Ice fishermen should be very careful on the water
by Ron Kolodziej

We’ve fast-tracked into some great ice fishing weather and anglers are getting out there in increasing numbers. It’s still early so be very careful.

The best ice for fishing is formed when there’s a lot of sub-freezing weather and little snow, at least initially. If it happens the other way around, as it did this year, the snow acts as an insulator and can retard the formation of good, solid ice. The more early ice you have before a big snowfall, the better off you are and, generally, the less slushy the conditions.

Because we’ll be ice fishing soon this is a good time to renew our annual warning about ice conditions. Even though early ice normally signals good fishing, I never tried to be the first one out there. Caroga Lake for splake and Mayfield Lake or Algonquin for perch and/or pickerel have long been early season favorites of mine, because those waters normally freeze over first, but that varies, and this year I missed my usual “weekend before Christmas” visit to any of those lakes.

Following someone else’s footprints out onto the ice may be okay if cold weather persists for another week or so, but if the footprints stop at a large hole in the ice it’s generally a good sign that you should carefully back up and head to shore. Carry a spud and check the thickness of the ice as you go. If you encounter thicknesses of less than two inches, back off.

That’s about the safe minimum for one angler and that’s for clear, blue ice that hasn’t thawed and refrozen. As a reminder, here are the generally accepted safe ice thicknesses, again for clear, blue ice.


One inch is definitely unsafe. Don’t even think about venturing out on it. Two inches is generally safe for one angler, moving cautiously and towing rather than carrying his/her power auger and other gear. Three inches is okay for a group of anglers if they’re spread out, not concentrated in one spot.

At four inches you’re safe, as long as the ice thickness is uniform. Five inches will support snowmobiles if they’re not grouped together. With six or more inches you can feel comfortable being out there.

Above all, don’t fish alone early in the ice fishing season and be certain you and your companions have some contingency plans in the event someone breaks through. It’s not a pleasant thought and it could have dire consequences, especially if you’re way out on the lake and far from shore, so be prepared.


Have a long, stout rope in your pack or sled, one that can be thrown to someone who has broken through to assist him or her in getting back on solid ice. Also, carry a set of ice spikes, or even a pair of large screwdrivers, on a cord around your neck. They can also be used to help you get back on solid ice.

I’ve never gone through thin ice on an ice fishing trip, perhaps because I’m ultra-cautious. However, what I have done on a few occasions is step into a previously drilled hole that was covered by snow. The last time I did that was on Lake Pleasant a few years ago.

I had one heck of a time getting my foot out of that hole and almost lost my boot in the process. Fortunately, I had extra socks in my pack, but putting that foot back into a felt-lined boot that had just been submerged, and then having to wear it for several more hours, wasn’t all that pleasant.


Don’t forget the annual Central Adirondack Ice Fishing Derby on Lake Adirondack Saturday, Jan. 19. This event is limited to the first 195 entrants. The registration fee is $30 in advance or $35 the day of the derby. Cash prizes for northern pike and perch will be awarded each hour. For additional details visit the Indian Lake / Blue Mountain Lake Fish and Game Association website at or call (518) 648-5828.


Wells Fish and Game Club’s popular annual Sportsman Swap Meet will also be Saturday, Jan. 19, at Wells Community Hall. This event will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and everyone is invited to come in and browse or buy, sell, trade or barter old and new sporting goods. You’re sure to find an item or two you’ve been wanting.