Although we were getting some below freezing temperatures, safe ice fishing is still some cold days away. And what seems like far too many rainy days, also prevents anglers to walk on water.
But as happens every year at this time, ice fishermen have to travel to the Pocono’s to find hard water. Places like Shohola, Promise Land, Gouldsboro, Tobyhanna and Fairview lakes usually freeze first.
According to local tackle shops, Promised Land (had seven inches of ice) and Shohola (had 4-6 inches) lakes have had some ice fishing action on panfish and pickerel on minnows, waxworms and spikes.
If below freezing temperatures continue for a week or more, Leaser Lake in upper Lehigh County and Ontelaunee Reservoir in upper Berks historically freeze next. However, two weeks ago Ontelaunee had two inches of precarious ice and a few anglers were fishing it.
It’s been tradition, it seems, that first and last ice of the season offers the best ice fishing periods. So now’s a good time to gather up your tip-ups, jigging rods, skimmer, ice auger and whatever else you use, to check their condition before hitting the early season ice.
On your jigging reels and tips-ups, it’s best to discard the old line on your rigs and put on some fresh mono or braid. Or, try some of the mono made especially for ice fishing that doesn’t become stiff in frozen water. Berkley’s Trilene makes Cold Weather or Micro Ice and Fireline’s Micro Ice Crystal is also good and allows for maximum sensitivity in deep water.
To improve your chances of getting bit, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission offers these tips for finding specific species.
WALLEYE: Because they are a schooling fish you want to intercept their cruising by spacing your tip-ups at intervals in a straight line from shore. Avoid weedbeds and look for clear bottoms. Of course a portable depth finder could help here. Use small hooks and light sinkers. Walleyes are notoriously light biters and will often hit a bait as it descends. .
PIKE & PICKEREL: Because of oxygen depletion and scarcity of food, these fish are not likely to be found near submerged vegetation in winter as they are in summer. Don’t overlook fishing open water and employ jigging with spoons. Whatever the bait, let the fish take it and avoid depths greater than 15 feet (can be measured with a marked drop-line and sinker).
PANFISH: Panfish too are schooling fish that travel slowly so the action usually lasts longer. Use light tackle and small, size 12 or 14 hooks impaled with grubs or waxworms. A little trick I learned from Jeff Heller, former owner of Pro Am Fishing Shop in Kuhnsville, is to use a high-low rig for perch. Tie one lighter jig onto your line then tie an 18-inch piece of line to the bend of that hook. At that terminal end, tie on a heavier spoon or jig. Don’t, however, use a swivel to tie this extra piece as it’ll probably tangle. Bait the lower one with a minnow, the higher one with a waxworm. It’s not uncommon to get two perch on at a time.
BASS: Bass metabolism is much slower during winter so they feed much less. Slowly bouncing bait in front of their noses is usually the only method that works as does fishing more varied structure. Look for rocky points and gravel bars near deep water.
Above all, be careful and check the ice before venturing onto it. Stay away from areas where cracks meet or intersect. Be extra careful where water levels vary as in rivers, streams, inlets, outlets, coves, eddies and springs. And areas with “stick ups” of protruding logs, brush, plants and docks that absorb heat from the sun, which weakens surrounding ice. Last but not least, you’ll probably find thicker ice on a waterway’s north, rather than on the south shore.
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.