Ice anglers, shops optimistic

Katonah, N.Y. — Ice fishermen across the state saw their plans for fishing on the hard water melt away during an unseasonably mild winter.

It was frustrating for the anglers. For businesses that rely on winter activity related to ice fishing, it was much more than that.

“Last year was terrible,” said John Miller, owner of Bob’s Sport and Tackle in Katonah (Westchester County). “I didn’t have any customers for about three months. That’s crippling to a business. It wasn’t a good situation.”

This year, ice anglers and businesses dependent on ice fishing are a bit more optimistic, despite a warm spell earlier this month across much of the state that was enough to make for iffy ice conditions at best.

“It’s a little sketchy here,” said Norm St. Pierre, owner of Crown Point Bait and Tackle in Crown Point (Essex County), next to Lake Champlain’s Bulwagga Bay, one of the region’s most popular ice fishing locations.

“We had one guy fall through out in the bay a few days ago,” St. Pierre said Jan. 8. “He managed to get out. But we have some areas where there’s five inches of ice and some where there’s two inches. It will get better. It’s sloppy on the ponds, too.”

St. Pierre said another challenge of late is slowing fishing action. Generally known for its perch and smelt action, Bulwagga Bay’s early ice hasn’t been very productive.

“There’s no bite going on right now,” St. Pierre said. “I wish the smelt would come back. They are getting some lake trout down here, though.”

On Black Lake in northern New York, anglers were out on ice earlier this month, but some heavy snows created sloppy conditions.

“The snow came down on 15⁄8 to four inches of ice, so it’s inconsistent right now,” said Richard Chapman of Chapman’s Sports in Hammond (St. Lawrence County). “We’ve got up to eight inches of ice, but some bad spots. It should get better soon.”

While many businesses suffered through last winter due to a lack of safe ice, Chapman’s survived quite well.

“Last year was a record year for us because not many places south of Watertown had ice,” Chapman said. “We had a great December, January, February and part of March before it all fell apart.”

A warming trend earlier this month was expected to deal a setback to ice conditions, but a cold snap was predicted to follow.

“I’m hoping the ice doesn’t leave totally,” Miller said. “We’ll lose some shore ice and then it will be spotty for a week or so but then it’s supposed to get colder again.”

Chapman said the warmup will likely delay good ice conditions on Oneida Lake, a popular central New York water. That could mean more anglers heading north to waters like Black Lake.

“That’s what happened last year,” Chapman said.

Saratoga Lake earlier this month had good ice conditions, but “just not a lot of it yet,” according to Tim Blodgett of Saratoga Bait and Tackle.

“We didn’t have any ice when it snowed, so it just cooled the lake down,” he said. “Right now, some guys are saying we have 3-5 inches, some are saying 4-6. But it’s good ice. And they’re all over Lake Lonely right now, too.”

Blodgett, like most bait and tackle shop owners, struggled through last winter.

“It was a disaster,” he said. “It was an extremely abbreviated ice fishing season; about five weeks of fishable ice.”

At FISH307 in Queensbury, business was solid even though nearby Lake George had yet to offer any safe ice earlier this month.

“But we also supply to most of the Adirondacks, and up north they had 5-6 inches of ice most everywhere,” owner Jeff Goldberg said. “And there’s safe ice on some waters down here – Glen, Trout and Cossayuna lakes. There’s a lot of ice fishing going on.”

Lake George, a hugely popular ice fishing destination, generally doesn’t see safe ice until the end of the third week in January. Goldberg said earlier this month it appeared to be “right on target.”

While FISH307 struggled business-wise last year due to poor conditions on Lake George, Goldberg said there was ice fishing activity on smaller waters in the region. “That allowed us to sell some product, and we limited our purchasing when we saw conditions weren’t going to improve,” he said.

Goldberg keeps a close eye on weather patterns and, ironically, watches the forecast from a Midwest location – Mankato, Minn.

“That’s where our weather comes from,” he said. “It’s all about the jet stream.”

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