Tuesday, January 24, 2012

First Ice on Oneida Lake

Spider Rybaak

A walk on the ice.

Winter finally paved all of Oneida Lake in ice on January 15th, the third Sunday of the month. The sight of all that hard water was too much for some guys to handle, causing them to put away common sense and venture out onto the fresh, thin sheet. I waited on shore for short spells throughout the day hoping to catch one coming in (I knew enough not to go out there), but luck wasn’t with me and none came; it smiled on the anglers, however, because I didn’t hear of anyone falling through.

The following week witnessed a full menu of meteorological conditions: clear skies and sixty mph winds one day, heavy snow the next, unseasonably warm weather after that …typical NY weather.  By mid-week, ice still claimed about two-thirds of the place, with huge holes punctuating it like Swiss cheese. Most of the north shore was open water.

On Thursday frigid temperatures swept out of the north, gripping Central New York in an icy embrace.  Artic winds joined the fray on Friday, growing stronger and stronger as the day wore on, reaching speeds  up to 40 mph at sunset. By morning, the lake looked like a deep-pan garlic pizza: a crystal clear base topped with patches of snow, ringed by a crust of huge fragments of squeaky-clean ice piled up to five feet high in spots.

Knowing the jagged ice clinging to shore resulted from the previous evening’s high winds breaking up the ice pack was enough to keep most experienced guys on shore. Still, a motley group of daredevils, die-hards and potential suicides went out Saturday morning. At last word, they all returned.

One guy riding around Lakeport Bay on an ATV wasn’t so lucky. Apparently, the snowmobilers whipping by all morning caused him to figure: I can do that. Well, he went out about 50 yards too far, over water that was 20-something feet deep, hit a weak spot and his $10,000.00 machine submerged like a wacky-rigged submarine. He managed to bail out and was last seen with some friends on Monday trying to pull the soggy four-wheeler out of the drink. I don’t know how they made out.

Temperatures on Saturday night, January 21, sank to single digits, welding the lake’s broken floes and spackling its ice holes into a solid, level surface by morning. On Sunday, the sun came up on colorful groups of ice-fishermen scattered on the ice like flowers over a field after a spring rain.

And while no one claimed the fishing was great, quite a few thought it was good.  Perch running from 10 to 13 inches were the most cooperative. A few walleyes were caught, but the bite was disappointing.

Successful anglers claimed the fish were taken in water ranging from 18 to 25 feet deep. Buckeyes were the most productive bait but some did quite well gently shaking ice jigs tipped with spikes or Swedish Pimples flavored with whole minnows or just their heads.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Web site offers an informative feature on ice fishing, covering everything from clothing to tackle and techniques. Check it out at http://www.dec.ny.gov/.

Warning, Cleveland, NY.
Dylan Hull, Waterville, NY, with a pair of keeper perch.
Chris Peck, Deansboro, NY, holding a legal walleye and a jack perch.
Oswego County wildlife.
Cleveland Docks.
First ice on Oneida Lake.
Snowshoing Cleveland's ice at Dusk.