Though many dread the thought of a deep freeze, there is a sect of people who embrace it. Ice fishermen look forward to frozen lakes and ponds, chilling temperatures and adverse conditions so they can head out and do something they love: stand over a hand-carved hole in the ice, drop an line and wait for a bite.
“If you have three or four inches of ice, you're good to go,” said Joe DaVino, of Andover.
DaVino started ice fishing in Pennsylvania when he was a young boy thanks to his grandfather.
“He laid the ground for my love of all types of fishing and hunting,” DaVino said.
Ice fishermen carve out four to six inch holes in the ice and then, jigging rod in hand adorned with a smidgen of brightly colored metal and baited with a meal worm, fathead minnow or other such fish-tempting treats at the end of a gossamer line, they wait for a bite. They often fashion multiple holes and rig the lines with flags to signal a bite so they can scurry across the ice-lain tundra to reel in the catch.
Popular spots around the county include Swartswood and Little Swartswood lakes, Silver Lake, Lake Ocquittunk and then there are Lake Aeroflex and Lake Wawayanda where believe it or not, one can score a salmon.
“Some people can't believe there are salmon in New Jersey,” said Garret Kazar, Operations Manager at Andover Hunt and Fish. “They're called landlocked salmon and some of the ones we've seen reeled in are pretty impressive in size.”
Tadeusz Koscien, of Kearney, started ice fishing 15 years ago when he was turned on to the sport by his Uncle Felix.
“I caught my first bass in Lake Aeroflax, eight years old,” he said. “I have a friend with a cabin on that lake so my uncle and cousins and I fish there a lot.”
Throughout the years, Koscein has caught many, many fish but never a landlocked salmon.
“I never had the luck, but I usually fish for bass, pickerel and pike, he said, “I use medium to large minnows for bait.”
Other lakes Koscein ice fishes include Cranberry Lake, Monksville Lake Budd Lake for northern pike and wherever the lakes are frozen. So far this year, a lake in Oak Ridge was sufficiently iced over to sport.
“We're hoping the weather is good this year, “good” meaning fridge cold so the lakes can freeze,” Koscein said. “I really enjoy ice fishing with my godfather because he's older and it gives some real quality time but sometimes I'll go out by myself for peace of mind. It's kind of my zen place out there on the ice.
Joe Del Sonto started ice fishing in a private lake community in Byram Township when he was about eight years old. He grew up in Byram and still lives there today which, he said, is part of the reason he enjoys ice fishing.
“It's great to be able to enjoy the outdoors after all being stuck in the house months on end,” he said. “With the winter, I start to go crazy being stuck inside. Another thing I enjoy about it is the camaraderie of getting friends and family together hang out catch some fish eat and drink out the ice.”
When Del Sonto goes out, he's ready.
“I’ll bring a grill and plenty of food with me and catch up on what everyone is doing,” he said.
He always checks the ice out making sure the body of water has been frozen over for at least a week and with temperatures in the day in the 30s and low 40s during day and 20s or below at night some.
Del Sonto likes Lake Aeroflex, Lake Stocton and Little Swartswood Lake.
“I usually walk out 20 yards or so onto the ice and rill a hole if the ice,” he said. “If the ice is four inches thick or more, I consider it safe.”
Unfortunately, these guys may have to wait a few weeks with temperatures hitting as high as 57 over the next two weeks, but when Old Man Winter comes in, rest assured, they'll be on the ice.