Unlike the opening of other fishing seasons, the onset of the ice-fishing season is determined by nature and not by a calendar date.
So ice anglers dont celebrate an opening day per se. Ice fishers do, however, celebrate the arrival of hard water, and many area waters currently have ice coverings measuring six inches or so due to early Decembers unseasonably cold temperatures.
CHANGING ICE CONDITIONS
Even though those frigid temperatures created solid ice, ensuing weather conditions have resulted in a deterioration of that ice. For example, the snow acts as an insulator that deters ice formation, and the weight of the snow can result in sinking, water-covered ice. Too, the heavy snowfall prevents anglers from reading ice conditions to determine where safe and unsafe might exist.
The recent, above-freezing temperatures are also a detriment to safe ice as the water runoff is further eroding what was once solid, safe ice.
The primary concern of early-ice anglers is finding out the thickness of the ice at a particular destination. As winter progresses, on-ice anglers, as well as bait shops, can provide accurate information on ice thickness, but at seasons onset reliable information is often unavailable. At any time of the year, but particularly in the early season, anglers must put safety first. A good motto is When in doubt, dont go out.
General guidelines state that four inches of good ice is safe for walking, and five inches will support ATVs and snow machines. For more information on safe ice conditions for various weights, consult the American Pulpwood Ice Thickness Table.
A spud or auger is good insurance in early season as an angler can check ice depth periodically as he walks on the ice. If thinning ice appears, the angler should retreat to more solid conditions. Other safety tools include a 100-foot rope with attached, floatation device and hand-held ice picks for pulling oneself up onto the ice. Early season calls for anglers to fish with a partner or to fish only when others are present on the ice. Too, early season is a time to avoid concentrations of weight in a small area.
EARLY SEASON UPSIDE
Early ice is typically a near-shore experience, which affords anglers easy access. Also, fish are easy to locate as they inhabit shallower water and are more concentrated than they will be in mid-winter. In addition, the various species are at their highest population levels of the winter.
Available food, green vegetation, and good oxygen levels draw fish to the shallows at this time of the year where they feed actively. The seasonal changes of colder water and ice cover contribute to this aggressive feeding, a characteristic that spells the possibility of good catches for anglers. Another factor in the ice fishers favor is the fact that the fish have received minimal angling pressure in recent months, and non-pressured fish are easier to catch than educated ones.
At the seasons onset, anglers will find fish in traditional areas before they move to the stability of deep water. For example, northern pike favor weedy bays.
Panfish, too, can be found in these bays as well as on mid-depth flats. While some walleyes may hang along weed edges, the majority will hold on rocky, structural edges such as points, drop offs, and bars.
If an angler experiences the first-rate fishing that the early season offers, he might consider practicing selective harvest by keeping smaller and medium-size fish for the pan and releasing larger fish so they will have the opportunity to spawn this coming spring.
Dec. 26:Temporary blackout for DEC sporting license sales.
Jan. 23-26: New York Sportsmans Expo at Syracuse Fairgrounds (www.newyorksportsmansexpo.com).
Jan. 25: Annual Black Lake Ice Fishing Derby (393-3543 or 375-6561).
Jan. 25: Alex Bay VFD Luck-of-the-Draw Ice Fishing Derby (816-2310 or 788-2243).
Jan. 25: Black Lake Challenge Ice Fishning Derby at Rollaway Bay.
Jan. 25: First Strike Ice Fishing Derby at Cranberry Lake (www.cranberrylakefire.org).