One day, sub-zero temperatures freeze everything in sight. A few days later, it is so mild it feels like a spring thaw.
It all adds to the uncertainty faced by ice anglers every winter, who so far this year have had a few windows of great ice and plenty of days where things have been a little bit iffy.
“It’s been an earlier start to the season, but it’s really been up and down,” said Walt Dietz, regional outreach and education coordinator for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Northeast Region. “The warm weather and rain this weekend could put a hold on things again in certain areas.”
The general rule of thumb when it comes to safe ice is 4 inches. The recent cold spell created at least that much ice on area waterways, but Dietz cautioned warm temperatures and periods of rain can make the appearance of safe ice deceiving.
“Such changes in the weather can create layers of porous ice between the good, solid ice,” he said. “Porous ice has a lot of air and is lighter and not safe. What you see on the top may not be what’s in between.”
PFBC Northeast Region education specialist Allan Schreffler encountered that exact situation when he visited Stump Pond in Susquehanna County recently.
The pond had 6 inches of ice, he said, but the first 2 inches were porous. Plus, there were several places where an inlet and springs kept the water open.
“It definitely wasn’t ready for a large group of people, so we decided not to go out,” Schreffler said.
Still, Dietz said plenty of anglers took advantage of good ice when it did exist to fish many area waterways, including Harris Pond right next to the PFBC region office in Sweet Valley. Earlier last week, Dietz heard reports of ice fishing activity on lakes in the northern counties of Bradford, Susquehanna and Wyoming.
But throughout the years, the agency has had to cancel ice fishing programs in the southern part of the region, in places such as Carbon County, due to a lack of ice.
“We get calls to the office from anglers asking for ice conditions on certain ponds and lakes, but we just can’t tell them unless we’re actually out there,” Dietz said. “Things can really change and fluctuate each day.
“The key is for ice anglers to be flexible. Know what to look for when it comes to safe ice, always bring your safety gear and be willing to move around to different waters to find that ice.”
Local ice angler Jim Jolley said he has made it out once this season and agreed that ice conditions do vary across the region. Jolley said anglers have told him conditions on Lake Wallenpaupack are “rough,” while there has been ice fishing activity on Harveys Lake.
Reports from anglers fishing Frances Slocum State Park indicated 7 inches of ice as of Friday.
Even with the uncertainty, Jolley said he can usually find safe ice somewhere in the region.
“You have to have different spots to fish,” he said. “But even with this weather, there should still be good ice somewhere and we still have plenty of time to get in a good ice fishing season. Years ago, I was able to ice fish until the end of March, so you never know how long it will last.”