By Derek Liebig
The arrival of last week’s frigid weather may have caused aggravation for some, but as the temperatures continued to drop, ice fishing enthusiasts were scurrying to gather their equipment for what is shaping up to be one of the best hard-water seasons in years.
Last week’s subzero temperatures have helped facilitate the freezing process on many area lakes, contributing to one of best starts to the ice fishing season in several years.
“The last week has been real cold so it’s stiffened up the ice real good,” Leonard Field, owner of Honey’s Bait and Tackle, said.
Locally, anglers have been fishing for nearly a month, a far cry from last season when even the smallest bodies of water didn’t freeze until late December.
“It’s a pretty early season compared to the last couple,” Rob Steele, owner of Tom’s Bait and Tackle in Bomoseen, Vt., said. “Last year there was barely any ice on the small ponds at this time and this year people have already been out there for a month.”
Near single digit-temperatures in late November triggered the freezing process on many of the area’s ponds and lakes, allowing a few die-hard anglers to wet their lines in early December. The weather during the past two weeks has only improved conditions.
Field said there was upward of 8 inches of ice on South Bay and Steele said anglers were reporting 5 to 6 inches on the main park of Lake Bomoseen and even more in the vicinity of the float bridge and in the bays. And those totals were tallied last week, before temperatures dropped 20 degrees below zero on Friday and topped out in the single digits earlier this week.
And while snow isn’t typically conducive to the growth of ice, Field and Steele both said last week’s blizzard had a minimum impact on ice.
“It slows down the freezing process but we got 5 inches of good, black ice so it doesn’t matter now; it won’t affect the ice strength,” Field said of conditions on South Bay.
Caution still advised
That being said, anglers are encouraged to heed caution when they do go out.
“We’re definitely gaining, but its early ice so you still have to pay attention,” Steele said.
Early season ice can be inconsistent and larger bodies of water, like Lake George and more northern portions of Lake Champlain, take longer to freeze, meaning surfaces on those water bodies are more variable, particularly this time of year.
“Once we have sustained cold weather to form good ice, ice fishing can be safe and a lot of fun,” said Col. David LeCours, Vermont’s Chief Game Warden, “but when we go onto the ice, we need to use good judgment and observe several safety precautions.”
As a general rule, if ice is less than two inches thick, people should stay off it altogether.
Four inches is generally safe on foot, five inches can support an ATV or snowmobile, eight to 12 inches will generally support a car and 14 or 15 inches of ice is generally recommended to support larger vehicles.
These are guidelines only; ice conditions can fluctuate near river mouths, points of land, bridges, islands, and over springs.
Waves can also be a concern early in the season. Waves in areas of open water can cause ice to break up quickly and it’s advised anglers stay away from these areas.
Officials also encourage anglers to carry a hand line or hand spikes or even wear a personal floatation device in case you do go through the ice.
And always let someone else know where you are going to be and when you’ll be back.
Places to fish
Locally, Lake Bomoseen, Lake St. Catherine and Lake Hortonia are good ice fishing lakes in Vermont while Cossuyna Lake and Lake George offer a diversity of fishing opportunities in New York. Smaller ponds in both states can offer good fishing and Lake Champlain is one of the premier fishing destinations in both states, offering anglers the chance to catch panfish, trout, pike and a variety of other fish species.
The ice fishing season in both New York and Vermont typically persists into mid-March depending on weather conditions and each state’s regulations. Some species of fish have specific seasons so be sure to brush up on your state’s laws before heading out.