Waking up before sunrise is hard. Waking up before sunrise to venture out onto a frozen lake to face the elements head on? Now that just seems mad.
But for ice anglers, this is heaven.
Meet Bethany and Mitchell. They’ve been ice fishing together for years, in all kinds of weather. They say there is rarely a dull moment on the ice. The Adirondacks provide endless opportunities for outdoor recreation in any season. What that really means is we can enjoy the lakes and ponds of the area year-round. No one can quite pinpoint the exact date someone thought of drilling a hole through the ice to fish, but historians have found evidence of such an activity dating back 2,000 years in the present-day United States and Canada.
With that, all there is to say is, get out there and fish on.
Embrace the weather
With most outdoor activities, there is a weather ideal. Bethany says the best time she’s had on the ice there was no snow, just black ice. Blue skies, no wind, and seasonally warm weather also make for a good day. Ice fishermen and women have a unique advantage to spending time in the elements: sometimes they use shanties, small floorless shelters that bring some of the comforts of home to the ice. “No bad days” might be a good slogan for ice fishing.
However, both Bethany and Mitchell attest that the best days on the ice are ones when they’re catching big fish. Weather doesn’t matter. It’s all about “good fish and good company.” The two look back fondly on past ice fishing trips. One time they said they experienced every season in the span of 6 hours. It poured, it snowed, the sun came out, the wind howled and then died; it’s like they always say, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes. That day, they ended up catching a huge salmon that took 10 minutes to reel in.
Get your tip ups
Perhaps one of the most thrilling facets to ice fishing is the element of surprise. Bethany says you never know what’s on the other end of the line. Mitchell says it’s "instant excitement" when you see a flag go up; it gets your adrenaline going. A lot of people may think ice fishing is just standing around a hole, waiting for something to maybe happen. Sure, “there’s a lot of waiting,” says Bethany, “but don’t be scared.” “Don’t be intimidated,” adds Mitchell.
One thing to note about ice fishing is that the journey, the experience is what makes a trip. Yeah, it’s icing on the proverbial cake to catch a big fish, but for those who have spent time on the ice, as Bethany and Mitchell have, it’s about being outdoors and sharing a passion. Mitchell says his ice fishing trips date back further than his memory goes. At the time, he didn’t know what the sport was, but he enjoyed spending time with his dad and family. His passion has only grown over the years, more and more with each experience. For Mitchell, it’s more than a hobby; ice fishing is a lifestyle. And something he looks forward to each winter.
Where the wild fish are
Why is ice fishing in the Adirondacks so special? There are two main reasons. The first being that ice is usually reliable. We’re lucky in this area to get the cold temperatures in the winter; other places are not as fortunate. The second being that there are so many different lakes to choose from and countless opportunities to fish for different species. With so many choices, it can be daunting to choose where to go. But, as Mitchell says, with a little research or advice from experts, you can narrow things down.
Recently, this fishing duo set their sights on Blue Mountain Lake in the Central Adirondacks. It was a new lake to them in winter. According to Mitchell, he wasn’t expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the fishing on here. Lake trout? Blue Mountain Lake has ‘em. And Mitchell and Bethany caught a beautiful one.
Aside from the fish, a memorable moment from this trip was the sunrise. We’ve all seen sunrises, but have you watched one from the center of a frozen lake? Bethany said as it was getting light, the 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape was gorgeous. She continued, “One great thing about being up before the sun...and seeing the sunrise, is you get to see it in a way that someone else who is up at the same time as you might not get to.” It’s all incredible, but the views from lakes are different than those from the mountaintops and roadsides. As it turns out, the fish were ready to go at sunrise as well. Mitchell said that being out on the ice early paid off. As they were still setting up flags, they caught a fish.
Get started today
One piece of advice for those who are looking to get started ice fishing: just do it. Hire a guide or go out with a friend. Of course, safety is important, especially on frozen lakes. Check with local bait shop owners and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to learn what the ice is like. Bethany and Mitchell both agree that having the correct gear makes for a safer and more comfortable experience. They each wear bibs that have float technology and carry picks in case they go through the ice. You might be able to pick up some gear in town if you don't have everything you need. As Mitchell said, Adirondack sunrises are spectacular. Make sure you don't miss one by booking a room close to the lake so you can get an early start and then swap fishing stories over dinner while you fuel up for another day on the "hard water." If you get hooked, no worries -- there is plenty of fish to go around.
The Dawn Patrol series:
Episode 4: Mitchell and Bethany