AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Gabriella Gerald watches dad, Lance Gollon, as he uses an ice auger to drill a hole in the 14-inch thick ice crust of Mauch Chunk Lake.
"Ice fishing is a great way for families to spend a winter's day together," said Andy Fedor, regional educational specialist with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, "especially people who aren't as active in the winter."
To introduce people to the sport of ice fishing, Fedor led a class on Sunday, beginning with a talk at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, following with two hours of ice fishing at Boat Launch "B" at Mauch Chunk Lake Park.
Fedor began with a dress-for-success discussion of what to wear when ice fishing.
"Dress in layers," he advised. "Avoid cotton clothing because cotton stays cold when it is wet. We suggest anglers wear wool or synthetic clothing to help keep warm and the layering is so that if they get warm, they can take a few layers off. If they start to get cold, they can put layers on.
"It's best to wear waterproof insulated boots and jackets that are windproof, insulated and waterproof," he continued. "On our shoes are crampons. There's different styles available. Some have spikes on them like ice cleats, others have coiled springs. They help prevent slipping and falling on slick ice."
Next, he spoke about ice safety.
"Never wander onto the ice until you are sure it's thick enough," he advised. "Four inches will support one angler. For groups, about seven inches. At 12 inches thick, it will support a light vehicle."
Here's the steps to get started in ice fishing. Get a buddy. Find a spot where the ice seems firm. Walk out several feet and drill a test hole. If the ice is over four inches thick, go out farther and drill a second test hole which should also be thicker than four inches.
When you find a location to fish, drill a hole with an ice auger or a spud bar. To prevent a hazard to others on the ice, holes cannot be larger than 10 inches. After the hole is drilled, any ice fragments can be removed from the water with an ice skimmer.
"Once the hole is clear, they can fish using either a tip-up or a jigging setup," Fedor explained. "A tip-up is the bobber setup of ice fishing. You set it and wait until the flag is triggered that's the signal that you have a fish on it."
"You sit and wait," he continued. "If it gets boring, that's where jigging comes in. Jigging is a little more active you use the lure to attract the fish to bite." Jigging involves fishing with an ice fishing rod, usually about two feet long. Each angler is allowed to have up to five tip-ups and jigging rods combined.
Once you set up, and while you wait, it's a good time to talk with your friends and to partake in a warm beverage. Fedor recommends thermos bottles with hot chocolate, hot tea, hot coffee, or hot soup. He cautions not to bring alcohol.
"Alcohol is not recommended because alcohol lowers the body temperature. You might not notice that you are getting colder, but it increases your risk of hypothermia. Mauch Chunk Lake is a Fish and Boat Commission owned lake, and we do not allow alcohol here," he said.
If you are successful at ice fishing, you may expect to catch panfish. For bait, he recommended waxworms, mealworms, minnows and maggots. He suggested using a two-pound test line with a thin leader split lead shot and a hook. He said that in cold weather, plastic line has a memory and thicker line was harder to uncurl.
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Waterways Conservation Office Scott Christman likes to go ice fishing after work.
"I go out in the evening, sometimes as late as 10 p.m., and fish until 5 a.m. at Mauch Chunk or Beltzville Lake. Certain fish are more active at night," Christman said.
So, if you are getting cabin fever, the ice is nice for fishing in winter. Try ice fishing and maybe you'll catch a prize Pennsylvania Bluegill, Trout, Crappie, Perch, Largemouth bass, Northern pike, Pickerel, Muskie or Walleye.