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Outdoor Activities for Children

Ice Fishing is Fun for Everyone - 3 Kids on the Ice

Ice fishing! These two words can send chills down many avid sportsperson’s back!

Ice fishing in Garrett County is becoming one of Western Maryland’s fastest growing winter activities, and the ice-up of Deep Creek Lake is anticipated by “hard water” anglers as much as the snow on the slopes by other wintertime enthusiasts.

On any given weekend during the winter you can observe droves of ice fishers huddled around small holes drilled through the ice in hopes of catching one of Deep Creek Lake’s finned prizes – a yellow perch, walleye, or perhaps a 20 pound northern pike!

Ice fishing is a winter sport that can be enjoyed by everyone.

First you must follow these basic rules before venturing out on the ice to try your luck.

- Ice thickness. Ice must be at least four inches thick before even thinking of heading out on top of the lake. Drill a test hole near shore to determine ice thickness.

- Avoid slushy areas on the ice, there may be a warm spring underneath that will make the ice thinner than the surrounding ice. Also avoid areas where streams enter the lake as the ice is most likely very thin over flowing water.

- Carry ice picks worn around your neck on a lanyard just in case of an accident. These devices will enable you to crawl out of a hole onto safe ice.

- Always fish with someone!

Now for basic equipment needs:

Auger – these devises drill through the ice to get to the tasty fish below. There are the relatively inexpensive hand powered augers and there are the expensive motorized augurs that make drilling a lot of holes easy work. Once the hole is drilled, a strainer in used to remove the chips of ice from the hole and keep it from freezing shut.

Fishing rods – any old fishing rod will do. Most of my gear is simply duct taping a reel onto the top portion of a two-piece rod. You can also purchase short ice fishing rods and reels at any sporting goods store. Another method employs tip-ups, a device that simply holds a spool of fishing line above the hole and a flag “tips up” once a fish grabs your bait.

Bait – includes small minnows (I prefer fathead minnows), mealworms, and yes, even maggots. Lures include small jigs and minnow imitations. Of course you stick a maggot or two on the lure’s hooks to make it irresistible to the fish!

Clothing – Dress warm! Wear waterproof boots as water does get on top of the ice when drilling the holes. Don’t forget the Thermos of hot chocolate and snacks as well!


Ok, you have an auger, rods, bait, and are ready to venture out on the ice. Again check the thickness of the ice near shore! Fish can be caught at any depth, but 10 to 30 feet seems to be the most productive. Once you drill a hole in a promising area, check the depth by putting on a large sinker on the end of your line and let it hit bottom. Know that depth and place your bait within one foot of the lake’s bottom. I like to hook a fathead minnow just behind its top fin – the bait swims around quite a bit to attract a bigger fish.

And be ready - sometime as soon as your bait reaches its destination – WHAM! A fish may strike! Ice fishing can be fast and furious as many fish school together during the winter.

Most ice-fishers are a gregarious sort of people – so feel free to walk up to them and ask any questions to help you catch a fish. They will be quite helpful in telling what types of fish are hitting, how deep to fish, and what bait or lure to use. And once you become captivated by this sport, the long Garrett County winters will seem all too short.

Author, Alan Klotz
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Western Region Fisheries Manager

Outdoor Activities
Children in Nature
Maryland Department of Natural Resources

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