SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – “I went ice fishing!” exclaimed youngster Leif Hanchett as he crossed the icy parking lot at Hoyt’s Landing, fishing gear in hand. He cheerfully admitted he had not caught a fish, but that did not dim his enthusiasm. “They just pulled out a gigantic fish out there!” he said, looking up at his mom, Kim Hanchett, for confirmation.
“It was a huge northern pike!” she said, sharing his excitement. “And they’re going to clean it out on the ice.”
Vermont’s ice fishing festival occurs annually in concert with free ice fishing day, and the 2017 celebration was held at Hoyt’s Landing on the Connecticut River in Springfield. It was estimated well over 200 people participated in the festival.
Some were youngsters trying the sport for the first time; some were seasoned veterans eager to share their knowledge; all were enjoying a day of free ice fishing, plus extra activities provided by the Vermont Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.
Governor Phil Scott made an appearance and spent a couple of hours. An ice fisherman himself, he walked around and chatted with many of those fishing.
People of all ages crowded the landing with similar stories. Participants, some from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, caught perch, walleye and crappie. One lucky angler caught a 31-inch, 7-pound northern pike.
Staff from Vermont Fish & Wildlife, instructors from the Let’s Go Fishing program, and volunteers from the University of Vermont’s Wildlife and Fisheries Society were on hand to teach ice fishing basics, including knot tying, drilling holes, rigging and using an ice fishing rod, setting tip-ups and preparing for a day on the ice. Fishing regulations and fish identification were covered as well.
UVM volunteers Jake Derby, Brooke Tommaney and Chris Griffin estimated about 150 people had already registered to fish by noontime, with three hours to go in the day.
“We’ve been steady,” said Griffin. “People are having a good time.”
No doubt the youngest fisherman at the event, 2-month-old Gabe Taddei snuggled in his infant carrier close to mom Kelsey Taddei.
“He’s having fun fishing,” she said. “We just made a trip back to the car for a pacifier and he’s good to go!”
Fish and Wildlife staff operated a fish fry station out on the ice to cook up participants’ catches and offered other refreshments, including plenty of hot cocoa. Several warming huts were available for anglers to use. Ice fishing equipment was available on loan, but many participants brought their own gear.
“The ice fishing festival is a free, easy and fun way for newcomers to get started in ice fishing, and also a great opportunity for kids and families to enjoy time together outdoors,” said Nicole Meier, information and education specialist with Fish & Wildlife in an earlier statement.
Vermont’s free ice fishing day, which takes place each year on the last Saturday in January, enables both residents and non-residents to go ice fishing on any legal water body in Vermont for the day without a license.
“Free ice fishing day creates opportunities for a range of anglers, and really helps to showcase the great ice fishing we have here in Vermont,” said Louis Porter, commissioner of Vermont Fish & Wildlife, in an earlier statement. “From those looking to try out the sport for the first time, to nonresidents who may want to sample some of Vermont’s quality fisheries, the day offers full accessibility to great ice fishing fun across Vermont.”
To learn more about ice fishing in Vermont or to purchase a fishing license, visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.