The winter in Schroon Lake brings Arctic cold and sometimes it feels like the air could crack. On these mornings, ice fishermen and women can be seen setting up their gear or waiting patiently for the flag on their tip-up to move. I’ve always wondered, who are these rugged individuals and why do they want to suffer like that?
I had the chance to interview local Adirondack guides who are experts in hunting and fishing. They were happy to answer my questions and had many interesting tales to share. I learned that there is more skill and equipment needed for fishing during winter than during the summer, when a rod and some worms can suffice.
I met with the DeCesare family including Alan Sr., Alan Jr., and nephew Val. They operate Forever Wild Outfitters and Guide Service. I also had a conversation with Jamie Frasier, owner of Adirondack Mountain and Stream Guide Service. Their knowledge has been handed down through the generations and fine-tuned by years of personal experience in the woods and on the lake. These guides know how to enjoy the outdoors and work to provide their visitors with an unforgettable time.
What is so special about ice fishing?
Ice fishing has a long tradition in Schroon Lake; earlier generations fished and hunted to feed their families. “Today it’s something to do during the winter and I love fishing so much," Val said. He added, “Many local folks have more time-off to enjoy the winter weather since restaurants and other businesses reduce their hours after Labor Day." Ice fishing is not only about the fish. Val emphasized that “having fun with your family and friends is an important part. You get away from civilization.”
Alyssa DeCesare is a senior at Schroon Lake Central School. According to her father, she has been fishing since she was born and has caught huge lake trout. “I enjoy ice fishing because it brings the family together," Alyssa said.
“There is a solid group of local fishermen who love to ice fish," said Jamie. He receives a lot of requests for adventures on Schroon Lake. He explained that the lake is well-known for ice fishing since it is a good size and gets decent ice during most winters. It also has easy access, and a decent fishery that includes pike, pickerel, lake trout, salmon, and pan fish.
Pan fish, like sunfish and yellow perch, are better to eat during the winter. There may be grubs on the meat in the summer, but not in the winter.
How safe is ice fishing?
The number one rule is to make smart decisions on the ice. Alan Sr. emphasized that you need at least 6-inches of ice to support one person. The ice had skimmed only a few days prior to our meeting and parts of the lake had frozen just the day before. Despite the recent icing, I saw that ice tents had already been set-up in the narrows.
“It’s important to remember that ice freezes in the bays and in the main part of the lake at different times. Adirondack guides know where it is safest to fish on the ice," said Alan Sr.
I also learned that it is important to have the proper safety gear. This includes an inflatable life jacket with a compressed CO2 cartridge and manual rip cord. Val has one that’s so small that it fits into a fanny pack.
“When you first fall in it takes about 10 seconds to realize what is going on," he said. Last year while Val was drilling a hole, the ice spider-webbed, bowed, and started to sink. Fortunately, there was enough time for him to jump away from it and he only got his legs wet. “If you fall in, it is paramount to stay calm," Val stressed.
What equipment do you need?
You will need tip-ups, fish traps, and a six-inch diameter ice auger to drill a hole. Sometimes you can catch a fish that is too big to get through the hole. You will also need a fishing line that is made of braided nylon and coated with wax. The guides recommend natural bait like fat head minnows or large flies. You can buy gear for ice fishing, including tip-ups that are all ready to go, at The Crossroads in Chestertown or Schroon Lake Bait and Tackle. The Schroon Lake Fish and Game Club is another source of information. You can also learn about ice conditions at these establishments.
How do you stay warm out there?
I was disappointed to learn that the traditional ice shanties have been replaced by pop-up tents or ice shelters since they are much lighter. The tents weigh about 100-lbs. and are pulled onto the ice in a sled. They have stainless steel frames and built-in chairs with cup holders. It’s good to have a small propane heater. Insulated waterproof bibs, pants, and jackets are also a good idea.
You will see campfires on the ice and notice that they don’t melt through the ice. As ice melts, water creates a barrier to where fire can’t burn through. Last year, the DeCesares build a large fire on the ice with wooden pallets that lasted ten hours and melted only four inches of ice.
Ice fishermen and women place tip-ups around their fishing area and I like to ice skate around the territories. They are always proud to show off their fish or don’t complain if there’s nothing to show. It’s obvious that they have a good time.
The Schroon Lake Fish and Game Club sponsors the annual Ice Fishing Derby, which is held during the first full weekend of March when there can be up to three feet of ice on the lake. So many tents are set up during the derby that it looks like an ice town on the lake.
It's beautiful out there
There’s something that the guides didn’t mention: Schroon Lake is beautiful in the winter. When you stand on the ice, nature seems to take over. The lake follows snow-covered mountains and occasionally ice noises will break the winter silence. The ice seems to go on forever. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of some local wildlife, like deer, coyotes, or bald eagles. Schroon Lake is still a wild place.
I learned that ice fishing is a very special sport that requires endurance, patience, and skill. If you would like to give it a try, consider hiring a guide so you don't have to worry about ice conditions or having the right gear. You will only need to bring your fishing license (and a beverage!). They also do bachelor parties. There are plenty of places to warm up at the end of the day, whether it be in a cozy bed or with a warm meal. It’s starting to sound like fun to me after all.
This blog was originally submitted by guest blogger Sue Repko.