Having an ice time in winter
When the weather breaks and becomes warmer each spring, the thoughts of many area outdoorsmen turn to fishing.
Some outdoorsmen, though, like Colton Dinges of Hollidaysburg, enjoy fishing all year long, and for Dinges, ice fishing on area lakes during the winter months is one of his most avid pastimes.
“Ice fishing is my favorite type of fishing,” Dinges, 21, said. “I fish every day during the winter when there is ice. The biggest fish of the year always get pulled through the ice.”
Back in 2018, Dinges landed a 47-inch muskellunge while using a shiner — a type of large minnow –while ice fishing near the Keystone Power Dam in Kittanning.
“The fish don’t take very long to bring in during the winter,” Dinges said. “They give a couple of good runs, and then they come up through the hole. They’re lethargic in the winter because the water is so cold and they don’t really have the energy to put up a good fight.”
While trout is the principal fare for area fishermen during the spring months, and bass provides a prime fishing thrill throughout the heat of the summer months, the most popular winter catch for ice fishermen are northern pike, perch, muskellunge, and walleye.
“I usually fish for pike,” Dinges said. “Pike is the number one fish that my friends and I target in the winter. Pike, muskies, and walleyes are about the only fish that I fish for through the ice.”
Among the most popular local destinations for ice fishermen in this area are the lakes at Canoe Creek State Park, Prince Gallitzin State Park in Cambria County, Black Moshannon State Park in Centre County, and Yellow Creek State Park in Indiana County.
Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, Md., is less than a two-hour drive from Blair County, and it’s also a prime winter fishing spot.
“Down at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland this winter, they’ve been catching 14 to 15-inch yellow perch that are as big around as a football,” said Creg Strock, owner and proprietor of the Aquatic Imitations bait, tackle and fly shop near Hollidaysburg. “There’s a cove on Lake Glendale at Prince Gallitzin State Park that’s frozen over, and they’re catching a lot of northern pike, bass, and some nice perch there.
“And Black Moshannon has eight or nine inches of ice on it, and right now, they’re catching chain pickerels just one after another there,” Strock added. “Ice fishing is absolutely very popular in this area. Our sales for ice fishing are mainly what keep us afloat during the winter months.”
Ice fishermen need augers to drill holes into the ice to set up their fishing apparatus. The augers can be either manual or gasoline-powered, but Strock said that the gasoline-powered augers are much less labor-intensive.
“You’re allowed to drill six-inch holes in the ice, and you can use a manual auger and do it that way,” Strock said. “But if you’ve got eight inches of ice, you’ll be 45 minutes drilling just one hole.
“So the majority of guys who are serious about ice fishing have a gasoline-powered or even a lithium-battery powered ice auger that they turn on, and it zips right down through the ice and drills the hole for them.”
The gasoline-powered augers are expensive – ranging in price from 300 to 500 dollars or more – and are sold at various sporting goods outlets.
Dinges, who began ice fishing as a very young age, uses a gasoline auger with a 10-inch bit.
“I had a hand auger when I was about 10 years old, but it was really hard for me to use,” Dinges said. “A year later, my grandfather bought a gas auger. I was too little to actually use it, but he would hold one side of it, and I would hold the other, and we would drill the hole.
“Now, I have an Eskimo (model) auger with a 43ccgas engine,” Dinges said. “You’re allowed to drill five holes, and now, when I take people fishing with me, I’ll drill as many holes as I am allowed.”
What rod to use
There are two types of rods used in ice fishing — a jigging rod and a tip-up.
“A jigging rod is probably about 30 to 32 inches long, with an ultra-light spinning reel on it,” Strock said. “You can put a minnow on a jig, drop it down through the ice, and move it up and down until the fish hits it.”
The tip-up is a stationary device.
“It looks like a 3-legged teepee with a flag set up over the hole that is drilled, and it has a little reel on it,” said Strock, 69, who last fished on ice three winters ago. “When a fish is on, you can see the flag move up on the tip-up, and you can run over and pull the line up hand over hand through the hole.”
Dinges uses the tip-up device.
“I’m a tip-up fisherman,” Dinges said. “So usually I drill five holes and I run five tip-ups, which is the allotment that you’re allowed.”
Dinges most often brings a foldable chair to sit on, and stays comfortable by sitting in a heated shanty.
“I have one of those pop-up shanties that you just pull the sides out on – it’s like sitting in a tent without a floor,” Dinges said. “I take a propane tank with me with a tank-top heater on it and that keeps me pretty warm in there.”
For fishermen venturing out on the ice, Strock said that four inches of ice is considered safe, and at least six inches of ice is optimal.
Particularly with ice fishing, staying warm and staying dry are essential. So is paying attention to the surroundings.
“If you’re ice fishing, you ought to wear some kind of floatation device or vest to protect yourself,” Strock said, mentioning that one man that he knew of had fallen through the ice at Glendale this year and was immersed in water up to his shoulders before he was extricated by members of a local fire department.
Ice is also thinner in some areas on a lake, Strock said.
“Even if the ice is six inches thick, if there is a spring that is coming up from the bottom of the lake, the ice is always thinner around that spring,” Strock said. “So even though you may have six inches of ice everywhere else on the lake, in a spot where the water is moving and there is a spring, there may be only three inches of ice, and that’s just not enough.”
Being adequately dressed for the sometimes bone-chilling temperatures is also vital.
“To be honest, when you have the wind blowing and you’re out on the ice, (the wind) bites right through you,” Strock said. “I’ve worn long johns, wool pants, a hooded sweatshirt, and a hooded jacket. You have to keep the wind out.”
When he’s with friends, Dinges often spends entire winter weekends fishing on the ice. They’ll often fish through the night and cook hot dogs and other food on a propane stove inside the shanty.
“In a normal year here, you can get on the lakes in the first week of January and fish until the end of February or even well into March,” Dinges said. “As long as I can get out on the ice, I will.”