Only one piece of equipment is absolutely required for ice fishing: a gizmo to cut a hole in the ice.
There are three such tools.
A spud, the simplest, is a steel rod about four feet long with a sharp end. No instructions needed.Just muscle.
A hand auger is a drill with a brace-and-bit type drive unit. Augers come in six- and eight-inch widths, and are recommended over spuds when the ice is a foot or more thicker.
A power auger is a drill with a chainsaw motor on it, which makes a terrible racket and is needed only by very serious ice anglers. It also is heavy and a pain to carry to distant spots on a lake.
Any light rod will do, but traditional ice-angling gear is the tip-up rig, which is a cross of two sticks with a cheap reel attached. Commercial ones cost from $2.50 to $5. The cross straddles the hole and the reel and monofilament line sit in the water.
A spring mechanism sets a red flag up when a fish takes the bait.
Tip-ups, spuds and augers are hard to find hereabouts, but most Pennsylvanian tackle stores stock them.
Almost everyone uses live bait for ice fishing, from small shiner miniows for panfish and bass to six-inch and larger suckers and smelts for huge pike.
An ice fishermen will set several tip-ups (five is the Pennsylvania limit) and then cut another hole through which he will jig a shiny ture like a Swedish pimple or an ice fly.
Ice fishermen believe that the crystal clear winter water favors those who use the lightest-test line they feel they can get away with.
One steadfast rule for ice fishing is never to go alone. If you fall in, you won't last long enough for someone to find you. Another rule -- never venture out on ice less than four inches thick. Check the depth near shore with the spud if you have doubts.
Also, never get so overheated cutting holes that you perspire, because when you stop you'll freeze.
Here are some reports from Pennsylvania southern-tier lakes last weekend.
LAKE MARBURG in Codorus State Park near Hanover reported five to six inches of ice in the coves, with some open water in the main lake. Fishermen were catching walleye and yellow perch.
LAKE PINCHOT on Route 74 northwest of York reported five to eight inches of ice. Anglers caught several northern pike over 30 inches, plus crappies, bluegills and pickerel.
LETTERKENNY ARMY DEPOT lake near Roxbury in northern Franklin County had no ice-depth report, but ice fishermen were fishing there and catching trout. Letterkenny and some other lakes are stocked with trout in the fall, specifically for ice anglers.
COWANS GAP STATE PARK near McConnellsburg in Fulton County is another trout lake. There was no report on ice depth but there was ice fishing and trout were caught.
SOMERSET LAKE in Somerset reported 12 inches of ice and catches of panfish, northern pike and muskies. Similar reports on ice depth came from HIGH POINT LAKE and LAUREL HILL STATE PARK, trout lakes in Somerset County.
Out-of-state fishermen need a $14 permit to fish in Pennsylvania. Permits are available at most tackle stores.
There may be some ice fishing this winter in close-in spots in Maryland and Virginia, but there is none yet. Usually what ice fishing there is hereabouts is short-lived.
Burke Lake and Lake Accotink in northern Virginia permit ice fishing when it's safe and the National Park Service is planning an ice-fishing demonstration on a pond at the Great Falls Park in Virginia at 1 p.m. Jan. 28, if the ice is good.
In Maryland there should be good ice fishing a little later in the season at Broad Creek below Conowingo dam on the Susquehanna River and at Deep Creek Lake. Both are long drives, however. For the last two years there has been thick ice on the Severn, Magothy and South rivers near Annapolis and plenty of pickeral and perch fishing, but these rivers are only safe in the deepest of freezes, and so far this year the weather has been mild.