Many a hardwater angler can at least walk out to ice-fishing sites during the first week of the New Year.
Most feeder streams remained open through the thermal dip earlier this week. Much depends on water flow and the degree of continued cold later this week and weekend.
Barring brutal breezes, many of the western Finger Lakes and Southern Tier lakes, at least over shoreline shallows, could be safe enough to walk around and work a spud or auger.
Ice recommendation charts offer general gauges for thickness such as stay off ice measuring 2 inches or less, foot travel at 4 to 5 inches, snowmobile/ATV runs over 5 inches, car and small truck at 8 to 12 inches and above 12 inches for medium trucks and heavier ice vehicles.
Know full well that whichever chart you read and however thick the ice may be at any given spot out on the ice, thickness varies with currents from shore, air pockets forming under the ice, snow drifts on top of the ice, sunlight penetration and other weather factors. Surfaces can be good for access, but no hardwater qualifies as completely safe ice.
Let folks on shore know where you will be going, travel with others and take along recommended safety gear to ensure outings are enjoyable throughout the upcoming ice-fishing season.
Fishing and all other sporting license sales remain unavailable until the Department of Environmental Conservation completes installation of its new computer program that should make license issuance easier at vendor sites and on line.
For details on the blackout period and possible start-up date, go to dec.ny.gov/permits/6101.
High winds kept things iffy in all directions, but the best bearing for nice ice so far has been due north. Lake Simcoe ice firmed up in the big corners – Cooks Bay and either side of the Pefferlaw River – for more than a week.
Snowstorms north of Toronto coated Simcoe with drifts measuring about a foot on ice that rarely reached a 6-inch thickness. Walkers and machine runners have made reconnaissance runs out of Virginia Beach to Port Bolster, but no good catch reports have been shared to date.
At Jackson Point, a Bombardier went through this past week and was recovered without incident. Open water exists at mid lake and most shoreline surfaces have substantial snow cover to insulate against rapid ice formation. At midday Tuesday the temperature reading was -4 degrees. When winds subside, Simcoe could be good for machine runners and hut operators by the weekend.
Check with local contacts or online chat rooms for updates on accesses and possible catch counts before making the long drive to either side of Simcoe.
Lake Ontario shoreline anglers have not had to travel far for fair ice formation; they have seen decent catches when ponds and bays between Fort Niagara and the Genesee River firm up enough for ice-auger action.
Irondequoit Bay has been thin-skinned, but west of the bay has offered some happy hardwater activity. “They’ve been doing all right at Long Pond and Cranberry Pond, but the best catches have been at Braddock Bay,” said George at S&R Bait & Tackle in Rochester.
Along with fair- to good-sized perch, Braddock ice anglers have done well on northern pike and even a few nice brown trout at times.
Given the good fall fishing seen at Irondequoit Bay for both sizes and numbers of perch, ice prospectors look for a continued ringback run as soon as walkers can get out on bay ice.
On western Finger Lakes ice, north-end surfaces held through the recent thaw and should be good by the weekend at Silver Lake, Conesus Lake and Honeoye Lake. End bays at the north and south reaches of Silver and Pen Yan have frozen over nicely.
Checkers at the south end of Silver on Tuesday afternoon chopped into 3-inch ice along the shoreline at the southeast corner off Mack’s Livery and Restaurant, but depths over the deeper weeds rarely reach 2 inches.
Same can be said for the north end of Conesus. Ted Decker at Ted’s Tackle in Lakeville looks for a busy weekend out of the Vitale Park access.
Dave Washburn at Dave’s Towing and Bait in Honeoye said, “They’ve been out from everywhere on the lake, but it’s only a couple inches.”
Chautauqua Lake froze just enough for some shallow forays. “They were able to find bluegills, perch and even a few crappie,” said Mike Sperry at Chautauqua Reel Outdoors about South Basin ice that rarely made 3-inch depths by Tuesday morning.
Anglers on many hard waters in the area could be walking and running smaller machines by the weekend, but check as many sources as possible before heading out onto iffy, newly formed ice.