Winter anglers urged to use caution as ice fishing season nears

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Ice fishermen may itch to use those new augurs, shanties and other new equipment from beneath their Christmas trees, but before using those freshly unwrapped items at a lake near you, the Department of Environmental Conversation says anglers should use common sense, and heed some simple tips, to stay safe on the ice.

“Winter in New York provides outdoor adventurers with some of the very best opportunities to get outdoors, like ice fishing, when conditions are right,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in a release.

“With proper preparedness and safe ice, anyone can enjoy the state’s abundant ice fishing opportunities. Many fish species are still quite active during the hard water season, including perch, sunfish, lake trout, and northern pike, leaving something for every type of angler to get out on the ice.”

Safety is essential during ice fishing season and anglers should make sure the ice is thick enough before venturing out, officials said. Four inches of solid, clear ice is usually safe for anglers accessing ice on foot.

Ice thickness can vary on waterbodies and even within the same waterbody. Officials said anglers should be particularly cautious of areas of moving water and around boat docks and houses where bubblers may be installed to reduce ice formation.

Ice can easily be tested with an auger or spud bar at various spots. The DEC also encourages anglers to fish with a family member or a friend for safety.

In addition, local bait and tackle shops are great resources for learning where ice is safe and what other anglers are catching.

Beginning ice anglers are encouraged to download articles and guides from the state’s ice fishing webpage — https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7733.html — which also contains additional information, including a list of waters open to ice fishing, popular baits and a link to the DEC’s Youtube.com channel which features a host of instructional and informative videos.

Anyone looking to try ice fishing for the first time should consider the weekend of Feb. 19 and 20, because the DEC has designated that weekend as “Free Fishing Weekend” and the requirement for a fishing license is temporarily waived, according to the DEC safety announcement.

Ice fishing advice:

Make sure the use of bait fish is permitted in the waterbody by checking the special regulations by county.

Use only certified, disease-free bait fish purchased from a local tackle store — and keep the receipt.

Use only personally collected bait fish from the same waterbody they were caught.

Dump unused bait fish and water in an appropriate location on dry land.

Always carry a valid fishing license before heading out on the ice. Fishing licenses are valid for 365 days after purchase.

More information on ice fishing, including the whole chapter of the "Beginners Guide to Freshwater Fishing", is available at the department’s website at www.DEC.ny.gov.

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