The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is waiving fishing license fees on February 19 and 20. New York residents and visitors can cast a line for free in any of the state’s 7,500 lakes and ponds, or 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.
In central New York, that pretty much means ice fishing. It could be a daunting prospect if your angling experience is limited to summer fishing on the docks. Do you need special equipment? What should you use as bait? How do you know if the ice is safe and how do you drill a hole in it?
The DEC offers a brief introduction to online ice fishing which you can read here.
But the short answer is that you don’t need anything more complicated than a regular fishing rod, warm clothes and an empty five-gallon bucket to sit on to start ice fishing, Mike Dougher said, president of the South Shore Association of Oneida Lake. .
“There are people ice fishing on Oneida every day, and lots of them,” Dougher said. “You might be able to talk to someone and they might also dig a hole for you. These guys are all pretty friendly.
Other than that, Dougher added, “there’s probably enough drilled holes there where you can drill with a hammer and pull the ice out.”
When it comes to bait, Dougher recommends checking with your local bait shop, like Mickey’s Bait & Tackle Fly Shop in Brewerton.
“I’m sure they would be more than happy to sell you some small jigs and some of the bait they use there,” Dougher said.
According to the DEC, the ice must be at least 4 inches thick to walk safely. Freezing temperatures over the past month have created ideal ice conditions on most lakes and ponds in the region.
But always check local conditions before venturing into hard water. Your best bet is to check online forums or Facebook groups like Oneida Lake Diehards for the latest discussions from other anglers about fishing a specific body of water.
Ice fishing ends March 15. The season for most freshwater species reopens statewide in May. Check the DEC website for fishing regulations specific to the waters in your area.
The DEC will be offering additional free fishing days over the next year, including June 25 and 26, September 24 (National Game and Fish Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day).
Steve Featherstone covers the exterior for The Post-Standard, www.syracuse.com and NYUP.com. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @featheroutdoors. You can also follow all of our outdoor content at newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/ or follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/upstatenyoutdoors.