Vermonters learn how to ice fish at Barnard’s Silver Lake

By RAY COUTURE

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 01-30-2023 10:05 AM

The northern pike, pumpkinseed, and large- and small-mouth bass resting idly at the bottom of Silver Lake could not have anticipated the barrage of would-be ice fishermen that gathered above them on the slushy-covered frozen surface Saturday afternoon.

More than 350 people turned up to Silver Lake State Park on Saturday to take part in Vermont’s free ice fishing day, which was hosted by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife and was open to all, resident and nonresident alike. Those who registered for the event got the chance to learn the ins and outs of ice fishing from Fish & Wildlife employees posted at six different tutorial kiosks set up on the frozen lake before trudging out on their own and augering their own ice hole.

Tall, colored flags, whipping back and forth in the blustering wind, highlighted each training section, which attendees needed to attend at least three of before they could borrow ice-fishing equipment and get to fishing. Tutorials addressed knot- and lure-making, ice safety practices (including what clothes to wear on the ice and using a spud bar to test how frozen the ice is), how to identify fish, how to drill holes in the ice using an augur, and, of course, best practices for fishing in the ice itself.

Austin Galinat, an employee with Fish & Wildlife who manned the ice-fishing tutorial kiosk, said patience was key to catching the slow-moving fish lurking at the bottom of Silver Lake, which he said was about 15 feet deep in the spot beneath his kiosk.

“The fish are moving slower, less aggressive (than at other times of the year),” Galinat told a gaggle of attendees huddled around his two holes in the ice. “You’ll feel more delicate bites on your line.”

Ice fishing, unlike regular fishing, Galinat said, uses small rods so that the fisherman can feel those delicate pulls on the line made by the curious fish swimming in the waters underneath. “Jigging,” the act of gently flicking the wrist holding the fishing rod upward, helps attract the fish’s attention to the shiny lure and hook (Galinat also hooked midge flies to the ends of the lures for an extra bit of motivation).

Yet even a skilled fisherman still needs good luck — Galinat said he’d had not yet caught anything of note Saturday. Besides the 1½-foot-long northern pike that a fish and wildlife employee had caught in the morning (and which was now being used in the fish identification tent as an example the good things that can come with patient ice fishing), most of the catches throughout the day were fairly small.

The scenes around the lake on Saturday showed groups of families, bundled up in heavy winter jackets and snow pants, trudging through the snow and slush to open spaces in the ice while kids (and a few dogs) jumped into snow banks or dragged sleds full of equipment behind them.

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One family, Paul and Julie Shay and their 3-year-old son, Paxton, diligently huddled around their ice hole while Paxton bobbed the rod up and down in the water.

Julie said her family, who live in New Hampshire but were in Vermont visiting Paul’s sister, said they’re always on the lookout for educational programs like this one. At one point, Paxton laid flat on his stomach so that he could stare straight down into his ice hole into the watery abyss.

“We haven’t caught anything yet,” Paxton said. “We’re trying.”

When asked if they felt like patience was an important skill to have in an activity like ice fishing, Paul agreed.

“It’s like I told Paxton earlier, ‘Ninety-nine percent of fishing is catching no fish,’ ” Shay said.

A few holes over, University of Vermont student Grant Woods was discovering the same thing. Standing rigidly in a red parka and holding his short rod a few feet above the water, Woods, 21, said he’d “lost track of time” while fishing and hadn’t noticed more than 45 minutes had passed since he’d first gotten underway.

Woods jigged the rod a few times, before mentioning that he wasn’t sure how he’d know if a fish did indeed bite on his line. He’d never ice-fished before, but said he did find one aspect of it appealing.

“It seems like it’s a good hangover cure activity,” Woods said. “Just stand around and wait to get cold.”

Ray Couture can be reached with questions at 1994rbc@gmail.com.

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