Brave the cold, learn to fish

Cyrus Oswald, Staff Writer

The snow and ice in Vermont can seem to stretch on for miles, but community members and UVM students didn’t let the season stop them from getting outside.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s Free Ice Fishing Day Festival took place from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. Jan. 26 on the ice outside of Knight Point State Park in North Hero. 

More than 500 potential ice fishers, big and small, came out to celebrate the cold.

Senior Rose Nixon didn’t catch any fish while she was there, but it didn’t stop her from having fun, she said. 

“It’s kind of like on the pain-fun divide … where it’s super cold, but also kind of entertaining and fun,” Nixon said.

Nixon said she was impressed by how the festival catered to all different levels of ability and experience.  

Corey Heart, education specialist for Vermont Fish & Wildlife, was one of the people leading the festival.

“We started doing this to promote Free Fishing day. Each year there’s a free fishing day in the summer and a free fishing day in the winter,” Heart said.

To fish in Vermont, a special license must be purchased, but twice a year, community members can fish for free, according to the department.

At the festival, several stations were set up, each teaching about a different aspect of ice fishing, from hole drilling and ice safety to fish identification and knot tying.

“This event teaches everything you need to know about ice fishing, and we also have a fish frier going for anything you might catch,” Heart said.

UVM volunteers were also present, helping with parking attendance, handing out rods and checking people in. The UVM Wildlife and Fisheries Society had about 20 people there helping manage the event.

The UVM Wildlife and Fisheries Society is an on-campus club that provides volunteering and networking opportunities to students interested in wildlife and fisheries professions.

It was her second time at the festival and her second time ever ice fishing, she said.

“Rose over here seems to have the lucky hole. Might just be the weedy hole,” junior Luther Nelson said.

Nelson heard about the ice fishing festival two years ago, he said.

“My suitemate was like ‘oh, we should go to this thing.’ We went around to the different stations and ate some fried fish,” Nelson said.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department handed out samples of freshly fried fish to hungry attendees enticed by the smell. Some tent-style warming huts were also set up to keep guests comfortable.

One station had displays showing the varying thicknesses of ice recommended for different weights, from a person to a truck.  

Nelson said he enjoyed how educational the festival was.

“You can actually see, okay, this is how thick ice needs to be to walk on, and this is how thick ice needs to be to drive a car,” he said.

For about a half mile out on the ice, ice fishers old and young dotted the landscape. Kids were sliding around on the ice, and kids and adults alike were standing around drinking hot chocolate.

Heart said the last Saturday in January is typically free fishing day in Vermont, and as long as its cold, ice fishing will be available.