By Spider Rybaak
|Dan and Kaytee of Constantia and part of their catch.|
Cousin Staash called last Saturday morning to report: “Global warming’s on hold. The ice on Oneida Lake is anywhere from 7 to 11 inches thick and the place looks like tent city, man. Wanna go ice some perch, maybe a few walleye?” he asked.
Syracuse wouldn’t be playing Villanova for another three hours so I figured why not. I met him at the Cleveland Docks fishing access site and we walked out onto the water.
An hour later, we’re fishless. Another hour goes by and all we got to show for it is the memory of a couple runts we released. I decide to go home and watch the game.
Stopping at a couple shelters on the way, none admitted to having caught anything of significance. One voice in a lone shanty isolated from everyone else by several hundred feet of frigid emptiness on all sides claimed he hadn’t seen a fish all morning. Blood stains on the ice at two of his five tip-ups testified otherwise, especially since the footprints to and from the holes led to his Clam.
It was pretty obvious he had secrets he wasn’t going to reveal so I just kept walking towards shore and my appointment with Syracuse University basketball’s second disappointment of the season.
Sunday morning rose squeaky white, blue and cold. The loss to Villanova was only a heartbreaking memory and I resolved to forget about it and go on with my life. The first steps on the ice set things right again.
It was that quick because a couple that was coming in as I was going out had fish: two yellow perch about 11 inches each, and a white perch only slightly shorter but twice as broad. They got ‘em on minnows.
A little further out I’m at a crossroads: the group of shanties off to the right was a couple hundred yards closer than the one to the left, so, you guessed it, I went right.
Before long, I’m surrounded by a bustle of activity I haven’t seen on Oneida Lake since Labor Day weekend…if then. Dozens of colorful shelters punctuated the frozen waterscape, conversations of their tenants riding the frosty air.
Snowmobiles and ATVs ran in every direction. Man-drawn sleds loaded with equipment moved back and forth over the sparkling setting. And everywhere in between, lone anglers sat out in the open, fishing minnows on Jigging Raps or spoons like Swedish Pimples, or insect larvae on tiny ice jigs like Someday Isle Tackle’s Water Puppets and Shimmerlings.
Seeing the entrance to one shelter open, I go over. A walleye is on the ice at the door. Inside, Jim McCarthy, a resident of Clinton, sits steely-eyed, focusing on a tip-up about 10 yards away.
Not realizing he’s having a hit, I commence to bugging the man with questions like how they hittin’?
“My flag just went up,” he responds and flies out of the tent with such blurring speed, I’m left wondering if he was ever really there.
I follow him to the tip-up and the reel’s spinning so fast I worried the friction would create so much heat it would undermine the ice below our feet. But Jim was faster and before you know it, he’s got a whopper of a perch on the ice.
A couple more stops revealed the action was similar everywhere. One lady described it perfectly: “They ain’t exactly jumping out of the holes to get our baits; they’re biting steady, just enough to keep the excitement flowing and to put dinner on the table tonight.”
|Like dancing on ice.|
|Hot ice action: Oneida Lake.|
|Jim McCarthy with a nice walleye he took on a large buckeye in 18 feet of water.|