Outdoor Journal: First step to ice fishing success: Play it safe

After talking to local bait and tackle dealers, and after taking a few rides around area waters, it’

After talking to local bait and tackle dealers, and after taking a few rides around area waters, it’s clear that the ice-fishing season has begun.

Because of the fluctuating temperatures and weather con­ditions we’ve been having, I advise

extreme caution. Don’t let the good fishing that comes with first ice overshadow the risk factor that is also present early in the season.

Let me remind you of the gen­eral rules that apply to safe ice, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Three inches of ice will support a single person on foot; four inches, a group in single file; 71⁄2 inches, a passenger car; eight inches, a light truck (21⁄2 tons gross); and 10 inches, a medium truck (31⁄2 tons gross). And honestly, there’s no way I’m taking my $30,000 truck on the ice, regardless of how thick it is or how well they are biting.

These capacities apply to only solid blue/black and lake ice. Slush ice only has half the strength of

blue ice, and the strength value of river ice is 15 percent less than blue ice.

Other safety considerations for going out on ice include staying away from stickups like brush, logs, plants or docks.

And speaking of docks, stay well away from any that have bubblers used to keep the water open around them. Avoid multiple pres­sure cracks, and always try to spread out rather than crowd in one spot.

Two other very good ways to

determine safe ice are actually seeing people on the ice fishing and, the very best way, calling or stopping in at the local bait and tackle shops and asking them about conditions.

Ask them where and what the fish are biting.

In the lake forecasts of this column, I’ve added a list of popular bait and tackle dealers and their telephone numbers. They can provide up-to-the-minute ice fishing conditions.


If that pack basket full of tip-ups and jigging sticks is still sitting in a dark corner of the garage or cellar, now’s the time to do a little maintenance.

Pull it out, set it in front of the TV, and by the time the NFL

wild-card games are over Saturday, everything should be in order.

Start with tip-ups and jigging rods. Carefully remove the well-hardened grubs and minnows that have been on them since last March. You might want to put some newspapers down on the floor first. Actually, why not just remove all the line from both the tip-ups and the rods and start out the season with fresh line?

Lure maintenance is just a matter of sharpening the hooks and removing some of the rust. It’s also a good time to take a tackle inventory, and make a list of what is needed. You should always buy something new every year — it’s one of the rules of fishing.

Augers, both gasoline and hand-powered, will usually require

sharpening or blade replacement. Replace the plug and add fresh gasoline and oil as needed on power augers. And before heading out to the ice, make sure it runs.

Ice shelters should be inspected. Tighten loose nuts and bolts, and repair tears. Check the runners

on the shelter and/or sled you use, and make sure they’re in good shape.

I recently saw something new for walking on ice. Called a Yaktrax, this new traction device stretches over anything from casual shoes to winter boots. It’s designed with skidlock steel coils with hundreds of edges that bite into snow and ice that provide stability in all directions and allow normal walking. The Yaktrax weighs just three ounces, and is offered in the Pro and Walker models. Suggested retail prices are $29.95 and $19.95, respectively. Check them out at yaktrax.com.

As of Sunday, the only ice

anglers I saw on Saratoga Lake were just a short distance from the State Launch site and down in Fish Creek. Apparently, the northern pike, pickerel and panfish bite has begun, while the walleye are hit-and-miss — that’s normal on Saratoga.

As for the crappie and other panfish, they’re spread lakewide, and if you find them, there’s

usually a school, so fish it out

before leaving.

The pike and pickerel will be competing for live bait offerings around all of the heavily weeded areas like Manning’s Cove and in front of Brown’s Beach and the South Shore Marina. Fish a big, live bait varying the depths from five to 15 feet. Set one tip-up in the shallows right in the middle of the weeds, and you could hook up with a cruiser.

As for the “eyes,” it seems like the most action is coming two hours before and after sunup and two hours before and after sundown.

Medium-sized live bait on tip-ups off the weed edges will be best. Vary depths out to 20 feet deep, and don’t be afraid to jig with the larger blade baits, Swedish Pimples or Rapalas.

The crappie bite usually seems to be around the launch site, about 10 feet down. Most of the anglers I saw had several tip-ups set with small icicles at various depths while they were sitting on a bucket jigging. Brightly colored ice jigs tipped with grubs or Berkley ice baits were the most popular artificial lures

being used.

For information on Saratoga Lake ice fishing conditions, call Saratoga Tackle, 584-3952.


For several days, I’ve noticed a handful of anglers fishing the north end of the lake, which usually means the crappie are biting.

This seems to be where they school during first ice, but this is also an area where everyone should be very careful going out.

According to the Lake Lonely Boat Livery (587-1721), those buying bait are using small icicles beneath tip-ups in 20 feet of water. Try to keep the bait five to six feet off the bottom. Poke a hole and do some jigging with small Swedish Pimples tipped with mousees.

Remember, the crappie size limit is nine inches, and there’s a daily limit of 25. Most importantly, before you go out, give the livery a call and check the ice conditions.


Sacandaga has buttoned up, and as of Sunday, there was six to eight inches of ice on the north end and four to six inches on the south end.

Shanties are slowly but surely starting to appear, and the walleye seem to be cooperating.

Gary Casey, of Gary’s Guide Service, sent me a photo of a 281⁄2-inch “eye” he caught recently near Scout Island. The fish tipped the scales at seven pounds, 14 ounces, and by now is at the taxidermist.

Anglers who have been catching walleye say that it’s slow, but many are getting their five-fish daily limits if they work at it. Live bait (medium shiners) and jigging are working, so try both and see which works best. Artificial choices are jigging Rapalas, silver Swedish Pimples and Cleos.

As for location, try the sheltered bays around Sand Island, and don’t overlook Scout Island, either.

Right now, there’s a lot of hole-punching going on around the channel out from the Sport Island Pub in five to 12 feet of water. They’re also catching them in 15 to 25 feet near the Northampton Campground. This same area by the campground

gave up a 35-inch northern pike recently, but generally, that bite has been slow. However, it should pick up soon.

Other areas that produce early in the season include the mouths of the Kennyetto and Frenchman’s Creeks, Sinclair Point and the Mayfield channel. Be especially careful around the creek mouths.

For information on the latest ice fishing conditions on the Great Sacandaga Lake, call Dave’s Bait and Tackle at 863-8318, or Ross’ Bait at 842-3819.

Some of the northern lakes reported to have ice cover are Lake Pleasant, Indian Lake and Lake

Eaton. Tim Howe of Gansevoort and Tabor Ellsworth of Greenfield Center did well on Lake Eaton.

They caught brown trout, landlocked salmon and rainbows. Last year in February, Tabor’s 9-year-old daughter, Madeline, pulled a five-pound brown trout through a five-inch hole in the ice at Lake Eaton.


Now that the ice fishing season has begun, I’ll be doing a regular ice fishing report. If you’ve had a successful day on the ice and would like to share your exper­iences with others here in The Daily

Gazette, send me an email at [email protected] Please include your name, city/town of residence, where and on what the fish was caught, what it was, its size and weight, and anything else you think would be interesting to readers.


On Saturday, Jan. 26, I’m going to the Easton View Outfitters in Washington County for my annual cabin fever boar and bird hunt. This hunt includes a razorback boar and five pheasant-hunt with a champion bird dog.

If you would like to join me on this hunt, there four openings. Cost of the hunt is $750 per person. No license is required. For further details, go to their Web site eastonviewoutfitters.com.

Categories: Sports

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