When the frigid winter air hits, something strange begins to happen to the lakes and ponds throughout northeastern Pennsylvania.

While most people would never dare to walk on water, ice fisheman throughout the county can’t wait to slide across the ice for their chance at a fresh catch.

Winter temperatures that have fluctuated between record lows and highs still can’t local anglers away from the ice.

“A lot of people think you’re crazy in the cold weather,” Bob Kester, of Clarks Summit, said. “It’s nice to get some fresh air, you never know what you’re going to see.”

Kester, 56, has fished at the Lackawanna State Park this year and is also an ice fishing instructor at the park’s yearly Winterfest.

“I started about 35 years ago in my childhood with my dad,” Kester said. “There’s a gang of us that go out every year and we really look forward to it.”

Anglers can expect an variety of fish depending on the water, including bass, perch, pickerel, sunfish, bluegill and calico to name a few.

“I was out about two weeks ago and caught a couple of 22-inch pickerels,” Kester said. “The state park probably has the best ice right now. But with the 40 degree days we’ve been having, people have to be careful of the conditions.”

Kester added that ice should be at least four inches thick, with the best ice running about six to eight inches. Then all systems are go for a great day on the ice.

“We try to go out once a weekend if we can,” Kester said. “We’ll take out a grill and have hot dogs and cook venison. We usually like to bring the younger kids, too.”

He added, “Kids are curious. You teach them how to ice fish and maybe one day they’ll get interested or have their friends get interested.”

Kids aren’t the only ones Kester has gotten interested in ice fishing. Dave McGovern, president of the Lake Winola Fire Company, credits Kester for getting him out on the ice.

“The Kesters definitely got me involved in it,” McGovern joked. “There’s about 15 or so of us that go out fishing. In the winter when it’s cabin fever you get to go out with your friends on the ice and light up the grill and have a lot of fun.”

McGovern, 61, says he’s been to several different watering holes, including Lake Carey, Fords Pond on Clarks Summit and a weekend trip to a cabin in Pike County.

“We mostly try to go locally and spend the morning and afternoon on the ice,” McGovern said. “We’re each allowed five tip-ups so it looks like a minefield out there sometimes. It’s just a good time with friends and that’s very much why I love it.”

For those interested in starting ice fishing, McGovern said that there’s several important things to remember, including having the right bait, dressing warm, bringing enough to eat and drink and being safe.

“I carry a throw rope for safety reasons, as well as spring-loaded ice picks around my neck to help lift yourself out of the ice if you fall in,” McGovern said. “You should also let people know where you’re going to be fishing, too.”

In safe conditions, the thrill that anglers experience on the ice is worth the risks.

“The thing about is ice fishing is that you never know what will swim buy and hit the bait,” McGovern said. “When you’re sitting there and see the flag go up, you never know what’s going to be on the end of the line. It could be a minnow or a state record.”

While Kester and McGovern are seasoned vets on the ice, it’s still never too late to join in the cast.

Alyce Hunsinger, of Tunkhannock, is still fairly new to the sport of ice fishing in just her third winter, but immediately fell in love with it, even at the age of 61.

“I really didn’t have an interest in freezing out there,” Hunsinger joked.

But when her fishing friends continued talking about it, she couldn’t help but try it.

“It was all they talked about,” Hunsinger said. “One day I went out and I fell in love with it. We pulled about 35-40 blue gills out a piece. The day was beautiful and it was awesome.”

Hunsinger was normally a summer angler, but there’s just something about the ice that can’t be duplicated.

“It’s absolutely beautiful out there when the ice is frozen and you’re in the middle of a pond that you could never get to in the summertime,” Hunsinger said. “It’s usually not too crowded and it’s fun to go from hole to hole to see where the fish are biting when we’re out.”

But the answer to when Hunsinger will be out usually doesn’t come until Friday night.

“I get the call that we’re going around 9”30,” Hunsinger joked. “I don’t have an auger and I won’t go out alone so it’s usually with the same crowd. We go locally and usually to privately owned ponds, and try to donate 20-25 pounds of fish filet to the local fire halls for their fish fry before the year is out.”

Hunsinger started fishing as a child in Towanda when her school district had playground activities that included bus trips to local ponds to fish. Since then, she’s been hooked, and people notice.

“I remember her coming in here after her first time and being thrilled to death,” Mallia Evans, an employee at Brady and Cavany in Tunkhannock, said. “I enjoyed watching her grow to love it and seeing her enthusiasm is wonderful.”

As far as tips go, Hunsinger noted that she doesn’t have much to offer, except that fish are usually lethargic and prefer smaller bait.

“Some people can catch fish and some people can’t catch fish,” Hunsinger said. “You either have the knack for it you don’t. But you’re going to catch some fish once you find a hole that the fish are hanging out in.”

 

But whether you can or can’t catch fish, ice fishing still provides an atmosphere for friends and family to enjoy good company, nature’s surroundings and memories that will last long after the ice has melted.