Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Safe Ice on Oneida Lake

Ron Gosowski, a savvy Oneida Lake icer, holds a nice jack perch he caught on a tungsten tear-drop jig tipped with a fathead minnow, and worked three inches off bottom, in 18 feet of water.

Safe ice formed on Oneida Lake early this year. Actually, it was thick enough to walk on in the bays the last couple days of last year, which is saying something, considering we’re in the age of global warming. Brave hearts were riding snowmobiles on it the first week of January. Rumor has it some went through and had to be rescued.

I’ve been around too long to tempt fate and figured I’d wait until I saw groups out there before I set foot on it. When I looked out my bedroom window Saturday morning, Jan. 16, there they were.

Icers were all over the place. Some were targeting perch, others walleyes, a few tried to get both.

I ran into a several guys with jack perch ranging from 10 to 12 inches flopping around in their pails. Most were taken relatively deep, down anywhere from 15 to 25 feet.

Ron Gasowski was fishing in 18 to 20 feet of water south of Cleveland. Known around these parts as the “Tip-up King,” he had 11 fat jacks in his bucket when I came around, and then caught another, the biggest of the day right when I got there.

Like most of the successful anglers I interviewed, he caught his batch on a tear-drop jig tipped with a fathead minnow. Made of tungsten, the metal got to bottom quickly, and he claimed its peculiar characteristics just drew perch better than other heavy metals.

He told me he’d fished every day since Thursday, scoring each time, including one day when he nailed a limit of walleyes along with a batch of perch. “I would have caught more,” he surmised, “if I had goner earlier. But I like to fish between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the warmest part of the day.”

Next I ran into Lynn Thomson, a veteran of numerous winters on Oneida Lake, probably more than he likes to count. “How were they hitting?” I asked.

“I got a nice batch,” he replied and kept walking, pulling his shelter and tackle with a rope wrapped around his shoulders. His bucket contained five huge perch over 10 inches each.

Thomson’s fish were taken in about 20 feet of water, on a Gill Pill tipped with a plastic trailer.

Walleyes were deeper. The ones I saw were average for the lake and were taken in 30 to 40 feet of water on minnow and jig combinations.

Sunday afternoon the action was pretty much the same. Just about everyone I spoke to had perch dinners.

This year’s ice fishing started early. However, with the unpredictable weather that we’re having lately, please use common sense and follow this advice from the NYS DEC:

Most water bodies do not freeze over entirely. A minimum of three to four inches of solid ice is the general rule for safely walking on the ice. It’s also advised that you should not fish alone, and to let someone know where you are and when you plan on returning. Using your own good judgment and common sense is essential.

Fortunately, Oneida Lake is one of the country’s most productive bodies of water and promises to offer bucket loads of walleyes and perch until March softens the water for good.

A batch of Oneida Lake perch caught by Ron Gosowski, south of Cleveland, on 1/16/2010.

Joel Marko holding one of the numerous walleyes taken last weekend on Oneida Lake in depths ranging from 30 to 40 feet.