It’s all about the ice: The last half of winter holds promise for ice anglers in the region. (copy) | Sports


It wasn’t quite like that old saying about weather in some parts of the world – “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” But it was radical. We went from mild 60 degrees to blizzards in a matter of days, with sub-zero cold expected in the storm’s bleached wake. The change has come just in time for those who love winter outdoors since, according to the calendar, the season has already expired by a third.

One winter activity that attracts fewer participants than you might expect is ice fishing. Fishing in frozen water is, in many ways, the perfect winter diversion. When the conditions are right, the options for where to go are plentiful, it’s not tiring, it can be inexpensive, success can be simple, and it’s a lot of fun. Few things can brighten up a dull winter day like a circle of friends chilling around their ice holes, sharing stories, food, hot (or cold) drinks, and the excitement that comes with every catch. Ice fishing conveys a certain camaraderie between those who practice it.

However, the number one priority in ice fishing is always safety. It is up to each ice fisherman to ensure for themselves that the ice is safe. Four inches of clear ice is generally cited as the minimum for “social distancing” anglers. In this case, social distancing has nothing to do with disease but everything to do with the concentration of weight on a given surface. According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s ice safety recommendations, seven inches of ice allows for groups of groups like the one described above. Here you never see the extreme ice thickness that allows snowmobiles and pick-up trucks to be driven on ice as is common in Canada and the northern Great Lakes, which is probably a good thing for many reasons.

It is important to remember that a frozen lake is a natural system. Thus, there will always be variables that influence the thickness of the ice at various points. Stream under the ice, underground springs, dark-colored woody debris that absorbs solar energy, and structures like piers or weir pipes can all prevent ice from thickening, even when the surface appears even. Move away from these irregularities, in an area where you have checked the safety thickness.

Careful anglers always wear a life jacket – just in case – and carry ice punches (hand spikes that wrap around your neck) that allow you to “take a hold” and bring you back on. ice in the event of an accident. Never ice fish alone and always carry a rope for rescue. With all these precautions, ice fishing is safe and relaxing.

Here, Virgin Run Lake, Dunlap Creek Lake, High Point Lake, Cranberry Glade Lake, Laurel Hill Lake and the twin lakes of Greensburg are the most popular ice fishing destinations and all have their special attributes.

The Fish and Boat Commission stocks rainbow trout in Virgin Run, Dunlap Creek, Laurel Hill, and Greensburg lakes each fall. Most of these fish are still available when ice fishing conditions develop. Often these lakes receive another mid-winter stocking, targeting ice fishing.

Stocked trout tend to circle a lake in schools or groups. Captures can be quick as a school passes below, then the action fades as the pod moves away. With trout, it’s often a simple waiting game until the fish returns to your location. The trick may be figuring out the best depth to hook a bait. Some anglers use sophisticated electronic devices to determine the correct depth. Others rely on the generous and social nature of ice fishermen to share a insider tip on fishing depth. Still others experiment until they find the formula.

Trout bait for ice fishing is less diverse than the flies that anglers use to trick trout during warm months, and there is no attempt to “hatch match” insect imitations natural. Commercially available processed bait, salmon roe and minnows catch the bulk of trout landed on the ice each winter.

These trout-populated lakes are also home to bluegill, crappie, and other sunfish, as well as yellow perch in some cases. A small ice-jig fitted with a maggot or a wax worm, suspended a few centimeters from the bottom, is the preferred way to catch these delicious “crappie”.

Although both are located at the top of the mountain, High Point Lake and Cranberry Glade Lake are both considered “warm water” fisheries and therefore do not receive stocking of trout. Fishing here depends entirely on natural populations of all of the sunfish mentioned above, as well as largemouth bass, northern pike and some walleye. These two higher elevation lakes tend to form thicker ice earlier and retain it longer than our lowland holding ponds.

One day last February, dozens of anglers swarmed Cranberry Glade Lake, but none reported catching a fish. Months later I fished from a canoe on the same lake and caught a long source of crappie and bluegill on a small white jig with a silver blade. Although they can be hard to find in the winter, the fish are there in large numbers.

An overlooked ice fishing option in our area is the abundance of farm ponds. If you have permission to fish in a farm pond, it is easier to locate fish than in a large body of water. In farm ponds, expensive electronics are not such an advantage, but the safety precautions remain the same.

The January 2022 issue of Pennsylvania Angler and Boater magazine is a great introduction to ice fishing. It has beginner’s information, fishing tactics and safety tips all in one issue. You can read Angler and Boater on the Fish and Boat Commission website at

The best way to learn ice fishing is to simply go with someone who does. Beginners will learn the right gear to acquire, which can be surprisingly inexpensive, and how to dress for the conditions.

A final consideration is that fishing licenses align with the calendar year, so you need a 2022 license to fish legally. Licenses can be purchased and printed on the same Fish and Boat site.


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