We arrive at the Morris side of Bantam Lake on a sunny Saturday morning. The rough, expansive ice is already dotted with about a dozen fishing camps, some with fire pits, tents and a gourmet selection of food, pulled in a special sled. One thing is for sure: ice fishing lovers are incredibly enthusiastic! "Oh, it makes the winter go by," says longtime angler Shawna Casper. "It's exciting to look forward to the weekend to go ice fishing!"
The many inches of snow on top of the extremely thick ice is making the conditions challenging for fisherman but they will not be deterred! "Fishing is usually best early in the morning," advises Casper. " If you're out here early your chances of getting a fish are better." It also helps to look for Connecticut's bass, pike, perch and trout under overcast skies.
Casper and her friend, Nate Upton, begin to set up their fishing holes. First, they drill through the ice by churning a manual auger which is a real workout for the arms! The state allows six lines per person. So, our team from Goshen puts a "Tip Up" over each hole which is an apparatus including a reel, the line and an orange "alert" flag that will pop up when a fish is hooked. "Most people sit and jig while they're watching for the flags," says Casper. "It's definitely exciting when you see a flag go up! You go running towards it!"
But, minutes, then hours pass, and we're still waiting for a fish! One measly fish! "Fish hit when they're hungry, really," says Upton. Perhaps the sky is too blue. Perhaps we didn't arrive at the lake early enough. It's too late to question our choices, so we settle in and practice some patience.
After about two hours, we hear a shout from a nearby camp. A man pulls a gorgeous Northern Pike out from the icy chips. Everyone cheers as he measures his catch on a ruler attached to a makeshift cart on wheels. "It's a keeper," he calls gleefully after the fish measures more than 28 inches, the state's requirement. Even so, he places the fish on the ice and it slithers back through the frozen tunnel towards freedom in the deep, dark blackness.
Upon observing this scene, I realize ice fishing isn't about how many fish you catch. It's about mystery and camaraderie. It's also a unique way to enjoy Connecticut's beautiful scenery in the winter. A cold weather sport with a connection to wildlife and our lovely rivers and lakes.
"It's relaxing," smiles Upton. "It's a good time!"
You can go about ice fishing several different ways. You can hire a guide through an outdoor store such as Housatonic River Outfitters, at 24 Kent Road in Cornwall Bridge. Or, refer to the Department of Environmental Protection's web site for instructions and locations. Either way, you will need a Connecticut license which costs $28.00.
Ice Fishing season closes at the end of February.