Kid ice fishing

Vermont's Free Ice Fishing Day is slated for Saturday, Jan. 30.

With the 2021 winter ice fishing season firmly underway, and Free Fishing Day coming up on Saturday, Jan. 30, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (VTFW) announced it has created an online Virtual Ice Fishing Festival to help new anglers learn about ice fishing equipment, gear, and techniques.

For the past seven years, VTFW has hosted an in-person ice fishing festival on Free Fishing Day to introduce new anglers to the activity. Held on a different frozen lake each year, participants would gather to learn skills such as ice safety, knot tying, using ice fishing rods and tip-ups, fish identification, and even fish cleaning and cooking.

However, according to department fisheries biologist Shawn Good, what would have been the eighth annual festival this year had to be canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions and state guidelines.

“Our past festivals have attracted 500-700 people each year who would come to learn about ice fishing and experience how much fun a day on the ice can be," said Good. "But clearly, we can’t organize such an event with the continuing pandemic, so instead, we put together a virtual version.”

Good says the virtual festival offers nearly all the learning stations new anglers could experience in person, but in a fun and unique online, 3D environment.

“It really came together quite well," said Good. "Department fisheries biologists and outreach staff got together a couple weeks ago, brought all the gear we’d have at the regular festival, and filmed staff members teaching each station. We partnered with a local videographer, Zach McNaughton of Vermont Master Anglers, who did an incredible job filming and editing each segment.”

Once viewers enter the Virtual Ice Fishing Festival, they will have a 360-degree view of Lake Rescue in Plymouth and nine learning stations to choose from. They will be able to move from station to station, watching each video at their own pace, and learn the various facets of ice fishing. And yes, there are fish filleting and cooking stations.

Good says the virtual festival has one distinct advantage over the in-person one.

“Our past festivals have always been held on Free Fishing Day itself, so after spending the day learning about ice fishing, anglers would have to buy a license when they would strike out on their first real ice fishing trip after that. But with the virtual festival, anglers can spend time online before Free Fishing Day, learning the ins and outs of ice fishing, and then take advantage of the opportunity to try it for real on Jan. 30 without the need of a fishing license.”

Good says the department hopes the online educational and instructional videos will get people excited and interested in trying ice fishing this year.

“Ice fishing is a fun, social, family-oriented activity, and there are many great reasons for Vermonters new to the sport to try it this year. It’s generally more accessible than open water fishing as almost anyone can walk out on a frozen lake or pond and fish through the ice. And once you’re out there, there’s lots of room to spread out.”

To access the department’s new Virtual Ice Fishing Festival online, visit vtfishandwildlife.com/free-ice-fishing-day.

Free Ice Fishing Day is held annually on the last Saturday in January. The day is geared toward giving new ice anglers an opportunity to try ice fishing before purchasing equipment, but any angler may ice fish on any waterbody open to ice fishing statewide without a license on Free Ice Fishing Day.

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