An excerpt from The Innermost Waters: Fishing Cape Cod’s Ponds and Lakes by Peter Budryk
The ponds and lakes of Cape Cod, unlike most of the stillwaters in the rest of the Commonwealth, do not always freeze over during an average winter. The salty influence of the Cape’s weather patterns produces milder winters. This difference cuts two ways: 1- the less severe winters mean bigger fish because it results in a longer feeding and, therefore, growing season for the Cape’s freshwater fish; 2- for those who enjoy ice fishing on the Cape, it can be a long time between opportunities, since the ice that may form on the lakes and ponds is most often not thick enough for safe fishing out on the ice. Of course, shore bound fishing, when the lake is not supportive of ice fishing, can be productive.
In those rare Cape winters when the lakes freeze deeply enough to be safe for ice fishing the intersection of large, hungry fish and the knowledgeable ice angler results in spectacular catches. Unusually long and cold winters are memorable for the fanatical Cape Cod ice fishermen who uses any rationale to get out as often as possible, not quite to make hay while the sun shines, but the opposite, whatever that is – to catch fish while the ice holds?
Smaller, shallower lakes/ponds freeze and thaw sooner than larger, deeper stillwaters. Nothing can stop every angler from fishing. However, care must be taken to be sure ice is safe. Some simple things to consider: If in doubt, do not step out onto the ice. This is truly a matter of life or death; A two inch minimum of ice is necessary to support one person of average weight; Ice can be thicker of thinner near shore than in the middle so check carefully as you go; “Black Ice” is formed from deep cold snaps and is quite strong; Ice forming during snow falls or a series of freezes and thaws will be weaker than black ice; Ice near springs and inflows from streams will be dangerously thin even if ice on the rest of the lake is safe; And, most importantly, if in doubt, don’t step out!
In February of 2013, I had an experience in Goose Hummock Bait and Tackle that demonstrated to me just how much Cape Cod anglers love their ice fishing. The winter of 2002-2003 was one of the coldest in many years. Lakes and ponds froze solid and deep from shore to shore. On this particular day the temperature was 19 degrees F, with a wind chill of -5 degrees. On my way into the shop I held a door open for several exiting customers, each holding a freshly filled bucket of shiners. Walking in, I was greeted by a smiling manager and asked him “is it my imagination or are there a lot of guys out ice fishing?” The manager replied, “Heck yes! It’s way too cold to work!”
If you are one of the ice fishing fanatics, you already know the clothing, gear, bait, food, drink and special equipment necessary for a safe, comfortable and productive trip. If not, and you want to try it, hook up with a fanatic who can shorten your learning curve and, in the process, perhaps save you from frostbite or worse. At the very least, I’d recommend that you call or stop by one of the Cape Cod bait and Tackle stores. There, you will be able to get what you need and, most importantly, be provided with up to date reports on ice conditions which will dictate whether or not you should even be out on the ice.<
Ice fishing can be a great experience even on the coldest of days. But, if it gets too cold for you or you don’t have the proper clothing or you don’t have the will to stand out drilling on two feet of ice with the wind chill below zero and possibly a gale blowing, then maybe this is not the sport for you. Most serious ice fishermen want optimal conditions: no more than 6 inches of ice, 30 degrees F, sun and no wind. And, of course they are looking forward to a great catch!
Peter Budryk is a free-lance writer, resident of Cambridge and East Orleans, a member of the Mill Pond Preservation Association, a former college professor, an avid fisherman and the author of The INNERMOST WATERS: Fishing Cape Cod’s Pond and Lakes. His book can be purchased on-line or at local bookstores. Visit his web-site posted with the Authors Guild. Water, Water Everywhere is a monthly contribution of the Orleans Pond Coalition. For more information visit www.orleanspondcoalition.org.