Free fishing day

A very young angler tries his hand at jigging while Fish & Wildlife biologist Tom Jones shows him how during Vermont’s Free Ice Fishing Day, held last January 2018, on Lake Bomoseen in Castleton.

Winter can be a real pain. It’s cold and you’re not all that eager to get outside. But there is an opportunity out there, if you have the right clothing, the right gear and the right frame of mind.

We are talking ice fishing. And here, I believe, is one of the best aspects of ice fishing: You can enjoy the sport at a minimum of cost. All you need is a simple jigging rod or two, a hand-operated ice auger, some jigs, a plastic bucket to sit on and to hold your catch and a container of bait.

Of course, the best way to get started out there is to find an experienced ice angler. If that prospect is not available, do the next best thing: Take part in Vermont’s Free Ice Fishing Day, sponsored by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and set for Jan. 26.

This year, the big day is will be held at Knight Point State Park in North Hero. The event gives ice fishing newcomers the opportunity to learn about ice fishing, on the spot, without purchasing a fishing license and by offering fishing tips and equipment. The festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Last year, the event was held on Lake Bomoseen in Castleton and was clearly a big success. Fish & Wildlife manned six stations where participants, including both adults and kids, learned about how to get started in fishing the deep freeze.

Topics included knot tying and tackle craft, fish identification and regulations, ice fishing equipment and setting a tip-up, staying warm out on the ice, hole drilling, cleaning fish and fishing techniques.

A fish fry station will be manned by Fish & Wildlife staff, eager to cook up any fish taken by the new anglers. Refreshments and warming huts will also be available.

Last year, on Lake Bomoseen, the most popular station was the fish fry. And it did not disappoint. Hot, seasoned fillets were readily available but seemed to vanish almost as quickly as they were laid out.

One of the better aspects of the day, according to the education manager for Fish & Wildlife, was how the young people, with great enthusiasm, took to the sport.

“This just showed how good it can be to see kids unplugged and outside,” said Ali Thomas. “Anything that gets kids outdoors is a good activity.”

Last year, attendance was high and the day saw temperatures in the mid-40s with little wind. Adults and kids were crowding the various stations. We watched kids drilling through the ice with a power auger, jigging for perch for the first time of their young lives, sipping hot chocolate and having a really fun day.

The event is set for late January, so it would be wise to dress for the occasion, in layers.

“Ice fishing is one of the most accessible forms of fishing and can be a great way to introduce people to how much fun fishing can be,” Jud Kratzer, a fisheries biologist with Fish & Wildlife said in a press release. “This festival will demonstrate that ice fishing isn’t just about catching fish. It’s also a great way to spend some time outdoors with friends and family. You can skate, sled, make a snow fort and have a cookout — all the while waiting for the flags on your tip-ups to signal when you’ve caught a fish.”

Fish & Wildlife will be lending equipment for the day, or participants can bring their own gear.

Free Ice Fishing Day is held annually on the last Saturday in January. While the festival is geared toward giving new ice anglers an opportunity to try ice fishing, any angler may fish on any water open to ice fishing, statewide, without possessing a fishing license on Free Ice Fishing Day.

Dennis Jensen can be reached at

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