The Middlebury Community Network

Ice Fishing

Around January or February - depending on how early Old Man Winter comes to visit, a small community starts to spring up on the lakes and ponds of Vermont.  When the ice reaches about 6-8 inches or greater in thickness, it will support the weight of a vehicle - and the small "shanties" -as they are called - which have been parked in the back yards of hundreds of homes in the community, start to congregate at favorite spots on the lake.

Shanties, at least wooden ones, come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and degrees of sophistication.  They can range from small, one-person size to large units which can hold a dozen fishermen - and are a challenge to get out on the ice.  The most popular size is one that will fit in the bed of a standard pickup truck, and which typically holds four people comfortably.  Ice fishing with friends is part of the pleasure of the sport.  Windows of some sort are generally always a necessity, although a surprising amount of light is reflected upwards through the ice.  It's never dark in an ice fishing shanty, except at night.

On warm, sunny, windless days, no shanty is needed

Portable shanties are becoming quite popular, and come in several sizes.  The have a lightweight aluminum internal frame structure and fold up into what looks like a very large polypropylene suitcase.  Though not as wind-resistant as a sturdy wooden model, they have the advantage of portability, so you can easily move next to that fellow who has the big bucket of smelt.  The black fabric absorbs incident sunlight quite well, helping to keep them warmer inside.  A couple of ice screws are handy to keep on hand, lest thee sail down the lake a goodly distance if the wind comes up strongly.

A portable heater is highly recommended, but make sure it is designed for indoor use, with a CO2 sensor and automatic shutoff if it is tipped over.

Ice fishing is generally done in two ways:  either the "rifle" or the "shotgun" approach.  The first is jigging by hand while sitting by the hole, or more typically with a line in each hand with a pair of holes about a foot apart.  Jigging is done by lowering the bait or lure rig to a particular depth, then wiggling the bait to attract the fish.

The shotgun approach involves drilling a series of holes, then fishing each separate hole with a contraption called a "tip-up" - which signals when a bite has happened and sends the fisherman out of his shanty at a fast trot to check the action.

Either way begins with drilling a hole through the ice, which can be done either by hand (cheaper, and more aerobic ) or using a gas-powered ice auger (expensive, but very fast if you have many holes to punch through 2 feet of rock hard, dead winter ice.)

The simplest technique, dating back to the Polar Inuit, is a simple hand line, usually attached to a Jigging Stick.  Jigging sticks can be just that - a short stick of some sort, but anglers of the past were fond of carving interesting variations, often fish-shaped, which included suitable notches for winding extra line around the handle.  Simple plastic ones are very inexpensive, and work well.

Obviously, more modern ice fishing rods and reels are widely available and widely used.

"Tip-Ups" come in a seemingly endless variety of designs, reminiscent of man's continual quest to build a better mouse trap.  The fundamental goal is the same: raise a flag of some sort to alert the fisherman (tucked into his shanty with his friends, spinning yarns of the one that got away ) that something has tugged on the bait or lure.  There's even a battery-powered, motor driven one (blue, right) that automatically raises the line so all one has to do is remove the fish.  Brings new meaning to the term, "Fast Food".

Many species of fish may be caught through the ice, including perch, walleye, northern pike, salmon, and our personal favorite, the plentiful smelt - which are the bottom of the food chain for all of the others.

Smelt are so plentiful, fishermen measure their catch by the 5-gallon pail, or fraction thereof, they catch.

Since they resemble and taste like baby trout, they have no scales and are remarkably easy to clean.  Just remove the head, slit the belly, run the thumbnail down between the ribs to clean the inside, roll them in cracker meal, and drop into a hot frypan with your favorite cooking oil - a minute or two per side.  The bones are soft and edible, and the fried tails are like a little potato chip.  A dozen or so per person makes a reasonable meal.

Terminal Tackle Note:  There are so many ways to attract a fish and catch it, we won't even begin to start on that subject.  Any tackle shop in Vermont is familiar with ice fishing gear, and can set you up for the style of fishing you want.  But we will give you one hint:  One of the best natural baits for most smaller species such as smelt or perch is smelt itself. ( We told you it was at the bottom of the food chain. )  Simply fillet a smelt with a thin bladed sharp knife, and cut diagonal slices across the small fillets.  This yields 5-6 slices per side, which resemble a small minnow and have a nice shiny side, as well.

But how do you start your fishing day with this bait?  You need to have a smelt to catch more - a Catch 22 situation.  It's simple - just ask a neighboring shanty for a "starter smelt"... they'll gladly give you one from their bucket.  Ice fisherman ( and women ) are generally a real friendly bunch.

A Parting Fish Story

Seems there was a young fellow who read about Ice fishing, and decided to give it a try.  He went to a local tackle shop and bought an ice auger, jigging stick, line, and some hooks, then headed out on the ice and started to drill his first hole.

Suddenly a mysterious, distant voice from somewhere on high said,

"There are no fish under the ice there...."

Needless to say, the young man was startled, somewhat wide-eyed, and nervous.  He dutifully moved a distance away and again began drilling another hole.  Again the booming voice from above said,

"There are no fish under the ice there...."

Now the fellow was getting a little frightened.  Trembling, he again moved to a different spot, began to drill, and again the heavenly voice said,

"There are no fish under the ice there...."

By then, he was wide-eyed, with mouth agape, and broken out into a cold sweat.  He looked upward and asked,

"Is... is.... is this... the Lord?"

"No", said the heavenly voice.  "This is the ice rink manager..."


Return to the top of this page
You may close this window when finished




Design by James A. Peden
Copyright 1997- 2008

Middlebury Networks
All rights reserved.
Revised: February 14, 2008