A wide variety of lakes provide an assortment of species for the ice angler to target here in Upstate New York. Avid ice anglers have their favorite fish they pursue during the ice season. What species or lake I choose to fish depends upon several factors, but during the short ice fishing season, there is one constant theme…Success, each time I travel out on the ice to fish, is a roll of the dice.
With so many lakes with an abundance of fish swimming around in them, you would think the simple equation of drilling a hole and suspending your bait would equate to catching fish. And sometimes it is that easy. Other times not-so-much. Ice fishing has many challenges but the most significant is getting the fish to eat when it is clear they are not interested.
Inclement weather, spiking barometers and unstable barometric pressure can and does exacerbate the already sluggish and lethargic mood of warm water fish like pike and perch in frozen lakes. Ardent anglers have always known that weather affects fish. An accepted belief among all anglers and guides.
When the fish will not bite standard practice dictates the guide shrug his or her shoulders and blame it on the weather. This excuse is a magical pill almost all people will swallow. It works on sunny days, because, you know, there is too much sunshine. Cloudy days? Its just too cloudy for the fish to bite.
It is true, however, that barometric pressure has both a negative and positive effect on the mood of warm water species all year. But its’ impact is greater when the lakes are covered in a thick layer of ice. Longer and more intense periods of feeding and non-feeding behavior coincide.
Weather is a major factor the ice angler has to consider when determining when, where and how to pursue fish under the ice. Weather, after all, plays the largest role in the thickness of the ice. An extended period of extreme cold and calm makes the ice grow thick in places it often does not, opening up more options to the ice angler. Extended warm and mild temperatures above freezing can restrict ice anglers to areas of the lake with the thickest ice that are not nearby inlets and outlets or flowing water.
An example of weather having great bearing on my decision of which lake and species to fish for is when a front is moving in or out. If I have a choice I will fish for trout and salmon with an unsettled forecast. These species seem to be much more immune to spiking barometers. Trout are curious, opportunistic and always hungry. But they can be tricky to find under the frozen expanse of a five thousand acre lake. A trout in a lake has a roaming nature. The bigger the lake, the more the angler is at a disadvantage. The trouts willingness therefore to be active in any weather does not mean they will be captured.
When high or low pressure systems have settled in for 36 to 48 hrs and the forecast predicts more of the same, this is a good time to pursue warm water, shallow-dwelling species. For many experienced ice anglers the locations of big weed beds in shallow bays or rocky shoals adjacent to big flats are stored on GPS or in the memory of locations from seasons past. Schooled fish such as perch and walleye are often found in these locations and a stable period of low pressure is a good time to go and fish for them.
As a full-time ice fishing guide the most important factor that determines where I fish and what I fish for is my guests. Their expectations and desires and limitations dictate my plan. Keeping each guest safe and comfortable in an environment outside of their comfort zone is priority one. What species of fish to fish for, which lake to fish and what techniques to employ are chosen to create the most enjoyable experience I can provide.
Plopping Mom and Dad and their two young children on a snowmobiles and traversing three miles of frozen lake at 0′ dark thirty to jig for walleye is not a smart plan. But there are people who do accompany me on such trips. And for those hardy souls, it is the traversing of a few miles of ice on a snowmobile in the dark that is as big a part of the experience as the fishing!
Catching lots of fish is always the goal. Every time out. But it is simply not always accomplished every time out. A heated shelter hunkered down on the frozen lakes’ surface, surrounded by a winter landscape, friends and family enjoying each others company. Add no wind and mild temperatures, coffee percolating and venison sizzling on the coleman stove…That is the scene I enjoy. Catching fish is just a winning roll of the dice in the challenging game of ice fishing!