Mark Beauchesne: (603) 271-3212
Liza Poinier (603) 271-3211
February 7, 2003

Fishing for Winter Fun? Try Ice Fishing This Winter

The water's hard, the wind is blowing and the temperatures are a polar bear's dream... sound like a good time to hit the lakes?

"You bet!" says Mark Beauchesne, 'Let's Go Fishing' Program Coordinator for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department: "Ice fishing is one of the most enjoyable winter activities out there. The fish and the fresh air are part of it -- but ice fishing is also about social connections between friends and family." He adds, "Remember the movie 'Grumpy Old Men'?"

Use Caution on Ice

Before you head out on the ice, remember these basic guidelines. They could save your life.

No ice is ever safe. Check it! Start at the shoreline and, using an auger, spud or axe, make test holes at intervals as you proceed. As a rule of thumb for new, clear ice, there should be a minimum of 4 to 6 inches of ice to support a few, well-dispersed people; 6 to 7 inches for small, on-foot, group activities; and at least 8 to 10 inches for snowmobile activities. (Ice thickness recommendations are based on information from the Cold Regions Research Laboratory in Hanover, N.H.)

If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Don't go on the ice during thaws. Avoid honeycombed ice, dark snow and dark ice.

Ice is generally thinner where there is moving water, such as at inlets and outlets, around wharves, bridge abutments, islands and objects that protrude through the ice.

For a copy of Fish and Game's brochure, "Safety on Ice,"* click here (PDF, 107 KB) or call Fish and Game's Public Affairs Division at 603-271-3211.

Whether or not you aspire to be a grumpy old man (or woman), ice fishing is fun, easy and accessible. "You just walk out onto the ice -- make sure it's safe first, of course." The chances of catching a fish through the ice are excellent, even for novices, says Beauchesne; anglers' mobility and ability to use multiple devices on some bodies of water will increase their success rate.

Ice fishing involves the use of simple but specialized devices that allow people to fish from a hole cut in the ice. Of the several types of devices available, most ice anglers use tip-ups, which are crossed sticks that hold an underwater reel. When the fish strikes the live-baited hook, the reel turns, triggering a small flag and a flurry of excitement as anglers dash to the tip-up. The bait of choice is a lively shiner.

The anglers that you hear talking about "chumming" and "jigging" have a different approach; they often entice the fish with bait -- chum -- placed at the bottom of the water body near the ice-hole, and use small jig rods ("jig sticks") to catch fish through the ice.

For those many ice anglers who consider the actual fishing secondary to the whole ice-fishing experience, a day on the ice includes a good-sized group of friends and family, lots of food and hot chocolate -- and a grill. Beauchesne gets a dreamy, faraway look when he sighs, "Nothing's better than fresh fried perch on the ice." In addition to yellow and white perch, you can expect to catch bass, pickerel, cusk, smelt, whitefish and lake trout ice fishing in New Hampshire.

Beauchesne likes to use ice fishing as an excuse to get a bunch of folks outside to enjoy a what he calls a "sunny bluebird day"... combining fishing with other activities like snowshoeing, skating and looking for animal tracks. Advances in clothing and footwear make it more comfortable to stay outside on a chilly day, which may be one reason why ice fishing seems to be gaining in popularity. About one in every four anglers goes ice fishing.

Winnisquam, Newfound and Winnipesaukee are three good lakes to try, according to John Viar, a fisheries technician for Fish and Game and an avid ice angler. "Most folks are looking for lake trout... and that's where they are," he says. Ice anglers have had good success the last several years (excepting 2002), with lots of fish in the 12-20 pound range. While jigging in March of 2000, Ed Mosher caught a 24-plus-pound lake trout that is still a topic of conversation (and envy) among his fellow anglers. Last winter, the ice was poor for ice fishing because of warm weather; that's a good sign for this year's fish populations, regardless of ice conditions. Viar recommends fishing in water between 20 to 50 feet deep; he also says chumming (yes, it's legal) and jigging are very effective.

"On a good day jigging, you can expect to get 12 or 15 big lake trout," says Viar. "The fishing is fine all day -- though as with fishing at other seasons of the year, morning is prime time. It's also the coldest time," he adds, "but it's worth it!"

Some ice fishermen warm up in bob houses that are usually set up on the ice for the season. A simple bob house isn't essential, but it is a comfortable bonus for those who plan to be on the ice regularly. Once the ice is "in," it's possible to see dozens of bob houses dotting the surface of a large lake or pond.

Taking salmon by ice fishing is illegal. Check the current Freshwater Fishing Digest -- available on this site (*click here to download PDF, 629 KB*) or at license agents and Fish and Game offices throughout the state -- for rules on daily limits, seasons, equipment limitations and other rules for all species and water bodies.

Ice fishing is allowed on most frozen water bodies throughout the state, but check the Freshwater Fishing Digest to make sure. Ice fishing is prohibited on water bodies designated as trout ponds or fly fishing-only ponds.

To learn more about ice fishing, sign up for a class sponsored by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's 'Let's Go Fishing' Program. Ice fishing classes are held most winter weekends in towns all across New Hampshire. For a Let's Go Fishing schedule and sign-up information, click here or call 603-271-3212.

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