La Niña Winter Fishing Party

       A number of fish lay scattered upon the ice: slab-sized crappie, a few big northern pike, some nice yellow perch, a beautiful walleye and a few giant bluegills. It was cold, really cold, but the anglers gathered at Deep Creek Lake were glowing with excitement.

      A La Niña weather pattern predicted for this winter has fallen upon Maryland big time. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency has been studying the effects of this weather cycle, and you’ve probably heard meteorologists on weather channels discussing the topic. El Niños and La Niñas are the warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, ENSO for short. This pattern can shift back and forth irregularly every two to seven years, and each phase triggers predictable disruptions of temperature, precipitation and winds that affect the weather throughout the Western Hemisphere. 

      The prediction for this year in Maryland was a La Niña cycle: colder than normal weather accompanied by increased winds and moisture. We’ve certainly had a lot of all three. One of the oft-cited comments on Maryland’s winter weather is that it gets bad enough to make us miserable but not long enough for us to find ways to enjoy it.

      Our winters are not regularly deep or stable enough for enjoying many of the traditional cold-weather sports, including ice fishing. But this year it has been different. Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County has been particularly spectacular for the hard-water sport.

     My go-to guy at Deep Creek is Garrett Hoffman, one of the few ice fishing guides certified by the Department of Natural Resources in the state. He recently reported superb fishing through the ice since Christmas. Currently they’ve got 12 to 14 inches of the hard stuff, and as four inches is the minimum for safe fishing, one can relax in the knowledge that it’s possible to drive a dump truck out onto the lake with no danger of breaking through.

      If you’ve not ice-fished before, it can be challenging. You’ve got to have knowledge of the bottom topography of the waters to know where the deep fish wintering spots are. It’s even better if you can see down through the ice with the kind of sonar that lets you find where the fish are actually holding.

        Maryland anglers may privateer a day or two on their own at any area lake or impoundment that has four or more inches of solid ice, always remembering the old rhyme: Thick and blue is tried and true, thin and crispy is way too risky. Or call Garrett (301-616-6232) and arrange a day with a skilled professional at one of the most beautiful state parks in Maryland.

Equipment Short List
• Short ice-fishing rods, 18 to 24 inches
• Powered ice auger or, less easy, a heavy iron wrecking or pry bar
• Seating; maybe even a wind break or pop-up tent 
• Severe-weather clothing, particularly good insulated boots and warm gloves.


Fish Finder

Recent cold spells have not only curtailed fishing on the Bay and the tributaries but have also resulted in some ugly fish kills. 

Anglers embracing the conditions and fishing through the ice are having some great times, while the rest of us will have to make due with the boat shows, flea markets and fishing expositions that populate the calendar this time of year.

More imminently, yellow perch fishing should take off once the ice has cleared from area tributaries. Use the downtime to get ready.

Hunting Seasons

Duck: thru Jan. 27

Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31

Whitetail and Sika deer, bow season: thru Jan. 31

Canada goose: thru Feb. 3

Snow goose: thru Feb. 3

Rabbit: thru Feb. 28

Squirrel: thru Feb. 28