February 24, 2013

Get on the ice while you can

By Dan Ladd

---- — There’s no telling what Mother Nature has in store for us during this last month of winter. But one thing an ice angler knows for sure is that time is running out.

Sure, there’s still ice on many lakes and there will be for some time. Several lakes in the North Country had 12 inches of ice, or more, going into this week. But there are others with less. I hope things hang on for next weekend’s tournaments on Lake Colby and Schroon Lake.

Last weekend I fished the popular Chinga-Classic on Lake George, where there is also a two-day tournament that continues today in Hague.

On the first day of the tournament I sought out a “hidden” spot where I’d successfully taken a few lake trout just days prior. I figured I could avoid the crowds here by being away from a popular launch site near the tournament headquarters in Pilot Knob. The fishing in this spot was limited due to thin ice, but I had a spot all picked out and left home well before dawn.

But when I got to my “hidden” spot there were already dozens of vehicles there and another angler was already set up where I had planned to rig my tip-ups. I was pinned in pretty tight for most of the day and the action was slow.

The next day I joined a crew of buddies in closer to the headquarters. It was a windy day and we had 30 tip-ups out but only caught a handful of lakers and nothing that would compete for a prize. But, we had a good time and, like so many other anglers this year, we just enjoyed being on a lake that never froze over last year. Besides, the tournament was for a great cause.

The ice fishing action has been spectacular at times, even for me. Likely the best fish I’ve heard of is a 22-pound lake trout taken through the ice on Lake George. There’s been some big pike taken around the region, too, including a 39-incher that weighed 15 pounds from an anonymous Adirondack lake. Over in Cranberry Lake, where there is also a tournament next Saturday, March 2, a 27-pound northern pike was recently pulled through the ice.

The stories go on and on and include salmon on Schroon Lake, brook trout on Raquette Lake and buckets of perch from Lake George and Lake Champlain, where they’re also catching plenty of black crappie. There have even been a few walleye taken from Black Lake in St. Lawrence County and the Great Sacandaga Reservoir. I’m sure there are even more stories out there that we never hear. Some anglers are pretty coy about what they catch and where. I don’t blame them.

Once again, it’s hard to tell where things will go from here and time on the ice becomes precious. If there’s still ice after Daylight Saving Time begins March 10, you’ll see many anglers out after work fishing through twilight. A few days later on March 15 is when shanties must be off the ice and also when seasons for walleye and northern pike close, along with a few other species. Ice anglers will stick with it until the end.

The future of plastics

One other note I’d like to pass along is about bass fishing and is in relation to plastic baits and their effect on other fish species.

Changes could be on the horizon for those of us who enjoy fishing with plastics such as Senko worms. The state of Maine’s legislature had a bill introduced this winter that could ban future use of soft-plastics, which they defined as “rubber” baits.

I fish for bass with plastics all the time and in different forms from five-inch worms to various creature baits. I often see them on the bottom of lakes, obviously lost in action and hopefully not discarded there. However, in bodies of water that are home to bottom dwelling fish species, such as lake trout, plastics often wind up in their bellies where they disrupt digestive systems. I’ve seen it myself in lake trout including one that I just caught last week that coughed up a plastic worm when I was removing my hook.

Where this is going, who knows? But, you can expect to hear more about it in the future. To the rescue may be biodegradable, even edible baits that are poised to find a spot on the shelves in tackle shops down the road.

For now, anglers should be aware of the issue and perhaps be careful not to toss worn-out soft plastic baits in the water. Discard them at home.

Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at