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Ice Fishing Season Has Started

Learn to ice fish this weekend with Step Outdoors


by Rebecca Hazen - January 25, 2016

When cold weather settles in, the lakes in Tioga County freeze over, signaling the start of ice fishing season.

Don Kelly, the owner of the Tackle Shack sporting goods store in Wellsboro, says that four inches of solid black ice is the minimum to be fishable. He stresses that no ice is safe though, and to be cautionary at all times.

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“It is very important to remember that lakes and ponds do not always freeze uniform, and there is likely to be thinner and thicker spots, especially in the first few weeks of ice season. If you are new to ice fishing, it is  best to go out with an experienced friend to learn how to read the ice and how to be safe,” Kelly said.
Items that should be carried with for safety include ice picks, float suits or life jackets, ice cleats, a rope and warm clothing.

“You should never ice fish alone and always let someone know where you are going,” Kelly said.

The easiest way to check ice is by drilling a hole, or using a spud bar to chip a hole, and measure it using some sort of ruler.

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There is an abundance of fish to fish for in Tioga County lakes including bluegills, perch, trout, crappies, pickerel, muskies, catfish and walleye. Lakes in Tioga County will freeze every winter, and the lakes are usually the first to freeze in the state. Ice fishing season usually lasts from about middle to of December or early January to the first couple weeks in March.  

“The techniques and equipment are slightly different when comparing ice fishing to open water fishing,” Kelly said. “Ice fishing is vertical fishing through a five to ten inch hole. Ice fishers generally use shorter rods ranging from 18 to 36 inches and very small jigs tipped with live bait or artificial plastics.  In the open water, we are allowed to use three rods at a time.  In the ice season, we are allowed to use a total of five fishing devices.”

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According to Kelly, the best way to understand where fish are located in the winter, is to remember the spots that you catch them in the summer. Submerged trees, weed beds, and rock piles are all good places to start.  

When asked what some differences are between ice fishing and open water fishing, Kelly answered, “I think that ice fishing season has a greater camaraderie than the open water.  Our lakes often look like little shanty towns and people enjoy a whole day out there telling stories and catching fish.”

John and Larry, from Middletown and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, were out ice fishing together on Hills Creek Lake. They came for a few days because the lakes are not frozen yet down where they are located.

“We’ve been friends for over 30 years, and we actually met through ice fishing,” Larry said.

When asked why they like ice fishing, John said, “It is quiet. There is hardly no one out here.”

“I live for this,” Larry said simply.

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If anyone is looking for information about ice thickness, or ice fishing in general, Tackle Shack is one of the largest suppliers of ice fishing gear in Pennsylvania. The Tackle Shack regularly posts weekly fishing reports and ice conditions on their website at

Join Step Outdoors this Sunday, January 31st from 1-4pm at the Hills Creek State Park. They will be meeting at the beach parking area for an introduction to ice fishing with local expert Don Kelly. Start your ice fishing experience safely and maximize your success.

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