Skip to Main Content

Ask an Expert: Winter 2018

Photo of: Frozen Deep Creek Lake

Frozen Deep Creek Lake; by Candy Thomson

Maryland boasts plenty of outdoor winter activities! Our experts offer tips on how to stay safe while ice fishing and snowmobiling.

Stay off ice less than 4-inches thick.

New ice is usually stronger than old ice. Ice that’s blue in color or clear indicates it’s high in density and stronger. Gray/white ice is weaker.

Be mindful of wind conditions. Light winds speed up the formation of ice. Strong winds force water from beneath the ice and can decay the edges. Snow can inhibit freezing or mask cracked, weak ice and open water areas.

Ice over brackish water or saltwater tends to be weaker than ice over fresh water.

Never go out on the ice or attempt to rescue someone alone.

Wear a lifejacket. Carry a few large nails, ice picks or wooden handle screwdrivers (they float) and some nylon rope or a hiking stick. The nails or ice picks can be used to pull yourself back onto the ice’s surface, and the nylon rope or hiking stick can be used in the rescue of another.

Should you break through the ice, turn toward the direction from which you came—toward solid ice. Use the nails, ice picks or your hands to gain hold on the unbroken surface of the ice, and inch forward by kicking hard with your feet. If the ice breaks, slide forward again. Once you are out of the water and are lying on the ice, roll away from the hole until you are on solid ice.

Snowmobile riders should run at lower speeds on ice and never travel across lakes or rivers unless there is a safe, established route.

To report people, pets or wildlife that have fallen through the ice, call either 911 or the Natural Resources Police dispatch center at 410-260-8888.

Photo of: Largemouth bass pulled from icy lake

Largemouth bass; by Jim Gronaw

Are there any good fishing opportunities over the winter? (Kent in Clarksville)
While you may not consider winter to be the best time of year to dust off your fishing rod, you may be surprised to learn it’s an excellent time to extend the angling season.

Outside temperatures hovering near the freezing mark may be just what you need to try a little ice fishing. This winter sport offers not only fresh table fare, but also could yield a big catch to those willing to brave the cold. Particularly in Western Maryland, anglers can typically expect at least a few weeks of “hardwater” angling.

Deep Creek Lake is arguably the most popular destination, although there are other impoundments that offer ice fishing access. The primary targets at Deep Creek are bluegills, walleye and yellow perch, although largemouth bass, crappie and trophy northern pike are sometimes pulled through the ice.

If you plan to try ice fishing, remember that no ice is safe ice. It can be extremely variable and caution should be used whenever you step out on it.

Always have a game plan and share it with a friend or family member, and ensure your clothing and gear are up to the adventure.

—Matt Sell: Brook Trout Specialist, Fishing and Boating Services

Photo of: Snowmobilers leaving parking lot

Snowmobilers; courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Where can I go snowmobiling? (Clark in Chevy Chase)
Winter means snowmobiling for many outdoor enthusiasts, and these opportunities abound on Maryland’s sustainably managed state forests in Western Maryland.

Savage River State Forest, located in northern Garrett County, provides more than 35 miles of scenic riding across a vast array of rolling terrain with picturesque views of the countryside from the mountain ridgelines.

At the St. John’s Rock Off-Road Vehicle Trail and Campground on Big Savage Mountain, you’ll find new opportunities as well. The southern trail section on Meadow Mountain provides a corridor to the Deep Creek Lake State Park snowmobiling area.

In southern and western parts of the county, another 28 miles of trail await. Those in the west at Garrett State Forest can traverse the beautiful ridges of Piney and Snaggy mountains. The high elevation Backbone Mountain and the unique Wallman and Laurel Run areas of Potomac State Forest host adventurers in the south.

The designated snowmobile trail systems offer unique experiences for all skill levels.

—George Eberling: Western Regional Forester, Maryland Forest Service