Yeah, it’s cold out there sitting on a bucket with a jig rod in your hand, trying to entice a fat perch to take the bait. Some people think ice fishermen are, you know, a little bit off. I mean, why would a sane person go out on a cold winter’s day on a big lake to try to catch fish? I used to think like that. Then a friend was kind enough to take me out many years ago and show me what all of this ice fishing was about. Here’s the thing: If you dress right, have the proper gear (and it is not even a bit complicated) and have a good teacher, you can become an accomplished ice angler.

Now stepping up to teach all neophytes out there about ice fishing is none other than the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. On Jan. 25, Fish & Wildlife will sponsor its seventh annual Free Ice Fishing Day on Lake Elmore in Elmore.

Looking back two years ago when the same event took place on Lake Bomoseen, I can say honestly it was quite an afternoon, with a big collection of children, their parents and a small army of volunteers all enjoying a gorgeous day out on the ice.

An estimated 200 people took part on that day, while instructors, many from Fish & Wildlife, did their best to introduce young people to the sport of fishing through the ice. The department set up six stations for kids who were eager to learn a wide array of topics, including knot tying, baiting and using an ice fishing rod, and how to stay warm on the ice. Fishing regulations and fish identification are also covered by instructors.

The festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is free and open to all ages, as well as families with children.

The most popular station, by far, was a fish fry operated by Fish & Wildlife staff, who cooked up the catch of those lucky enough to pull a fish or two from under the ice. The folks cooking up the catch two years ago did a great job of seasoning and serving up fish caught only minutes earlier. Tasty perch filets were clearly at the top of the list. Hot chocolate served up next to the fish fry completed the menu.

On Lake Bomoseen, it was clearly a day focused on fun, especially for the kids, according to Louis Porter, the Fish & Wildlife commissioner.

“One of the great things about this event — just like the summer festival we had — is that it’s designed to get kids out here to fish, even if they are not from a fishing background,” he said. “Every year, we get to see kids catch their first fish. Sometimes we get to see adults catch their first fish.”

Jud Kratzer, a fisheries biologist for Fish & Wildlife, emphasized the kind of fun day to be had at the festival. “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,” he said. “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, made 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.”

Participants are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather, and ice cleats are strongly recommended.

Free Ice Fishing Day is held annually on the last Saturday in January. The day is held so that new ice anglers get the opportunity to try ice fishing before purchasing any equipment. Of course, any angler can ice fish on any body of water open to ice fishing across the state with a fishing license on Free Ice Fishing Day. So if you can’t make it to Lake Elmore, you can still participate elsewhere.

Fishing equipment will be on hand for free on the ice or anglers can bring their own stuff. For more information, contact Corey Hart at 265-2279 or email corey.hart@vermont.gov. Registration can be completed online in advance at https://vtfishandwildlife.com/free-ice-fishing-day-festival or you may register when you arrive, but registering in advance will enable participants to get out on the ice faster.

Contact Dennis Jensen at d.jensen62@yahoo.com.

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