Ice anglers enjoy frigid temperatures and tranquility

| 24 Jan 2019 | 06:40

By Laurie Gordon
It's cold. Really cold. Yet undaunted, they head to a place even colder: the middle of a frozen lake. If it's windy, it can feel like they're on the Alaskan tundra and 'oft times, all alone. Unfazed and thriving in the cold, ice fishers are seriously passionate about their sport.
Garrett Kazar, an avid outdoorsman and operations manager of Andover Hunt & Fish, says that his ice fishing equipment includes a spud bar to check the ice for thickness, ice cleats, an auger to cut a hole in the ice, "tip ups" to drop a line below the ice, and live bait, such as moussess, shiners and butter worms, to catch trout, bass, perch, landlocked salmon, pickerel and crappies. Once on the ice, a technique called “jigging” is used to move the fishing pole around to “jig” for fish. Kazar said that there are ice sleds that can transport the gear, small shelters, called shanties, which may have heaters.
Rich Peter lives in Wantage and is a partner at Simon Peter Sport, in Newton. He said that there are basically two types of people who ice fish: the die-hards and those who fish as a social activity.
“The guys who take it seriously will be out there when there's as little as two inches of ice and they don't care how cold it gets,” he said. “The majority are the social fisherman, such as myself. We get together with a bunch of friends and it becomes a little party while we fish.”
Peter's friends drive from the Jersey Shore to enjoy fishing on local farm ponds.
Peter said that once digging a hole in the ice, a tip up is placed in the hole. He also said that most anglers use live shiners as bait, and when there's a bite, a flag pops up. The rest is up to the angler who rushes to the hole, sets the hook, and plays the fish by hand.
As for safety, Peter said, “It's an individual decision.”
He looks for six inches of ice before venturing out.
James Taylor, of Blairstown, started ice fishing last year on Lake Areoflex, in Andover.
“I'm all self-taught and talk to local guys for advice,” he said. “I started when I was 25, but always had a passion for fishing. I don't have a favorite spot but will travel just about anywhere to fish.”
He said he uses a humble blind, rather than a shanty, when its windy.
Being out in the cold, alone, doesn't bother Taylor.
“It's relaxing to just be outside and enjoy the fresh air,” he said.
Taylor catches bass, trout, perch, crappie, panfish and pickerel and gets a catch in a matter of minutes or a matter of hours depending on the day. He said his family is very supportive of his hobby and that his uncle is also an avid fisherman.
"I ask local shops for thickness of ice," he said. "I am never the first out on a lake. I always make sure someone else has recently gone out. but I also always carry ice picks just in case.”
Larry Luderzo drives to Sussex County from Garfield to ice fish. On Monday, For this article, he spoke to Straus News live from his fishing hole on frozen Swartswood Lake where the mercury read 10 degrees but the wind chill made it feel far colder on Monday.
“I learned to ice fish myself and enjoy Swartswood and Lake Aeroflex the best,” he said. “Today I'm pretty much the only idiot out here but it's beautiful and I have a little tent with a heater to stay somewhat warm.”
A typical day on the ice for Luderzo is from seven am to about three pm, and he goes out by himself.
“I talk to myself, enjoy nature and eat a lot of candy,” he said. “Now I'll head to see Garrett for more bait then come back out here.”
Del Sontro, of Byram, started ice fishing with his father when he was 10 years old for the late winter months after hunting season had ended.
“Some of my favorite lakes to fish are Lake Hopatcong, Lake Aeroflex and private lakes like Forest Lakes and Lake Lenape,” he said.
Mark Hrab, also of Byram, started ice fishing when he was five years old. His Uncle Rich was his instructor.
“It was a new experience,” he said, “You really have to be very prepared for it. I started out catching a lot of little sun fish, so that got me going knowing I could catch bigger ones.”
Hrab added, “I'm really into the sport of it. It's something I've been doing for over 20 years. I like having the peace and sanity. I sit and watch my tip ups, and I could spend all day out there if I'm warm and properly clothed.”
On Monday, with its frigid cold, he said that some of his friends even wanted to go out night ice fishing.
“There I had to draw the line," Hrab said. “It feels like 20 below.”
Hrab likes to go to Spruce Run when its able to be “locked up” (safely frozen). There he catches Northern Pike, Hybrid Striped Bass and others, as there are a lot of warm and cold water fish in the Run.
Hrab depends on his spud bar for proper safety and said he always has some rope and some sort of flotation device with him just in case.
“I go to a lot of private lakes in Sussex County and usually have a few buddies,Alex, Vinney or Bob, along with me,” he said.
Hrab and his friends have a system and constantly move across the ice according to what their fish finder tells them.
“We can dig hole usually in a few seconds depending on the ice thickness," he said.
Though they fish together, they dig holes a safe distance apart.
“It just depends on the winter and the thickness of the ice,” he said. “Some years it's even safe to drive a car out. As you get into March, the ice is still thick but much more brittle unlike the early season strong black ice. As spring approaches, eight inches of ice has about half the strength and it gets soft faster.”
Kazar said, “Outdoorsmen and [outdoors]women are looking for an adventure after summer fishing and fall hunting is over, and ice fishing certainly fits the bill. Often people have a small propane stove to cook hamburgers and hotdogs and enjoy hustling from tip up to tip up as the fish grab the bait and run off kicking up the red flag. Fish on!”