Out of the corner of your eye you see it, a “tip up” has gone off and the flag sways back and forth a few times, before settling straight up in the air. You hear someone shout, “Flag!!!!” The race is on to see who will get to it first and will have the chance at landing the fish of a lifetime. There's nothing quite like witnessing a monster fish come through a 6” hole on a frozen lake. It’s the kind of moment that you can share at every family get together and can forever hold over your fishing buddies. The sport of Ice Fishing is a socially distant outdoor activity that you can try with your friends and family this winter.
Despite an unusually warm start to the winter season, some of our local lakes are beginning to freeze and for winter enthusiasts like me, that can only mean one thing: Ice Fishing. Like many other socially distant outdoor activities, Ice Fishing allows one to get outside during the gloomy and frigid winter months. It also presents a great opportunity for shore anglers and families that are without a boat during openwater months because once the ice is safe enough, all those places you couldn’t fish before are now accessible.
To get started with ice fishing, there are a few tips, tools, and guidelines that will ensure you are safe and can maximize your enjoyment on the ice. First and Foremost, I always recommend visiting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website before you head out, where they list out guidelines, lake maps, and regulations on the different bodies of water in New York. You can also see which species are in each lake, so you know what you are targeting.
As a general safety guideline, to begin ice fishing and walking on the ice, it has been determined that you need at least 4” of ice. Regardless of how much ice there is, there is never a guarantee that it is completely safe.The safest ice you can be on is referred to as “Black Ice”, which will have a clear blue/black appearance. Ice that’s white in color is weaker because of the processes in which it formed, so if you are going to walk on it, I recommend at least 6” of white ice. Also, you want to be careful while getting on and off the ice, as shoreline ice is always shifting and can be weakened rapidly by rain.
The three ice safety tools I bring with me on every trip are ice cleats, ice spikes, and a spud bar. Having traction is extremely important when you are doing anything on the ice, so by attaching ice cleats to the bottom of your boots, you can safely run to tip ups all day long. Next, I always recommend wearing a pair of Ice Picks around your neck. If you ever did fall in, you can stab the ice to pull yourself out. Then lastly, a spud bar allows you to test the integrity of the ice before you step on it. A spud bar is basically a 4-5’ piece of steel with a chisel on the end. The number of times you can strike the ice before the bar goes through lets you know if the ice is safe or not. For experienced ice anglers, three strikes tends to deem the ice safe to walk on, but I like to advise people to try and be on ice that can withstand four to five strikes. Most spud bars also have a loop in the top where you can tie a rope in case it slips out of your hands. I usually tie around ten feet of rope to my spud bar which would be useful in rescuing someone.
As far as fishing equipment goes, there's a few things you can get that will have you catching fish immediately. Without overcomplicating anything, a good setup to get you started would be a hand auger, some tip ups, a jigging rod, a live bait bucket, and a sled to drag it all out there. Tip ups are one of the most efficient ways to catch fish through the ice because you can cover a bunch of water at once. They are normally plastic or wood, have a plastic spool full of line, and a flag to indicate when a fish has taken your bait. There is nothing more exhilarating than watching a tip up flag go up and racing your friends to get their first.
For current ice conditions I recommend calling Gary Ingles, owner of Wiggly Worm Bait Supply located at 885 Saratoga Rd, Ballston Lake, NY. Wiggly Worm Bait Supply has been in the bait industry since 1932, and Gary will always go out of his way to make sure everyone has exactly what they need to hit the ice. For more store details you can visit wigglywormbaitsupply.com
If you want to speed up the learning process you can also book a trip with Ziehnert Guide Service, where all rods, reels, bait, tackle, transportation, and heated ice shelters are provided. I am currently booking trips on ziehnertguideservice.com and can accommodate up to 8 people this season.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-390-0282 to book your trip!