With luck, ice fishing may heat up But be careful if you decide to go

OUTDOORS

January 17, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

If January's weather patterns continue, Harford County anglers could be enjoying excellent ice-fishing action at Broad .. and Conowingo creeks within the next few weeks.

However, before grabbing your fishing tackle and driving to the streams, there are a few things you should know about ice fishing.

Northern Maryland is rated as "marginal" when it comes to ice fishing. Although Harford's lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams often are ice-covered during late January and February, it takes nearly four inches of clear, hard ice to support the weight of an average-sized person.

Several days of below-freezing weather are required to produce ice of this thickness and standing or walking on anything less is flirting with disaster.

It was more than a decade ago when two local anglers decided to fish for crappie through the ice at Broad Creek. This particular winter was extremely cold, with nightly temperatures hovering at 10 to 15 degrees. Ice cover near the launch ramp was more than 12 inches thick, a location where a large crowd of fishermen were catching a few small fish.

Larger crappie were said to be schooled downstream, where, unfortunately, currents had cut the bottom from the frozen platform, decreasing the thickness to a scant two inches.

Despite warnings from others, the two anglers trekked more than a quarter-mile east toward the creek's mouth. A loud crash was heard as one angler plunged into the 33-degree water. Within seconds, he was joined by his fishing companion, who crashed through while attempting to rescue his friend. Five minutes later, both men slipped beneath the surface and drowned.

Although ice fishing can be risky, it's one of the most relaxing and enjoyable types of freshwater fishing.

Under ideal conditions, Harford County anglers can expect to catch crappie, yellow perch, bluegill, sunfish, walleye, bass and on rare occasions, a stray muskie while fishing at both Broad Creek, Conowingo Creek and Funk's Run. All three streams are Susquehanna River tributaries feeding lower Conowingo Lake.

Because water temperatures usually hover near freezing this time of year, the fish are extremely lethargic. Instead of aggressively slamming a lure or bait, they gently inhale your offering, test it for taste and in many instances, spit it out.

Unless you're using ultra-lite tackle, by the time you detect activity at the end of your rod, it's too late to set the hook.

Ultra-lite spinning equipment is well-suited for ice fishing, but the rod's length is somewhat of a drawback on windy days.

Shakespeare manufactures a lightweight, 30-inch fiberglass rod in both bait-casting and spinning versions, that's easily matched to tiny reels filled with 2- or 4-pound test line. The entire outfit weighs less than 12 ounces, and they're so sensitive, you can tell when a fish is just swimming close to your lure.

When it comes to lure selection, North East resident and avid ice fisherman Herb Benjamin says he prefers a Sweedish Pimple, Rapala Ice Jig and in some cases, tiny 1/32-ounce shad darts while fishing for crappie and perch.

Benjamin said all three lures are productive when worked slowly, close to the bottom, in most instances, producing better catches than live or cut baits by a substantial margin.

Benjamin, a tackle shop owner and barber by trade, has been ice fishing in both Harford and Cecil county waters for more than four decades. He says his secret to successful ice fishing is patience.

"Let's face it, no one in their right mind would dress in five layers of clothing, chop a hole through six inches of ice and endure bone-chilling temperatures just to catch a few fish," Benjamin said.

"Who else but a crazy person would sit on a five-gallon plastic bucket for eight hours and stare at a hole in the ice? You either need lots of patience or have to be little bit crazy."

One of the best aspects of ice fishing is you don't have to contend with crowds. You can enjoy the scenic beauty of winter while participating in the nation's most popular recreational activity -- fishing.

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