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January 18, 2014

HARD WATER ANGLERS: Ice fishing more than a cold-weather sport

By Terry Hannum Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — “Hard water” or ice fishing season is just beginning, and the enthusiasts believe that this could be one of the best years ever. 

This ancient form of fishing maintains some of its traditional roots, but modern conveniences make it a fun hobby, sport and method of sustenance that anyone can master. The fear of falling through the ice deters many people from trying this wonderful winter pastime and although it is a valid concern, following basic safety rules lessens this risk and places ice fishing as safer than down hill skiing, snowmobiling, winter driving or even shoveling snow.

Getting started with ice fishing does not have to be an expensive undertaking. 

The gear needed can range from the very basics to highly technical equipment and plenty of creature comforts. A local business such as Sportsman’s Adventures in Oneonta is an excellent place to not only pick up supplies but also get instructions. Owner Bill Decker was eager to offer a wealth of advice on how to get started with ice fishing. 

An ice fisherman himself, Decker explained that the basic gear is a rod, an ice auger for making holes in the ice to measure thickness and for fishing, a sled, a bucket for hauling bait and to sit on and the fish bait. There are plenty of extras that can improve your fishing success, including tip-ups that alert you to fish activity, shanties for shelter, fish finders and, most importantly, plenty of fellow ice fishermen for fishing hints and great company.

Decker said that one of his favorite accessories is an underwater camera for ice fishing. “I love seeing the activity, fins passing by and curious fish that come right up to the camera,” he said. “It is a great way to see which baits are attracting the most interest; it’s really cool to see. When I took my son out ice fishing with the camera, he was just as interested in watching the fish as he was in fishing.” 

This brings up yet another wonderful thing about ice fishing: the beauty of nature. Ice fishing makes bald eagle and hawk sightings possible along with plenty of other wildlife that would otherwise go unseen. There are tracks in the snow to study, the interesting perspective of the landscape as seen from the water, the muffled silence of winter and a unique camaraderie shared by others who have stepped outdoors to enjoy this season.

Most stores that sell sporting goods can explain the necessary fishing license application and regulations along with the best gear, baits and locations to ice fish in this area. At Sportsman’s Adventures, Decker can describe some of the favorite local fishing spots such as Silmans Cove on Goodyear Lake. “You can catch about anything depending on where you fish and what bait you use including crappies, walleye and lake trout,” he said.

For someone who has never done any fishing before, ice fishing can be the perfect lure into the sport because even small successes can be easier to come by and ice fishing lends itself to more of a social setting. 

One of the keys to having a great time regardless of your catch is to dress for the weather. Decker emphasized this point, as does the DEC website, by explaining the importance of dressing in layers from head to toes. 

Ice fishing may seem like a lot of sitting around but getting out on the ice and setting up fishing holes takes energy and the layers will help hold in heat. Sunscreen to protect your skin from wind and sun is recommended, along with sunglasses to prevent squinting headaches from the snow glare.

Ice fishing is not all about solitude or small groups, Check out local ice fishing derby announcements, such as the Chenango Lake Perch Derby in Norwich scheduled for Feb. 8, where enthusiasts, experts, vendors and fans gather for fun and competition.

This new year, resolve to try something new. Ice fishing offers fun, fresh air, friendship and food without limitations of age or ability. It is a family-friendly sport that makes winter all the more exciting. Information on ice fishing regulations and safety tips