As its name would imply, ice fishing is the act of fishing through ice, typically through a round or square hole cut in ice of approximately 8 inches or more in thickness. To catch fish, the ice angler may use lines with hooks and bait, lines with lures, or spears.
While ice fishing can happen anywhere in New England where bodies of water freeze sufficiently to allow people out on the ice, it is most popular in the Northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont where the lakes and ponds more reliably freeze sufficiently to allow ice fishing.
What Can you Catch
When ice fishing you can typically catch the same fish you would when shore fishing, or fishing from a boat, including, bass, crappie, landlocked salmon, perch, pickerel, smelt, trout, walleye, and much more.
Some Basic Rules for Ice Fishing
- Make sure the ice is thick enough to hold you. A general rule of thumb is 6 inches or more of thickness. 6 inches is good for a small group of individuals on foot. It you want to bring the snowmobiles out on the ice look for ice to be at least 8 to 10 inches thick. Don’t guess on the thickness of the ice. Drill some test holes near shore where the water is not too deep. Drill additional test holes as you move out onto the ice to keep verifying ice thickness.
- Never ice fish alone. If you go through the ice the odds are against you saving yourself… Fishing with someone else can also make the experience more enjoyable. It is also a good idea to let others know that you are going ice fishing and when you plan to return.
- Do not drive heavy vehicles onto the ice.
- Do not build fires on the ice.
- Don’t gather in large groups.
- Carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone if they fall through the ice.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department publishes a nice Safety on Ice (PDF) brochure that is worth reading.
Remember Your License
It may be cold and you may be fishing through ice, but you are still fishing and will need the appropriate state fishing license. The age requirements for a freshwater fishing licenses in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are as follows:
- Maine: A license needed for individuals 16 and over if they are Maine residents, and 12 and over if they are non-residents
- New Hampshire: A license needed for anyone 16 and over
- Vermont: A license is needed if an individual is 15 and over
Additional Ice Fishing Rules
There may be some restrictions on what species you can take when ice fishing. For example, Vermont limits the season for ice fishing for Bass, Salmon, and Trout on certain bodies of water.
Some states have limits on home many lines an individual may fish:
- Maine – Maine limits an individual to 5 lines while ice fishing.
- New Hampshire – The general rule is 6 lines but there are restrictions on certain bodies of water. See Ice Fishing in New Hampshire for more information.
For more information on ice fishing regulations in the northern New England States see:
- Maine Open Water and Ice Fishing Regulations
- Ice Fishing in New Hampshire
- Vermont Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Laws
New England Ice Fishing Derbies
There are numerous ice fishing derbies held in northern New England, including:
- The Greater Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby – Held in February in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.
- The Harriman Reservoir Ice Fishing Derby – This derby is held in February on Harriman Reservoir (aka Lake Whitingham) in Vermont.
- Jack Traps Youth Ice Fishing Derby – This is derby held in February is for children 12 and under and is held on Cochnewagon Lake in Monmouth, Maine
- Kids Derby- This is an ice fishing derby is held in February and is for children 12 and under at Range Pond State Park in Poland, Maine. Children older than 12 may also participate but there is a fee for them.
- Lake Hortonia Ice Fishing Derby – This annual derby is held in February on Lake Hortonia in Hubbardton and Sudbury, Vermont.
- Maine Ice Fishing Derby – The Maine Statewide ice fishing derby is typically held in early March.
- Moosehead Lake Togue Ice Fishing Derby – Sponsored by the Natural Resource Education Center at Moosehead Lake and Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife
- North East Ice Fishing Circuit – Sponsor a couple of ice fishing tournaments in Vermont as well as NY and PA.
- Sebago Lake Rotary Club’s Sebago Lake Derby – Held in February on Sebago Lake in Maine.
Picture credits: The picture of the fishing pole fishing through a hole in the ice is is from fickr and was taken by Vince Alongi. It is covered by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.