Another disappointing hard-water season

Mahopac, N.Y. — The winter started with such promise for New York’s ice anglers.

Unusually cold weather in December had many upstate waters iced over by the middle of the month, with many Adirondack waters being fished by hard-water anglers well before Christmas.

“I really thought we were going to get good ice, but it just fell apart,” said John Moore, a clerk at Big Wave Sports of Mahopac in Putnam County.

But a January that was the warmest on record for much of the Northeast put an end to that.

It was a second poor ice fishing season in a row for much of the state, with only the colder lakes and ponds of the Adirondacks seeing an extended ice fishing season. And even the northernmost parts of the state suffered when record warmth in late February melted much of the ice and snow.

Rescuers pulled two ice fishermen from waters in Warren and Schenectady counties on Feb. 23 as temperatures soared to near 70 degrees, including one from a shallow bay on Lake George that is usually an ice fishing hotspot well into March.

Two anglers died when they went through thin ice on North Sandy Pond near Lake Ontario.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation even issued a warning about questionable ice conditions around the state in mid-February, a time of year when conditions are normally solid.

Bait shops around Lake George lamented an extremely short season on the big lake, with just two weeks or so of fishable ice.

“It’s been another terrible season,” said Gary Nelson, owner of The Outdoorsman Sport shop on the shore of Lake George, as the four or so inches of ice that accumulated melted away in late February.

With limited public access during warmer months, Lake George is beloved by hard-water enthusiasts who can catch lake trout and salmon that they can’t get to easily in warmer months.

At Oak Orchard Tackle & Lodge in western New York, owner Ron Bierstine said there was little ice fishing in his region as well. The focus was on Lake Ontario and tributary fishing as of late February.

“The ice was very spotty at best,” he said.

Even Lake Champlain, whose bays are annually ice fishing destinations, suffered.

South Bay on the south end of the lake had extensive open water by mid-February, and the staff at Norm’s Bait & Tackle in Crown Point said the popular smelting grounds on Bulwagga Bay in nearby Port Henry didn’t ice over sufficiently for fishing.

The annual ice derby on Schroon Lake the first weekend of March is typically the last hurrah for many Adirondack ice fishers, but it was in jeopardy this winter as the lake’s frozen surface got dicey in spots by late February.

The Great Benson derby, popular with eastern New York anglers because it’s just across the state line in western Vermont, was canceled Feb. 25 for only the second time in its 45-year history.

And the Almost Annual New York State Crappie Derby on the Whitney Point Reservoir also fell victim to the poor ice conditions, canceled again this year.

Moore, of Big Wave Sports, said anglers in his area of Putnam County were making the most of it, getting out on open water to fish if ice wasn’t available.

“Guys have been going out in boats and catching fish,” he said.

Many shops depend on the business from ice anglers, and Nelson said those in the Lake George area were suffering with two warm winters in a row.

“I’m lucky I’m still in business,” he said.

But he said open-water fishermen were getting out on boats on Lake George as well, with improve landlocked Atlantic salmon fishing leading to two 11-pound salmon being boated this winter, and plenty of big lakers being caught as well.

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