Meaty mix for ice anglers at Chillisquaque

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    MILTON, Pa. A number of times after ice fishing I've enjoyed a steaming bowl of peppery chili.

    After a cold winter outing, it's a good food that will warm the tummy long after I have finished it.

    In fact, since I enjoy a warm meal and hot drink even during ice fishing I know I've reheated a pot of chili a number of times while engaged in bringing up frozen crappie and pickerel.

    So it seemed absolutely natural last season when members of the Frozen Chozen my ice fishing clan visited Lake Chillisquaque in Montour County that we would take some fresh venison burgers and sausage with us.

    You thought I was going to say chili, didn't you?

    Well, the truth is we didn't think of chili on Chillisquaque until we got there. It made for some good jokes, though.

    Fortunately, what we didn't forget was our knowledge of ice fishing, particularly for largemouth and panfish, and here the 170-acre lake did not disappoint.

    Though in brief scouting visits I've seen ice anglers standing around disappointed on Lake Chillisquaque, apparently the Chozen timed it right.

    We drew some nice largemouth and crappie and did OK on perch and bluegill.

    We did not catch any of the lake's famed northern pike, which we targeted that day, but I have caught them there on some soft water outings.

    'Up there'

    Lake Chillisquaque is what we Chozen call, "up there."

    That innocuous phrase means the impoundment is situated far enough north in the Pennsylvania latitudes to get early ice and then to keep late ice a little later than many "down there" lakes.

    It's not on par with many "up there" lakes in the Poconos or north-central region, but it misses by only a week on either side of the season.

    When many lakes below Route 80 have melted, Lake Chillisquaque is still a viable option.

    PPL property

    Probably many of you are scratching your chilies wondering why you have never heard of Lake Chillisquaque.

    Well, then try the Montour Preserve on for size. Lake Chilli is part of PPL's 966-acre Montour Preserve southeast of Muncy.

    By the way, remember when the utility company was called PP&L? Well, they've taken away the ampersand.

    In any case, Montour Preserve is a beautiful, well-kept, trail-woven facility near the utility's Montour Steam Electric Station.

    The big towers you see from miles away as you approach this broad, rather flat plain are part of the Montour Steam Electric Station. Lake Chilli is part of this preserve.

    It seems as if PPL has spared no expense in improving this property.

    The parking lots are well kept and you'll find something you don't see at many state park and PFBC lakes: honest-to-god working bathrooms and such even in the dead of winter.

    And yes, you are allowed to have charcoal grills and gas stoves right on the ice at Chillisquaque, so you can cook your pot of chili if you wish.

    It's true that a chunk of Chillisquaque is off-limits to fishing during soft-water seasons, but as far as ice fishing goes, Goose Cove is open if you stop by the preserve office and get a permit.

    Another major cove, Heron Cove, and the large main lake area are open, and worthwhile to ice fish.

    The fishing

    Lake Chilli has a good mix of shallow and deep water. Down by the dam and the discharge outlet there are depths of 30 to 40-plus feet.

    However, up in Heron Cove and along the shoreline out from Ridgefield Point there are some ice-fishing-friendly contours of 5 to 12 feet.

    Most of the ice fishing action will take place on the Heron Cove side of the preserve simply because there are a couple of parking lots in the area.

    Ice fishermen often don't mind dragging a sled some distance over a frozen lake, but they draw the line at having to pull it over snowless ground.

    For that reason, and that reason alone, Heron Cove gets the bulk of angler attention.

    However, I'm suggesting you use the Heron Cove lots and then make your way to other 5 to 12-foot contours on the far rounded peninsula and closer to the dam on the main lake.

    Lake Chillisquaque is a rather short and fat lake. Unlike many Pennsylvania impoundments that are long and lean meaning the distance between their longitudinal sides is not very wide Chillisquaque has wide shorelines.

    Heron Cove is a good example of this.

    Three members of the "Frozen Chozen" had tip-ups spread across the outer rim of the cove and we didn't have the width covered.

    By working the outer rip from the boat ramp straight across the lake, we covered depths up to 20 feet.

    In fact, there is a finger of 20-foot depths that stretches well back into the cove about parallel with the fishing pier.

    In the meantime, the back of the cove drops down to 10 feet.

    This is a place where you want to pay close attention to your sonar.

    Bad news, good news

    What I didn't find to my liking at Lake Chillisquaque was the lack of winter weeds.

    We found some, of course, but not enough so that we say with absolute certainty that the fish would be working these areas.

    I think that's why we didn't do well on the pike. We couldn't figure out where they would be hunting.

    On the other hand, the largemouth and the crappie were a different story.

    While I certainly like to find some weeds when fishing for these species, even in the dead of winter, both the bass and panfish were more contour-oriented on Montour.

    They apparently have learned to live with fewer weeds in the winter, so hunt by way of depth changes.

    Frankly, this is not a place where I go by myself and set up the personal maximum of tip-ups.

    I think it's a better spot to go with friends so you can stretch it out as much as possible.

    Then, when you find out what the fish are doing, you can all get in on the act.

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