Anglers flock to Lake Elmore for a free day of ice fishing
Leah Golding is a reporter with the Community News Service, part of the University of Vermont’s Documentary Reporting and Storytelling program.
More than 700 people ventured to Elmore State Park on a recent Saturday for off-licence fishing, educational demonstrations and fresh fish fry as part of the 11th annual Vermont Ice Fishing Day.
“I think it helps us stay connected to our Vermont heritage,” said Ashley Reynolds, an attendee from Elmore, who was there with her husband, Colin, to help her son with his calligraphy. The family hadn’t caught anything yet, but were eagerly waiting to catch a bite.
“We’re both from Vermont, and we’re raising our kids that way. We loved doing this as kids and want to continue that tradition.”
The Jan. 27 festival included various educational stations for participants to navigate as they walked on frozen Lake Elmore, including presentations on ice safety, identifying fish, tying knots, drilling holes, and setting up a device used to catch the ice. Bait in ice fishing instead of a hand-held fishing rod. The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife geared the event toward those without a hunting license and provided free gear to anyone who didn’t bring their own, said Corey Hart, an education specialist for the department.
“It’s just about getting people excited to go fishing,” he said.
The crowd included families with young children, experienced anglers, locals, and visitors, all there for a day on the ice. A steady snowfall covered the trees surrounding the lake and prompted fishermen to take advantage of the free hot chocolate.
“I think this event is great,” Colin Reynolds said, adding shortly after, “It attracts a very good crowd, people get out and take part in a lovely traditional activity, and everyone enjoys it.”
“It’s really great for the kids, you know. They don’t care if they catch anything, they just love being here,” he said.
Rising temperatures have raised safety concerns on the ice recently, after three men fell and drowned last year during a tournament on Lake Champlain. Ali Thomas, director of the outreach division at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said hunters should take precautions to prevent accidents.
“Especially this year, don’t take places that have always been safe for granted,” she said. “Make sure you talk to your local bait shops, talk to your local anglers and check the ice as you approach it and as you move on it, because it may not be as strong as it has been in years past.”
The ice on Lake Elmore was 12 inches thick that Saturday, 8 inches above the safety minimum, Hart said.
Thomas said greater concerns about icy conditions shouldn’t keep anglers from getting out on the ice. She encourages anglers to check the thickness of the ice, wear appropriate clothing and bring rescue equipment such as an ice pick and rope.
“Everything has risks, and the benefits and safety (of ice fishing) are really great,” she said. “It certainly outweighs the potential risks involved.”
Volunteers from Let’s Go Fishing, a state education program, were out on the ice that afternoon to help people set up and operate some stations. The group hosts conservation-focused events around the state, with 5,000 to 7,000 people annually attending its free clinics, Thomas said.
“On the surface this festival seems like just a silly fishing festival, but to me it means so much more than that,” Thomas said. “I think it’s a beautiful example of the Vermont community coming together, recognizing the outdoors that we care about, and hopefully fostering a greater appreciation for not only the outdoors but a really important and historic activity.”