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An ice fishing lesson for our changing climate

Man demonstrating ice fishing drills to a small crowd outdoors.
Megan Zerez
DEC Fisheries biologist Jim Everardt demonstrates ice fishing safety and gear at Casterline Pond in Cortland County.

As warmer temperatures return to the Southern Tier, it’s a sign that ice fishing season is wrapping up. Before that happened, WSKG’s Megan Zerez met up with Department of Environmental Conservation biologist and self-proclaimed “fish nerd” Jim Everardt for his ice fishing class.

If you drive a little too fast, tiny Casterline Pond is easy to miss. It sits right between two very not-so-scenic landmarks: the Interstate and Route 11.

But the cars that whooshed by didn’t seem to bother Everardt or the dozen or so kids and adults at a DEC fishing class.

A lot of the people there said they’ve been fishing before … just not ice fishing. A few people admitted they’ve always been a little nervous about falling through the ice.

“That’s the problem with ice fishing, someone’s always gotta be the brave one who goes out first,” Everardt said.

But he added that ice fishing is actually pretty safe.

“Of all the years I’ve been ice fishing, I’ve only like went through the ice once, really,” Everardt said.

And unfortunately, on that February day, it wasn’t safe enough to actually go out on the ice. The pond was mostly frozen, except for a six-foot gap in the ice right near the bank.

“Like there,” Everardt said, pointing his boot at a chunk of slushy ice, “If you step there, your foot’s going through.”

Everardt bent down and broke off a chunk of the ice. There were a lot of air bubbles tunneling through the piece.

“And it’s like that till about … there,” he said, lobbing the chunk of ice at the frozen pond. It shattered. We were six feet away from being able to ice fish. Everardt laughed.

He said it’s hard to say for sure, but he has noticed climate conditions have been changing in recent years.

“It does seem to be like we’re getting more of these thaws in the winter,” Everardt said. “I’m a really, really big geek, so I keep a fishing journal.”

Everardt has recorded fishing data for years. He first went fishing with his dad when he was two years old. When Everardt had kids of his own, he brought them fishing too.

“I remember my daughter Alex’s first fish,” Everardt said. “It was a little bluegill she caught up on Lakeview Marsh.”

Everardt said as long as there’s at least 4 inches of solid ice, just about anyone can ice fish. That’s why he loves teaching people how to do it.

“Fish don’t care if you’re a boy, girl, tall, short, fast, slow, none of that matters,” Everardt said. “Young or old, it’s one of the few things you can do from the time you’re like two years old to 100 years old, if you’re lucky enough to live that long.”

The DEC offers free fishing classes throughout the year.