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How to make ice fishing safe, enjoyable

MONTPELIER — With the start of the new year, many Vermonters are preparing for one of the state’s most popular winter pastimes: ice fishing. 

“If you’re looking for a fun, easy way to get outdoors with friends and family this winter, ice fishing is hard to top,” said Fisheries Biologist Shawn Good.  “It’s quick to learn, affordable and generally more accessible and social than open water fishing.”

In light of Vermont’s recent warm weather, the department stresses that anglers take ice safety seriously and recommends a few basic tips and precautions.

“A minimum of three to four inches of clear black ice is safe to walk on,” advised Good.  “If you’re unsure about ice thickness in your area call your local bait and tackle shop. You can also look for other people out fishing. Experienced anglers know how to read the ice, so if you’re unsure, go where others are or have been.”

It is important to know that ice thickness is not always uniform. Areas around pressure cracks or near stream or river inlets can be thinner and weaker than surrounding ice. Good advises anglers to carry a set of ice picks and a spud bar, head out with a partner, and to let someone know where you will be fishing and when you plan on returning home.

For those just starting out, a hand-auger for cutting holes in the ice is the most expensive piece of equipment needed. These can be found at hardware or outdoors stores, or online, for under $50. A scoop for clearing and keeping holes from freezing over, short ice fishing rods or tip-ups, and hooks, weights, lures and baits are the other essentials. Safety gear including micro-spikes for traction and a spud bar for testing ice thickness, and sturdy waterproof boots and plenty of layers to keep warm, are also recommended.

No matter where you are in Vermont, an ice fishing opportunity is close by. And a successful ice fishing trip does not have to end when the fish stop biting.

“After a fun day on the ice, anglers can also enjoy a healthy meal of tasty, locally caught fish,” said Good. “You can find recipes from our Vermont Wild Kitchen partnership for everything from trout to crappie to smelt on the department’s YouTube channel.”

To learn more about ice fishing safety, tips for beginners, and places to fish, visit Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s “Ice Fishing Basics” and “Ice Fishing Opportunities” webpages.

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