WEST BURLINGTON TWP. -

It's a cold winter day, but Ed Bezdziecki isn't sitting home in front of a fireplace in a warm house.

He's bundled up and holding a fishing pole on a frozen lake at Mt. Pisgah State Park in West Burlington Township.

Already, the ice fisherman has caught three bluegills on this cold Saturday afternoon, and he's feeling another nibble on his line.

A fish has found his bait of wax worms irresistible and soon Bezdziecki is reeling it up through a small hole in the ice.

But it's not a keeper. He throws it back.

It takes a little nudging from Bezdziecki, but finally the fish plops back into the hole and swims away into the cold depths of Stephen Foster Lake.

Bezdziecki, a resident of South Wilkes-Barre who owns a cabin in Bradford County, has been fishing since 9 a.m. with his fishing buddy, John Konopczyk, who has also caught some fish.

Despite the cold weather, Bezdziecki and Konopczyk aren't complaining. In fact, Bezdziecki said he finds it relaxing to "get out in the nice, cold weather."

"I love it," he commented.

Konopczyk said that the fish are of a better quality in the winter than in the summer. He said they have better color and are "more solid."

Ken Gwin, manager of the park, said that he has been getting calls from ice fishermen inquiring about the thickness of the ice.

On Friday, he said it was 4 inches. Bezdziecki said Saturday that it had reached a thickness of six and a half inches. There was also quite a bit of snow on top of the ice, he noted.

Gwin commented on the popularity of ice fishing at the park, noting he has seen as many as 18 or 20 people on the ice at one time as they fish for crappie, perch and bass.

Luckily, no one has fallen into the lake while ice fishing, over the past 35 years, according to Gwin.

Bezdziecki said he once fell in the water when he was ice fishing at a pond near his home years ago. He said the water was very cold, and the experience was "a weird feeling."

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, ice fishing "has an allure all its own."

"Some say it's peaceful. Some say it's relaxing. Some say it's invigorating. Most say it's crazy. But there is nothing like walking on a frozen lake, carving a hole and pulling up elusive fish from the mysterious depths below."

The DCNR offers the following ice fishing safety tips:

- Four inches of solid ice is the minimum recommended thickness for a small group of several anglers. Use an auger to test the thickness of the ice before you go out on it.

- Blue/black ice is stronger than milky white ice.

- Perimeter ice is weaker due to shifting, expansion and sunlight reflecting off of the bottom. Avoid areas with protruding logs, brush, plants and docks. These structures can absorb heat, weakening the surrounding ice.

- Changing air temperatures and standing water on ice can weaken and crack the ice. Single, unbroken pressure cracks in ice are probably safe to cross, but stay away from areas where cracks meet or intersect.

- Venturing out on ice alone is not advisable. Take a friend along for fun and for safety.

- Wear a Personal Flotation Device (life jacket).

Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: reviewtroy@thedailyreview.com.