Get your family hooked on ice fishing
All ages can enjoy this traditional New England winter pastime
Want to give this venerable New Hampshire pastime a try this year? Here are some expert tips to get your family started.
Where to go ice fishing in NH
For families new to ice fishing, the first challenge is usually figuring out where the fish are biting. Granite Staters are lucky, according to John Viar, a fisheries biologist with NH Fish and Game, because most small- to medium-sized lakes and ponds scattered across the state harbor good populations of fish that tend to be very cooperative through the ice, especially chain pickerel and yellow perch.
“These are great beginner species since they typically provide faster catch rates, and there is no better way to keep the kids interested than action. Simply lowering a live shiner [bait] 2 to 5 feet off bottom under a tip-up is often enough to catch these fish.”
For specific locations that offer easy access for kids, plenty of fish and good ice conditions, Viar recommends the following in the central part of the state:
To the north, you can try:
To the south you can try:
- Turtle (aka Turtletown) Pond in Concord
- Northwood Lake in Northwood
- Massabesic Lake in Manchester
- Robinson Pond in Hudson
Checking ice conditions
During the typical New Hampshire winter, smaller ponds and lakes are typically frozen over by mid-January; if winter temps are unseasonably warm, though, ice may not form until late January or early February, if at all. To check conditions, first observe the lake or pond. Are others already fishing on it? If so, the ice is likely 4 inches in thickness or more, the amount needed to support an adult’s weight on the ice. See trucks parked on the ice? This means the ice cover is at least a foot thick. Also look around for and heed any warning signs for thin ice.
Next, take a closer look at the ice at the shoreline. If it is thick, bluish-white and smooth, without any slush or breaks, edge your way out cautiously. Follow the path left behind by other anglers or snowmobile tracks, if possible, and stop after 15 feet to test the ice, using a specialty ice drill, called an auger, to drill a test hole. If the thickness is at least 4 inches, keep edging your way out, continuing to evaluate ice conditions. Because ice fishing with kids in tow can be tricky, especially if they get too cold, you might want to limit how far you walk from shore to avoid a long, cold trudge back to the car. Also avoid ice covered with snow because thickness may be unpredictable and difficult to gauge.
What to bring ice fishing
Besides wearing the usual warm layers required to withstand outdoor winter activities in New Hampshire, there are an assortment of supplies to tote along whenever you head out on the ice.
Basics you need include the auger ice drill, a long-handled skimmer to scoop out ice chips and slush from the hole, fishing line and hooks, a tip-up or a short “jigging rod” for those who prefer to hold the rod as they fish, bucket of live bait (minnows work well), seats and comfort items such as a thermos of hot chocolate and snacks and portable heaters and cooking stoves designed for use on the ice.
Safety items to bring include a long rope, compass (in case a sudden whiteout obscures your way back to shore), flashlight or lantern, basic first aid kit, extra clothes and a cell phone. Shanties, or bobhouses, offer shelter from the wind, but aren’t necessary for shorter outings. But do use a sled or toboggan to bring all your supplies to and from your fishing spot.
In New Hampshire, another important item to bring with you is a fishing license. The same license applies to both open water and ice fishing and is available as a year-round, one-day, and three-day temporary license. Residents age 15 and younger do not need a fishing license, but each accompanying adult who participates in fishing must carry a license.
“To try it out with the whole family, a parent could buy a license and take the kids (15 and younger) fishing on that “one” license. If another parent or other adults want to fish, though, note each individual adult does need a license to participate in the actual fishing activities. Another parent can spectate or help out with the kids on the ice without a license, but they can’t tend the lines or drill holes,” Viar said.
For more information on ice fishing, personnel from the Fish And Game’s Depart of Aquatic Education conduct basics ice fishing classes as part of the Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, held every winter on Meredith Bay (February 8-9, 2020). Geared toward families, the course focuses on everything from ice safety to basic fishing technique and includes some all-important “on the ice” training.
Jacqueline Tourville is a freelancer from Nashua, and a frequent contributor to Parenting New Hampshire Magazine.