Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ice Fishing Largemouth Bass: The Best Time of the Ice Season to Go

Black Ice for the Best Winter Bass Bite

          Many years ago, an older friend and I ice fished two consecutive days on the newly formed “black” ice of a six-acre private pond in Mercer County we had permission to fish. Bright, sunny skies prevailed, the ice clear as a pane of glass, water underneath pure as if from a well. Tip-up flags sprang constantly both days. Oddly, half the largemouths took the shiner, ran four or five yards and dropped the bait.

          The third day, we arrived upon a transformed environment. Snow fell overnight, four inches covering the ice. Clouds remained overhead. Since we could not find previously cut holes, each of us whacked new openings for tip-ups with our splitting bars, and then we waited and waited. We fished for hours, enjoying no more action than three flags.

          This got us thinking and theorizing. Correct or not, we concluded that bass in clear water, under clear ice with lots of sun penetrating through, strike in reaction just as they do during warmer months of open water. If you’ve ever noticed a silver shiner’s scales catching sunlight, you may have felt astonished at the pulse of reflected light. We believe such pulses provoke bass to hit. And some bass may drop shiners they initially strike, not interested in eating.

          It’s a story that makes sense, whether or not it’s true. Ice fishermen everywhere tend to agree that first ice is best ice, so some reason or other must exist. As the ice fishing season deepens, ice develops milky-colored surface layers of melted and re-frozen snow. Towards the end in February or March, ice can feature water flowing between a thinly frozen surface and the body of thick ice beneath, or present a mess while melting under slushy snow or half a foot of water. First ice—that “black” ice illusion you see from a distance—is remarkably clean and simple by comparison. It invites an ice fisherman out for a pure experience of the frigid new season and the bass may respond with frisky bites.

          If you are new to ice fishing, I recommend finding someone introducing you. If you know of no one who ice fishes, you can find at least one guide service in New Jersey for ice fishing. Otherwise, the local activities of a lake community, such as encountered on Lake Hopatcong, will give you clear indication of whether or not the ice is safe. I was taught that three inches of hard clear ice is safe, although I would never recommend this measure to anyone venturing out on his own for the first time.

          There are reasons. Large lakes and reservoirs freeze unevenly. Round Valley Reservoir, for example, froze 18 inches thick by March, 2014, and yet about 25% of the water in the reservoir remained open all winter. Other lakes never freeze evenly—coves freeze first, main lake points last as a general rule. Ponds of few acres do freeze evenly, unless a little cove or two is protected from prevailing wind and freezes first. An entire book on ice conditions could be written by whoever goes to the trouble of cataloguing dozens of variations found on lakes, reservoirs, ponds and rivers, but for our discussion: clear, hard, safe ice is the concern.

           Fish clear water underneath, choose a sunny afternoon if you can, and stay out until dusk. The magic hour near sunset until a half hour or so thereafter always has the potential of lunker bass feeding. Nevertheless, in my experience, the most direct sun rays possible make for the fastest first-ice fishing, the most flags tripped.

          Shallow lakes and ponds may prove best. A deep lake offers bass the opportunity to escape brilliant light by settling deeper. If you set a shiner 25 feet deep, it will not reflect light sharply as it will in 10 feet of water or even shallower. If you fish Lake Hopatcong, for example, notorious for its main lake points dropping off into 40 feet of water or more, try River Styx shallows or the State Park flats instead.

          The best kept secret for first-ice fishing is ponds, by virtue of the fact that many ice fishermen don’t care to hear about the success, habituated instead to lakes and reservoirs with the fanfare they draw. Shallow ponds freeze to safe thickness before protected coves freeze safely on lakes and reservoirs. Snow may fall before ice is safe on any lake or reservoir, yet a day or two exists with a relative few ice anglers catching bass in shallow, clear ponds before black ice opportunity is ruined.

          Whether lake, pond or reservoir, know the water before it freezes to reduce the random element when setting tip-ups. Bass frequent many of the same sorts of habitat during winter as during the warmer months, although in ponds, for example, you will catch plenty in the deepest water of perhaps 10 feet, if most get caught hugging shorelines in the summer and fall. Any cover in the water—whether of lake, pond or reservoir—should have tip-ups set close as possible to it without the shiner getting entangled. Often cover is situated in relatively shallow water. Set a tip-up in the deepest water possible that remains in close relation to the shallower cover, whether submerged brush, boulders, a sunken dock or anything else that may draw forage and bass to it.

           Residual weeds remain remarkably thick during winter in some waters and bass inhabit them. Not every weedy situation involves an outside edge adjacent to deeper water, where bass frequent in search of forage. Flats comprise many acres of reduced weed mass with enough tendrils and leafy greens remaining to hold lots of fish. Tip-ups can be spread over a flat, set by best guesses, and tended. Check on every tip-up to make sure the shiner doesn’t entangle in weeds. Occasionally lifting a tip-up to check on it also helps ensure that a shiner remains active on the hook.

          A light wire, plain shank size 6 hook is all you need for each tip-up. The light weight isn’t a burden for lively bait to carry. Crimp a medium split-shot about 15 inches ahead of the hook to a three-foot fluorocarbon leader—15-pound test if pickerel are present—and lower the rig to bottom until the dacron main line goes limp. Turn dacron back onto the tip-up spool as you lower the spool to the water surface, until the line comes taut with the split-shot directly on bottom and your index finger and thumb holding the line at the surface. Now turn seven loops of dacron onto the spool and set the tip-up in the hole. The shiner will swim slightly suspended above bottom.

          And to have a tip-up set to wait is a satisfying feeling. A flag sprung is pure joy.  

Civilization's Coming Transformation: An Answer to Last Night's Post

Suffering one of my typical attempts to sleep last night, the insomnia keeping me lucid for an hour-and-a-half after covering myself with sheets, I reflected upon the post I'd written, among many other things. Even after taking Ambien, I never felt the relief that comes of crazy interruptions in my train of thinking, the relief of those harbingers of dreams below the threshold of wakefulness, not for a long time.

I thought of guys taking issue with how I ended my spiel, and felt my eagerness to answer. To begin with, everyone knows the industrialism that tore this state apart, leaving it behind like a facsimile of hell--all you have to do is Google about New Jersey's many Superfund sites--everyone knows that industrialism drove a thriving economy, compared to now.

Accept this--it's gone. It is not coming back.

Some of us have realized this long ago already. A showman con artist can't change our minds about the facts.

What is possible? Given what is, what is to become? What might become is more than ancillary to the inevitable, because it's really up to us, but my habit of thinking assumes an unshakeable optimism, so I always begin with the assumption that the best will be.

This is fundamentally an attitude of more than personal predilection, because grounded in first cause deeper than anything I may derive. I wrote that a flourishing environment means a flourishing society. I heard the imagined protest of someone I know point out that it was for the cave man, too. I thought awhile, and then responded, "Yes, in fact it was."

And I continued, "We're not cave men, and we won't be."

My knowledge of the transformation our civilization hurtles towards, while admittedly, day to day and year to year, we witness change at a slow pace, given economic difficulties persistent, my knowledge lacks, but I know this, as far flung as I seem: Arthur C. Clarke's prediction of science and technology indistinguishable from magic, (A.C. Clarke author of 2001: A Space Odyssey) combined with naturalist E. O. Wilson's belief that we can create paradise on earth, involves more than restoring natural balance; it involves our participation in an artistic, scientific, and technological transformation of given nature. We have stream "restorations" in New Jersey that really amount to creative streamscaping, a humble beginning, but nothing at all to denigrate. I've seen beautiful results and have fished them.

Long ago now, in the 1980's, I read about the shift from industrial to super-industrial civilization...and we want the 1950's back? 

Read Einstein! The 1950's exist. But only exactly as they are. You can't get them back, but we can get the happiness back we really wish for.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leadership in Wildlife Conservation: Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey Honors for Women

I'm especially taken by this press release below, which I received from Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, because Tanya Sulikowski is among the award recipients. Five or six years ago, I interviewed Tanya for an article I hoped to write on Schiff Nature Preserve in Mendham, when she served as Director there. She was wonderful to work with. Kind, very bright, fully present, and generous with information. I never forget the key motive in my seeking her out: what I felt to be a revolution in New Jersey concerning the environment.

Ostensibly, the article was to represent Schiff, and with her help, no doubt it would have proved to be a very good one, but I did not fail to speak of this issue of a change in the state's modus operandi in favor of the environment. Deep down, Schiff symbolized a larger whole for me, though Schiff itself is a wonderful acreage with valuable programs. The organization is also important in keeping intact the homestead of the father of the Boy Scouts of America, Baden Powell.

I could write for hours, days, weeks on the shift in New Jersey from industrial cauldron to environmental transformation, but I'll finish by pointing out that environmentalism today has come to recognize--and I think where it hasn't yet, it should--that the state's geography and the planet exists in the people's interest. I remember the scripts from the late 1960's. All about how evil man is. Now we learn that a flourishing environment means a flourishing society. 

Three New Jersey Women to be Honored for Leadership in Wildlife Conservation on Nov. 30 at Duke Farms

in Hillsborough

Gov. Florio keynote speaker at Women & Wildlife event

featuring silent auction, Awards Ceremony, and live bird of prey

Hillsborough, NJ – The nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) will present their 11th annual Women & Wildlife Awards on Wednesday, November 30 at the Coach Barn at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Former New Jersey Governor James J. Florio will serve as the keynote speaker, and the event will also include a silent auction and a live bird of prey.

The Women & Wildlife Awards recognize special individuals for their achievements, the advances they have made for women in their professions, their efforts to increase awareness of rare species and the habitats they depend on, and their contributions to New Jersey's wildlife.

“Wildlife conservation efforts have benefited from a strong core of female scientists, educators, advocates, researchers, and rehabilitators who serve as role models for the next generation,” said David Wheeler, CWF Executive Director. “Thanks to our Women & Wildlife honorees, today’s young girls can feel confident in pursuing science and conservation as careers with limitless and exciting possibilities.”

Event sponsors include PSE&G, Eric Sambol, Bob and Maureen Coleman, Renzi Bernardi Suarez & Co., Dr. Barbara, Brummer, Dewberry, James Fiorentino, Glenn Insurance, Inc., Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants, Inc., Grumpys Tackle, Mercer County Wildlife Center, Merrill G. & Emita E. Hastings Foundation, New Jersey Education Association, Pinelands Nursery, Rick Weiman, and Your Part Time Controller.

The 2016 honorees are:

Martha Maxwell-Doyle - Inspiration

With over three decades of dedication to resource management, hazardous materials, and environmental protection, Ms. Maxwell-Doyle has proved to be a powerful force behind habitat restoration and protection. Currently working at the Barnegat Bay Partnership as a project coordinator for estuary protection and restoration, Ms. Maxwell-Doyle's years of experience at multiple national estuary programs has made it second nature for her to implement conservation and management plans. Ms. Maxwell-Doyle’s enthusiasm for life and the environment drives her to do as much as possible to repair New Jersey's wildlife habitats while teaching others that a difference can be made.

Wendy Walsh - Leadership

As a Senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Ms. Walsh has proven herself invaluable in the endangered species field for her work with wildlife such as the piping plover, swamp pink, and seabeach amaranth. Her most notable work is with the red knot, a declining species for which Ms. Walsh took the species lead in the federal listing process. Her tireless efforts coordinating, analyzing and interpreting data, particularly detailing the effects of changing climate on these long-distance migrant shorebirds has made her work widely acclaimed as the final rule. Ms. Walsh's open-mindedness to others' expertise makes for effective planning and implementation of her vision to one day recover all threatened and endangered species.

Tanya Sulikowski - Education

A champion in environmental education, Ms. Sulikowski is currently the Manager of Programs at Duke Farms where she hosts hands-on creative projects that include bird banding and monitoring, as well as rain gardens and barrels just to name a few. Ms. Sulikowski considers her creation of the Teen Action and Leadership Opportunities for Nature program to be her greatest professional achievement, since it inspires urban students to make lifestyle changes that incorporate their newly discovered love of nature. Her reach has extended statewide through her various roles within the Alliance for NJ Environmental Educators, where she currently serves as Vice President.

For more information on the 2016 Women & Wildlife Awards, please visit To learn more about CWF, please visit


Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has worked to protect rare wildlife in New Jersey and beyond for over two decades. CWF biologists and educators utilize field science, habitat restoration, environmental education, public engagement, and volunteer stewardship to ensure our most vulnerable wildlife species can continue to call New Jersey home. Our dedicated and innovative scientists have helped many species recover and thrive again in our densely populated state.

CWF's wildlife webcams, Story Maps, live webcasts, and e-books help bring wildlife directly to the screens of tens of thousands of people, while our public events and volunteer projects give people of all generations the opportunity to experience the wonders of wildlife up close. Our educators utilize art and essay contests, educational field trips, summer camps, afterschool programs, technology initiatives, classroom presentations, and wildlife-based curriculum and lesson plans that meet the latest educational standards in helping kids grow in STEAM - or Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. More information can be found at