Story by Tom Pagliaroli

 

Welcome the Arctic Vortex and the hope among hard water aficionados is that it sticks around for another week or two, at least.

The sudden and somewhat prolonged deep freeze will no doubt wreak havoc on heating bills, but it is also heating ice fishing opportunities to inferno levels.

Northern tier county lakes and ponds have sported safe (read: 4-inch minimum at the least) ice for weeks now, with through-the-hole angling bordering on the phenomenal.

“It’s been incredible fishing up here on Lake Hopatcong,” observes Laurie Murphy, proprietor of Dow’s Boat Rental, ground zero for ice fishing on the state’s largest lake. To be sure, pickerel, largemouth bass, walleyes, yellow perch, crappies, and sunfish are keeping ice rods bent and tip-up flags flying, with the bonus of muskies, hybrid stripers and channel catfish a daily occurrence. On Lake Aeroflex, not only are there pickerel and bass being hauled up, but also rainbow trout and landlocked salmon.

Central Jersey waters have been slower to freeze to safe levels, but this sub-zero at night to low twenties temperature stretch the past week is making a foray on any number of hardened swims a short-but-sweet possibility.

In the 105.7 The Hawk listening area, it gets no better than the 225-acre Lake Assunpink located on the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Siblings Rising Sun Lake (38-acres) and Stone Tavern Lake (52-acres) on the same track also provide stellar hard water opportunities. Ditto Turn Mill Pond (100-acres) on the Colliers Mills WMA, the Butterfly Bogs Pond (18-acre) on the Butterfly Bogs WMA, and the Stafford Forge impoundments (48 and 22-acres) on the Stafford Forge WMA.

Sure, the central and south Jersey ice fishing “season” is short at its longest, so get out and enjoy. However, it is incumbent upon the angler to ascertain if safe ice exists. If so, have at it with jigging rods and tip-ups, but never go alone for safety reasons. By all means, let someone know where you will be “icing it” and when you expect to return. There is no margin for error here. Trust me on this one! Having fallen through soft-but-still-thick honeycombed ice while probing a backcountry pond ¾-mile off a paved road brought me back to ice fishing reality from a very cocky attitude. I was lucky enough to pound through the softened cover to where I could stand and struggle to the muddying bankside thanks to a week-long 45-55 degree late February hot spell, complete with a few drenching, mist-off-the-ice rains, that exponentially weakened the heretofore solid shroud and softened the naked soil.

It was a long, soaking heavy trudge back to the truck. Lesson learned, including the need to let those close to me to know where I was...and to purchase a life insurance policy!

With a modicum of safety precautions, it’s possible to enjoy the rare but there ice fishing opportunities available in central and southern New Jersey. Believe me, angling satisfaction assumes a new meaning when an 8-inch yellow perch or crappie tugs the ultra-light ice rod tip downward to a 20-inch pickerel slashing and grabbing the shiner sends the tip-up flag skyward.

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