The dark shapes of fishermen and their gear stood in contrast to the white layers of snow and ice atop the lake at Black Moshannon State Park about noon Sunday.
Juxtaposed even greater against the white was the bright flags sticking out of holes in the ice drilled by Earl Smith, of Bedford County, and his four fishing companions. The flags are part of a fishing rig called a ‘tip-up,’ they explained, and the cloth is designed to spring in the air to indicate a bite to waiting fishermen. Suddenly, one sprung to life and there was a flurry of activity.
“Flag up!” one exclaimed. “OK, come get them, Earl.”
Smith made his way over to the hole and pulled the wooden device from the ice. He pulled the line out of the water to find his bait — a small fish called a ‘shiner’ — and some vegetation.
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“He took it to the weeds and dropped it,” Smith explained.
Smith and the others had traveled to the lake because it was the first one that iced over enough to come out. About four inches of ice is recommended before going on the ice. The surface was between five and six inches thick Sunday, Donnie Weyandt, of Claysburg, said. Each man had five lines in the water and they had already caught several chain pickerel and largemouth bass since arriving in the morning.
It was cold on the lake and the men dressed appropriately, in layers. They also brought a canvas hut that fit all five men, snacks and a propane heater.
“This is roughing it,” Smith joked.
Cousins Travis Stimer, of Port Matilda, and Jason Stimer, of Julian, were set up nearby and utilized another method. Each held a small fishing pole, called a jig rod. The pair had been out since about 8 a.m. Sunday and had already caught 40 panfish, like perch and bluegills, between them by noon, Travis Stimer said. Like the others, they were fishing the lake because it was the first to freeze.
Despite the catches, Travis Stimer said the lake is a hard one to fish on using the rods.
“It just doesn’t seem like they’re in here like they used to be,” he said.
About 20 minutes after Smith’s catch escaped in the weeds in the frigid water beneath the ice, the group experienced success in quick succession.
Ronnie Weyandt, Donnie’s cousin, and Scott Pfaunmiller were pulling a line out to replace bait and found a fish on the other end. The flag failed to engage when the fish was hooked. Shortly thereafter, a flag shot in the air and a pickerel was brought to the surface. Like all their other catches of the day, each was promptly released.
Donnie Weyandt has been ice fishing for close to 10 years and said he likes it because some of the most successful fishing he has done is on the ice. Some fish, like pickerel, pike and muskie, feed more aggressively this time of year to prepare to spawn, he said.
Ronnie had another explanation for the hobby.
“We just love hearing people say, ‘You’re crazy,’” he said.