warning, it can become addicting!
Perch are the most popular species sought during Vermont’s ice fishing season, and they are one of the best species to target if you are just learning to ice fish.
Vermont’s many lakes, ponds, and rivers offer tremendous ice fishing opportunities for a wide range of species. Reference the “Where the Fish Are” tables to find out what species are found in various waters.