Jensen Afield

An ice fisherman holds up a smelt he took through the ice on Lake Bomoseen.

The first time I went ice fishing, I knew as much about the sport as I did sewing. There were about a dozen anglers out, all jigging. It was early January and, of course, I was well aware of my shortcomings.

I was with an old, experienced friend, and he instructed me, in great detail, about the finer points of how to catch fish, in this case perch, while jigging.

I watched what other anglers did. How they timed their jigging action, how they lifted the weight at the end of the line, then jigged the end of their tip-ups, up and down, up and down.

Still, it was very clear that I simply could not match their success. And it was frustrating. I learned, over time, that ice fishing, like so many other endeavors, is something that you learn by the mistakes you make.

One morning, a few weeks on, I was out on the ice, before dawn. I dragged my ice sled, complete with three jigging rods, a hand auger and a big, yellow bucket. We drilled a dozen or so holes, then baited the jig heads with two or three grubs and dropped the line down into the icy waters.

A short while later, I started catching perch, good-sized perch. In fact, the four of us, out together that morning, were all catching fish. There were other anglers out, not too far from us, also fishing.

I was getting excited, shouting, “Got another fish,” when one solemn angler walked slowly over to the hole that I sat over and said, “Hey, keep it down. You don’t know what you’re doing. Any minute now, we’ll have a bunch of guys coming over here, drilling holes and taking fish. Now quiet down.”

Normally, I would have told the guy where he could place his jigging rod but, truth be told, I knew that I had violated some kind of ice fishing edict: Never alert other anglers to your good luck.

So, how about this, I asked my fishing buddy. How about a special shout-out, to let my fishing compatriots know that I am into fish, without letting the competition in on the news so that they would know I was having success and they might want to get closer? And here’s the call-word: “Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!” So that became our call sign and it came with a good deal of laughter.

That morning, on the western side of Lake Bomoseen, not too far from the Lake Bomoseen Campground, we really got into fish. I think I had 17 or 18 perch by 8 a.m., and the three other guys with me were doing as well, or better.

You never know what kind of fishing you will get into on any given day. But I have learned that the best time to get out on the ice is just before dawn. That first hour of fishing, if you are in the right place, can be incredible. While I rarely get out late in the day, I understand that the last hour or two of daylight can be just as productive.

While we take our fishing seriously, there is always time for fun. I can remember one day, during a big fishing derby. I stopped by derby headquarters to get a badly-needed cup of coffee at the snack shack. Something caught my attention, and when I turned around, I could see three or four men rocking a public portable outhouse, back and forth. There was a guy inside, you see, and he wasn’t all that happy about the little ride he was taking. The guys doing the rocking, meanwhile, were having the time of their lives.

Of course, whenever you get a group of anglers together, especially men, because they always seem to have something to prove, there can be the temptation to keep count about the number of fish taken. In truth, I am usually the guy with the lowest count of fish. But that’s OK, as long as I am catching some fish.

If you are going to get out there on the ice, it might be a good idea to take a friend or two along. The camaraderie helps to pass the time, particularly on cold, windy days, but there is another, more important aspect of having company out there on the ice: A well-equipped partner could save your life.

One morning, heading out with Jim Lynch, who was a longtime fishing partner, I noticed a long length of good, thick rope in his fishing sled. “What the hell is that for?” I asked Jim.

“To save your sorry behind,” Jim answered, “just in case you go through the ice.”

One more important tip: I have a neat pair of devises I always keep in the front pocket of my wool coat. They are just a bit longer than my closed fist and, in the event that I might fall into an ice crack or thin ice, I can use them to climb up out of the ice because, when pressed down on the ice, what resembles a hard spike comes out and allows you to grip the ice as your climb up to safety.

Free ice fishing clinics

Speaking of ice fishing, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department will hold a series of introductory seminars, in January and February, on a variety of ice fishing techniques.

The five clinics are open to people of all ages and levels of experience, including those who are new to fishing. Participants will learn about fishing regulations and techniques, fish identification, ice safety and more.

Introduction to Walleye Fishing, Jan. 19, 9 a.m. to noon, Chittenden Reservoir, Chittenden. Walleye are the largest member of the perch family and are found in Vermont in the Chittenden Reservoir, Lake Carmi, the Connecticut River, Island Pond, Salem Lake and Lake Champlain.

Introduction to Ice Fishing, Feb. 2, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Dewey Pond, Quechee. Come learn how to experience all that a Vermont winter has to offer by getting started in ice fishing. We will learn the basics, from checking the ice for safety to selecting sites and drilling holes, to setting tip-ups and jigging. This clinic is sponsored by the Hartford Parks & Recreation Department and will run in conjunction with their Youth Ice Fishing Derby.

Ice Fishing for Panfish, Feb. 3, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Shelburne Pond, Shelburne. Panfish are the smaller fish species that fit in a pan, including pumpkinseed and bluegill, sunfish, perch, rock bass and crappie. They are easy to catch and great to eat.

Introduction to Ice Fishing, Feb. 5, 2-5 p.m., Lake Bomoseen. Come learn how to experience all that a Vermont winter has to offer by getting started ice fishing. We’ll learn the basics, from checking the ice for safety to selecting sites and drilling holes to setting tip-ups and jigging.

Introduction to Smelting, Feb. 21, 5-8 p.m., Waterbury Reservoir, Waterbury. Smelt are a small, slender schooling fish, found in Vermont’s deeper and colder lakes. Ice fishing is the only way to consistently catch rainbow smelt in Vermont.

Equipment will be provided, but participants should dress for the weather. All seminars are free and participants are encouraged to bring their own snacks or meal. Space is limited to the first 30 signups and seminars fill up quickly, so sign up as early as possible. Registration is required for all programs and can be completed by calling 265-2279.

Contact Dennis Jensen at

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