With the freezing temperature we’re having, ice fishing should kick off allowing fishermen to walk on water. And first-ice is generally the best time to ice fish in that the fish haven’t seen live bait or lures in some time.
Ice fishing can also be a family sport in that with kids in tow, and if the fish aren’t biting, kids can slide or ice skate over the waters’ surface. Get a bite and the kids will get excited pulling in a fish with either a tip-up or mini jigging rod.
If you’re new to the sport, only the bare ice fishing essentials are needed. The least expensive piece of equipment aside from line, hooks and sinkers are tip-up’s. If you can’t stand waiting for a tip-up to go off, then invest in a jigging rod or two, each baited with something different. You may want to put a minnow on one and an ice fishing lure on another and jig away.
With first-ice the fish are hungry and their systems are lethargic. So the experts say to fish larger lures and fish them faster as the fish don’t want their dinner getting away. It’s also recommended using fast dropping lures that are flashy and noisy to attract their attention.
But before you can ice fish, you need to a drill a hole or two. The least expensive ice auger is a manual auger that resembles a giant cork screw. It will require some muscle in drilling, but it’ll do just fine in modest ice depths. Or, if you own an 18-volt cordless drill, Cabela’s sells a K-Drill that will attach to most cordless drills. Clam Outdoors also makes a Drill Auger Conversion kit for your cordless drill that can drill 6-inch holes.
If there is substantial ice thickness, you may want to invest in a powered auger do the hard work. Gas augers are pricey but are powerful. If you don’t want to haul a heavy gas unit, Strike Master makes a 40-volt Lithium electric auger that is capable of drilling 100 holes in 16 inches of ice on a full battery charge.
There are also propane powered units such as Eskimo’s Rocket Propane Auger using a 40cc engine. And Jiffy Pro4’s X-Treme propane drill can drill 8 or 10-inch holes. It’s all a matter of what you can afford.
With first ice, and it happens every year, some ice anglers are too anxious and perhaps foolish and they go out on unsafe ice and fall in. The sound of ice cracking underfoot is scary. That’s why it’s important to don a certified Personal Floatation Device (PFD). Or, invest in a coat that doubles as a PFD. Frabill, the fishing gear company, makes their I-Float model and I-Bib ensemble that provides warmth and floatation if you fall in. Their jacket comes with attached ice picks as an aid in crawling out on the ice. Pacific Northwest sells their Survival Bomber Jacket that is a certified Type II PFD.
So far, ice conditions are getting thicker. According to Willie from Willie’s Bait & Tackle in Cementon, he’s been hearing reports of good ice thickness in all Pocono area lakes and ponds like Tobyhanna, Promised Land and Shohola. More locally, Leaser Lake had three inches as of Friday (December 29); Mauch Chunk Lake had 3-3.5 inches, Tuscarora Lake, 4-5 inches and catch-and-release Owl Creek Reservoir located southeast of Tuscarora Lake and north of Leaser Lake off Route 309, had 5-6 inches.
Chris from Chris’ Bait & Tackle in Mertztown said Ontelaunee Reservoir had 3 inches but expects ice to thicken there one-inch a day.
Oh yes. Dress warm and don’t forget the ice creepers for you boots.
Outdoor sportsmen and sportswomen have after-Christmas hunting opportunities when the deer season re-opens for flintlock muzzleloader and late archery Dec. 26.
I’ve said in the past and will say it again, but the late muzzleloader season should allow longer range inline muzzleloaders as it’s extremely tougher to tag a deer when they’ve been shot at and chased the last few weeks, and fewer remain. On the other hand, flintlock muzzleloaders should be the only allowable choice during the early muzzleloader season that runs concurrent with a portion of the archery season. It’s a period when the limitations of the flintlock make it worthwhile. Seems inlines in the early season are similar to centerfire rifles in that they’re just as lethal at longer ranges as centerfire rifles and shotguns making them too effective and not as challenging.
The late deer season runs until Jan 13 in most of the state but continues until Jan. 27 in WMU’s 2B, 5C and 5D where there is an overabundance of whitetails. And in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, hunters may use shotguns and inline muzzleloaders to harvest antlerless deer only until Jan 27.
But deer aren’t the only pursuits as pheasant season and other small game (doves, rabbits, squirrels) open with the former seeing a late season pheasant stocking (8,640 hens) that took place Dec. 22 with new blue-back strain pheasants according to the PGC. This late small game season runs until Feb. 28, 2018 when roosters and hens may he hunted in 17 Wildlife Management Units that includes our own 5C. Only cockbirds may be hunted in WMUs 2A, 2C, 4C, 4E, 5A and 5B.
Snowshoe hare hunting also opens statewide with a season that closes Jan. 1. It’s a short season due to their small population numbers and with no snow on the ground, makes snowshoe’s standout and more vulnerable.
Waterfowl hunters have excellent prospects and will likely pursue Canada geese and snow geese as their numbers are plentiful in our area. In fact, last Wednesday about 500 or more snow’s descended on the cut cornfields off Mauch Chunk Road on land owned by Jeris Corporation (formerly Trojan Powder Company). The snows may have taken off from a quarry located on Route 329 on the outskirts of Northampton, a place they often put down every year around this time.
The snow goose season for the Atlantic Population Zone is split running from Oct. 2 to Jan. 31, then again from Feb. 1 to Apr. 20.
Canada geese too have been feasting on cut fields of soybean and corn. The largest populations have taken up residency on the Lehigh River, mostly in the Northampton to Hokendauqua section. Others are at their usual haunts of Trexler Park and Cedar Beech ponds. Those birds appear to be hitting the vast cut corn fields belonging to Jaindl Farms.
Hunters should keep in mind that to hunt doves, a migratory game bird license is needed and for pheasants, a pheasant permit. For waterfowl, a migratory license and a federal duck stamp, in addition to a general hunting license that is required for all hunting.
Furbearer hunting seasons run through the winter months and include: foxes and raccoons until Feb. 17; porcupines until March 31; bobcats in WMUs 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2H, 3A-B-C-D, 4D-E through Dec. 27.
It’s that time of year when relatives and friends want to treat sportsmen and sportswomen with holiday gifts. These folks are the toughest to buy for as many items are personal be it equipment or clothing. As such, here are a few universal things to consider that should delight these special folks.
FISHING: A 2018 fishing license would be a welcome gift for anyone. Shoppers who don’t wish to visit a local tackle shop to buy one, merely go to GoneFishingPa.com where a one, three, five or 10-year licenses can be purchased online.
HARRISBURG OUTDOOR SHOW: Formally called the Great American Outdoor Show at the Harrisburg Farm Show Complex, has opened its ticket sales for the Feb. 3-11 show where over 1,100 exhibitors will display their new products along with outfitters, entertainment shows and more. Buying an advanced ticket(s) will save time of not having to stand in line to get in. There are also discounted late afternoon tickets being offered. And If you purchase a new NRA Membership online, you’ll get a free show ticket. To purchase, go to etix.com and click on the shows’ logo.
CLOTHING: Be it for hunting, fishing (especially ice fishing), skiing, hiking, even cold weather golfing, ICONX’s Heated Core Vest could solve your cold weather shivers. This 7.4V battery-operated vest features carbon-fiber heating elements that stretch across the midsection in the front, kidney area in the back and base of the neck but the heat is actually distributed throughout the garment so your core stays warm. The vest features three heat levels and when turned on it automatically goes to the highest level heat setting. Once it reaches the highest temp, it drops to the medium setting or you can set the heat setting to whatever you prefer. The battery will last approximately six hours depending upon use and heat settings. For more information check www.pnumaoutdoors.com.
TRAIL CAMERAS: While trail cameras have become popular and more technically advanced, Cuddeback upped the technology to the next level with their CuddeLink system. The new system allows up to 15 cameras, spread out up to 4 miles depending on terrain or ? mile in dense forests, to automatically send photos to a home camera. When one camera clicks a photo, it instantly sends it to a home camera at your location be it at your home or designated location so you don’t have to intrude upon your hunting area. There’s no cell service or Wi-Fi service required. It’s a proprietary wireless mesh network that allows the cameras to daisy chain and communicate with each other allowing you to check the photo card at your central location. A cell connected system is coming in 2018. For more information check www.cuddeback.com.
CROSSBOWS: If there’s one drawback to crossbows, it’s cocking them, especially if they don’t have an integrated cocking device. But the Allen Company headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado, has debuted their SLIDEGLIDE crossbow cocking sled that fits a multitude of crossbows. Allen’s device uses the crossbows’ rail groove as a track to guide the cocking sled up and down the length of the rail. It employs, says Allen, a self-aligning guide spring system that runs along the side of the crossbow rails to keep the sled perfectly aligned during movement and cocking easy. For added info go to www.byAllen.com. If your gift receiver has a crossbow, this device would be appreciated.
FUTURE SPORTSMEN: It’s almost certain TV channels will be replaying the traditional “A Christmas Story,” a classic movie set in the late ‘40s and revolves around Ralphie, an eight-year old who schemes to get a Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. And this traditional rifle is still being sold and on sale for $29.95, a pittance considering what some video games cost. It’s a gift that can be handed down to generations upon teaching the fundamentals of gun safety and proficiency through adult supervision and training. There are also programs offered at www.youth.nra.org and www.eddieeagle.nra.org, that are focused on child-centered resources. And don’t forget safety eye-wear because like Ralphie’s parents said, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
I got my Red Ryder at eight or nine and still have it today. It’s a collectable and will be passed down to my son and his son and hopefully to his offspring. Bass Pro Shops and Tractor Supply are offering the Red Ryder, on sale, in time for Christmas.
Streamlight, based in local Eagleville, Pa, has in time for Christmas gift giving, a dandy LED headlamp that is useful for any outdoor pursuits be it to tie lures onto your fishing line in dim light, field dressing game, camping chores, home improvement and close-up jobs and a myriad of other uses. In fact, our postman has been using a headlamp to see addresses on his mail during late afternoon deliveries.
Streamlights’ Enduro Pro offers three lighting modes including spot LED’s for focused task lighting; flood beams for soft area illumination and red LED’s to preserve night vision. It uses two power LEDs and two Red LEDs for a total of eight output modes, three each for spot and flood and two for night vision.
On high, the spot beam offers 200 lumens and 2,250 candela, the flood beam offers 135 lumens and 210 candela. The night vision features 0.37 and 0.08 lumens on high and low. Run times range fro 6 hours on high to 38 hours on low. It uses three AAA alkaline or lithium batteries that can be easily replaced by opening the lights’ rear cover. The light is rated for water-resistant operation and tested for to two meters for impact resistance. It retails for from $32.00 to $37.50 for the industrial model. Go to www.streamlight.com for more information.
If none of these are suitable, a gift card from Cabela’s, Dicks or local sports shops, will allow them to get what they need to make their outdoors pursuits a more enjoyable experience.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Go West Young Man,” words written back in 1861 by John B.L. Soule. The phrase came to symbolize the idea that agriculture could solve many of the nation’s problems of poverty and unemployment characteristic of the big cities of the East.
But for Jules Fruhwirth of Emmaus and eight of his buddies, the phrase means heading to Nebraska for big white-tailed deer and huge mule deer. The latter duo are predominately a plains pursuit that differs immensely from hunting in Pennsylvania.
Fruhwirth’s nine-day hunt was guided by Broken Arrow Outfitters, who offer hunting guide service in Nebraska, Kansas and Texas, on public and private lands. They also exhibit yearly at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg and have a number of local clientele.
While four of Fruhwirth’s buddies drove to Nebraska with truck and trailer and their gear, Fruhwirth, who took a local 8-pointer with bow during the archery season, flew as he runs Fruhwirth Plumbing in Allentown and couldn’t expend the extra time needed to drive to the Corn Husker’s state.
According to Fruhwirth, plains hunts boil down to two mediums: Driving vast amounts of land, and doing a considerable amount of scanning the terrain with binoculars and spotting scopes in hopes of spotting big muleys and deer. And for him, shooting video footage of the hunt. In fact, one of his buddies kiddingly suggested he put down the video camera and pick up his rifle sometime and do some hunting.
Since Nebraska affords getting a whitetail and mule deer license, Fruhwirth had both, but concentrated on a big muley as this was his third trip there. A muley tag costs $225 if you’re lucky to draw a tag. And after purchasing the regular Nebraska hunting license, there’s also a required $20 habitat stamp.
Hunting the North Platte area, which is in the southwestern part of the state, Fruhwirth said the area required considerable trekking of sage, sand-hill and river bottom terrain.
“For deer, it’s mainly a river bottom hunt where the outfitters place you on productive stands but mandate taking a minimum 120 size deer that is generally an 8-pointer or 130 size, 10-pointer. And I saw hundreds of deer and some really big ones if you have a spotting scope,” Fruhwirth recounted.
His hunt consisted of driving over sand hills, stopping at the crest of the hills then sitting atop them and glassing the terrain. “If we’d see a muley, I’d put up the spotting scope to get a better look, then we proceeded to get closer from there.”
His hunt began on a Wednesday after arriving on Tuesday in late November. In Nebraska, he pointed out, Sunday hunting is permissible.
“On Friday afternoon, with all conditions against us and as we crossed coulee’s and cuts, we spotted ears then antlers. We then sat on a hillside until this buck came around in j-hook fashion. I wanted a symmetrical rack outside the ears and a 180 or better and this one looked right. He then came out at 150 yards although I had been practicing for a typical 300-400 yard shot.”
Using an old old, hand-me-down 30.06 caliber Winchester model 70 on a bipod, Fruhwirth lined up the crosshairs of his scope on this 4x4 buck that subsequently weighed around 200 pounds. Shooting a 150 grain Nosler ballistic tipped bullet, his first muley ever, went down.
“At the sound of my shot, a huge 180 size, 10-point whitetail broke out from the same area and high-tailed it at lightning speed. The outfitter said he never saw one that big out there. And after a 10-minute hike to my muley, we could still see this same buck, now about a mile away, running at full speed towards a cornfield and river bottom.”
The following two days Fruhwirth experienced bad weather but says he still saw at least 27 big bucks, but couldn’t get a shot at a sizable deer.
Of his group of eight, six muleys were taken, one a 10-pointer, while others managed one or two whitetails a piece, some of which were 10-pointers. “One of these was shot at 20 feet from a ground blind with a Ravin crossbow,” he added.
So if you want to see and score on big deer and mule deer, go West young man.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.