Mike Beauchene remembers the first time he went ice fishing back in the mid-’90s. He was trying to catch “a super huge northern pike” on Bantam Lake in Morris and Litchfield.
Beauchene used to do angler interviews as part of his job and had seen folks catching fish that could barely fit through the hole. He never did catch that pike, but still ice fishes — mostly on smaller Connecticut ponds with his son and daughter, now in their teens.
“My daughter, Katherine, has been going with me since she could toddle,” Beauchene said, recalling an early outing. “One day she and I were fishing. As I was setting up my tip-ups (the devices that signal when a fish grabs your line), I noticed she looked a bit shorter than normal.
“I went over to investigate and she had one leg down through the ice and the other bent behind her (stuck and nowhere to go as she stepped in someone else’s hole from a previous outing). I lifted her out and drove home, 1 mile, we were only on the ice about 20 minutes. It was not a deterrent and she still loves to go.”
Ice fishing can be lots of fun, but if you’ve never gone before there’s some things you should know. Beauchene, a supervising fisheries biologist with the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, shared some tips via email.
“Ice fishing involves walking and drilling holes as you go, so you generally know what the thickness is,” he said. “There’s not a lot of monitoring that goes on, unless it’s a place designated and used by a town for skating or such.
“The rule of thumb is four inches of ice will hold several people. We suggest checking the thickness as you walk out (every 10 to 20 feet). If it’s thin, go back to where it was at least four inches.” (The DEEP has an ice safety page at https://bit.ly/38uiMc9.)
As for places to try it out, Beauchene suggested such spots as Burr Pond State Park (Torrington), West Hill Pond (Barkhamsted), Coventry Lake (Coventry) and Tyler Lake (Goshen).
There’s also a bunch of popular state-owned areas with public access listed here: https://bit.ly/37TPc0q. For example, in western Connecticut there’s Squantz Pond in New Fairfield and Mount Tom Pond in Washington. In central Connecticut, there’s Batterson Park Pond in New Britain and Moodus Reservoir in East Haddam. Options toward the east include Bigelow Pond in Unionand Mansfield Hollow Reservoir in Mansfield.
Beauchene, who lives in Barkhamsted, said ice fishing helps cure that restless feeling folks get when they’ve been cooped up inside too long. He said it’s great to be out on a beautiful winter day with family and friends, when skies are blue and the sun is warm, and you can “maybe even catch a fish.”
But he warned the experience can be “unnerving for some” because ice expands as the day heats up and there are often large “booms.” They may make you think the ice is going to break, he said, but as long as you have a solid four inches or more, it will be fine.
Beauchene’s best advice for first-timers is to sign up for Connecticut’s free “Learn to Ice Fish” class (via Zoom), “then come out on one of our small group personalized instruction ice fishing trips. See: https://bit.ly/3rjbwZ8.
Your local bait and tackle shop should have the gear you need, he said. Local shops can also be a good source of information on ice thickness “as their regulars will let them know.” When asked the cost to gear up, he said $30 to $40 should be enough for basics and bait.
What about permits?Everyone 16 and older needs a fishing license;they expire at the end of the calendar year. Licenses for 2021 are available now. For details, see https://bit.ly/3roWmlg.
An inland fishing license (for 2021) is $28 for ages 18 to 64, and $14 for ages 16 and 17. It’s free if you’re 65 or older, but you still need one. The fine for fishing without a license is $85. (https://bit.ly/3roRQmB)
There are also rules about which fish (as far as size) may be taken home, and which must be returned to the water. Beauchene said it depends upon the type of fish and the water body. Your best bet is to checkhttps://bit.ly/3mNqtPA.
Also, be sure to dress in layers and bring something to hold the fish you catch. “Most people ice fish for trout, bass, perch, walleye, pike and calico bass,” he said. “Trout, bass, and perch are very delicious and provide a healthy meal.”
Beauchene said there’s lots of DIY videos on the DEEP’s YouTube channel to help you clean and cook your catch There’s also a general information ice fishing page at https://bit.ly/3pkAfL0. For an overall idea of what it’s like to be an ice angler, check out the video at https://bit.ly/3nZ7ZgN.