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Ice Fishing

DEC TV

Watch a clip about ice fishing and check out other fishing clips on DEC TV.

Ice Fishing Basics

photo of ice angler with dog

Ice fishing opportunities abound in New York State. Winter anglers catch a variety of fish; primarily perch, sunfish, pickerel, northern pike and walleye. In addition, many waters throughout New York State are open to fishing for trout, lake trout and landlocked salmon. Check the "Special Regulations By County" sections of the Fishing Regulations Guide (link below).

Fishing through the ice requires skill and knowledge as does open water angling. But, anyone can ice fish successfully if he/she does the homework. Learning about the water to be fished, the equipment and its capabilities, proper clothing and safety precautions are all part of a successful, enjoyable winter fishing experience. Perhaps the best way to get started is to accompany a friend or neighbor on a half-day ice fishing outing. If you are unable to locate anyone to go with, the next best alternative is to visit a tackle shop in a popular ice fishing area. The proprietors are interested in seeing that you have a successful and enjoyable trip and will provide you with all of the necessary equipment. You may also watch for announcements of local ice fishing contests or tournaments run by local sportsmen's clubs -- ice fishermen tend to be a highly social group, eager to share tips, techniques and stories.

For a first trip, try to pick an opportune weather day -- remember those blustery January days will soon fade into mild February and spring-like March days which often provide some of the most productive ice fishing of the season. Whatever the day you decide to go ice fishing, be sure to check the ice for safety.

The Waters . . .

Most all ponds and lakes offer ice fishing potential. Their characteristics define the kinds of fish that may be caught. Large, shallower ponds and lakes favor species such as chain pickerel, northern pike, yellow perch and sunfish. Deepwater lakes need to be fished selectively to get good catches of northern pike, walleye or lake trout. Brown trout, rainbow trout and landlocked salmon, where they may legally be taken, are often found in deep lakes, which provide necessary cool temperatures in the summertime. However, when these lakes are ice-covered, trout are frequently caught while cruising just a few feet under the ice. The local tackle shop where you purchase your bait should be able to advise you on where fish are currently being caught.

Regardless of the fish species that you are seeking, concentrations of anglers or the presence of many old holes will provide an indication of areas where good catches have recently occurred.

Cutting the Ice...

Getting through the ice is not as hard as it might seem. There are a variety of tools available that make this "essential task" fairly simple. Perhaps the simplest is an old-fashioned "spud" bar which your grandfather may have used on his ice fishing trips. Spuds are often the cheapest way to cut a hole in the ice and work reasonably well on ice up to about a foot thick. Hand-powered augers, which are slightly more expensive than spud bars, are easy to operate and offer the best all-around compromise for moderate ice conditions. Try to purchase an auger appropriate to the species of fish that you are seeking. Anglers who fish for yellow perch, sunfish and other pan fish frequently favor ice augers 4", 5" or 6" in diameter because of their light weight and the speed that they bore through the ice. Anglers who fish for larger fish, such as trout, lake trout, landlocked salmon and northern pike, frequently prefer an ice auger which will make a larger hole -- an appreciated feature during the often-tricky landing of these large fish. But remember, cutting an 8" hole requires the removal of almost twice as much ice as a 6" hole, so don't buy an ice auger much bigger than you will need. For the avid ice angler or for thicker, more extreme ice conditions, more expensive, gas-powered augers provide the ultimate in speed and convenience, albeit at a sacrifice in weight and portability. Power augers come in diameters up to 10" and the size of the hole makes little difference in the speed or difficulty of cutting the hole.

Ice Fishing Methods...

Ice fishing methods include "jigging" with short, light fishing rods and using tip-ups. There are many different kinds of jigging poles and tip-ups. Much of the equipment is easy to make.

Jigging involves the use of a jigging rod or hand line and a small jigging spoon or lure which is often "sweetened" with a piece of bait. The jig is designed to dart around in different directions when it is jerked up and down by the angler.

The tip-up is basically a spool on a stick holding a baited line suspended through a hole in the ice. When the bait - usually a minnow - is taken by a fish, the pull on the line releases a signal, such as a red flag.

Clothing...

For safe ice fishing outings, anglers need to be well prepared. Proper clothing is critical because most people do not move around much while ice fishing. Dress warmly, paying extra attention to your head, feet and hands - dressing in layers is essential.

Ice safety...

Safe ice is the number one consideration. A minimum of three to four inches of solid ice is the general rule for safety. Ice thickness, however, is not uniform on any body of water. The guidelines presented here are based on clear, blue, hard ice on non-running waters. Remember, your own good judgement is essential!

The American Pulpwood Association has developed a table for judging the relative safety of ice on lakes and streams. This is just a guide; use your own good judgement before going out on any ice. Avoid areas of moving water, including where streams enter the lake, and around spillways and dams.

Ice Thickness Table
Ice Thickness Permissible Load
2 inches one person on foot
3 inches group in single file
7.5 inches one car (2 tons)
8 inches light truck (2.5 tons)
10 inches truck (3.5 tons)
12 inches heavy truck (7-8 tons)
15 inches 10 tons
20 inches 25 tons

Note: This guide is based on clear, blue, hard ice on non-running waters. Slush ice is about 50 percent weaker. Clear, blue ice over running water is about 20 percent weaker. Many ice anglers do not like to fish on less than five inches of ice, and do not like to drive a pick-up truck on less than 15 inches of ice. Use common sense!

Be cautious in areas where "bubblers" are used to protect docks. They can produce thin, unsafe ice some distance away. Be especially alert in areas near shore, over moving bodies of water and on lakes and ponds where streams enter or exit.

Remember, use the buddy system while ice fishing - it saves lives.

And, last but not least, the fishing regulations...

In New York State, general angling regulations limit anglers to two jigging lines (or hand lines) and five tip-ups in most waters. Each tip-up must be marked with the operator's name and address; the operator must be in immediate attendance when the lines are in the water. Since special regulations apply on many waters, review the current fishing regulations guide when planning an ice fishing trip - and don't forget your current year's fishing license. To identify good ice fishing waters in the area where you plan to fish, contact the DEC Regional Fisheries Office for that area.

Region 3 Ice Fishing

For more information on ice fishing in Region 3, call 518-402-8013.

Region 4 Ice Fishing

For more information on ice fishing in Region 4, call (607) 652-7366

Region 5 Ice Fishing

For more information on ice fishing in Region 5, call 518-897-1333.

Region 6 Ice Fishing

For more information on ice fishing in Region 6, call 315-785-2263.

Region 7 Ice Fishing

For more information on ice fishing in Region 7, call 607-753-3095.

Region 8 Ice Fishing

For more information on ice fishing in Region 8, call 585-226-2466.

Region 9 Ice Fishing

For more information on ice fishing in Region 9, call 716-372-0645.