Chill Out: Winter Sports in the Valley
Baby, it’s cold outside! But no matter what season it is, Valley dwellers love to get outdoors and play. Whether you’re a skier or a skater; an ice fisher or boater; we’ve got the lowdown on cool places to stay active this winter
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Though wacky winter weather (thanks to global climate change) may have foiled the outdoor plans of most winter sports enthusiasts on too many days these last few years, ice fishermen (or women) are not one of them. Ice fishing may be the one winter sport where a lack of snowfall, freezing cold, and biting wind makes for ideal conditions — once a little pond gets just a half inch of ice, it’ll start to freeze over as long as it doesn’t get rained or heavily snowed upon. Ryan Coulter, an aquatic biologist with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Fisheries Unit in New Paltz (and an avid ice fisher) claims the conditions have been primo, and the seasons long. “Last year I was fishing Chodikee Lake before Christmas, and I usually can’t get out there until January,” he says. “In Lake George, too — people haven’t been able to get out there in years, but last year you could.”
Ice fishing is one of the fastest growing enclaves of fishing. While many might think simply of a man sitting solo in the cold, a lone line dangling from frozen fingers through a hole in the ice, the sport is actually quite productive, and very socially- and family-oriented. “It’s a great way to spend time with friends and family,” Coulter says. “Unlike a boat which only fits so many people, you can have a whole group out on the ice.” There are a few different styles of ice fishing, which all involve boring a hole through the ice with an auger and dangling bait to entice the fish to bite. Some people choose to use multiple holes at once, making use of tip-ups (which raise a flag when something is tugging on the line) to maximize their time on the ice. Others may choose to sit patiently around one hole, waiting for a bite. On thick ice that promises to last a long time, shanties can be constructed to offer shelter — these days, a number of companies manufacture portable pop-up shelters.
“One of the best things about ice fishing in the Valley is that there are so many different water bodies — big reservoirs to small ponds — and a good mix of fish species to catch,” says Coulter. Those species include bass, trout, perch, and panfish. Big Pond in Delaware County holds bass and trout in the same habitat, which is very rare. “Smaller ponds are better for people just starting off,” Coulter encourages. “And safety first, always.” For first-timers Coulter recommends going with a guide or experienced fisherman, though he recommends the buddy system for anyone who plans to spend time on the ice. Always check the ice with an auger or spud bar before walking out — a minimum of three to four inches is recommended. And dress properly, paying extra attention to your head, hands, and feet.
Local ice fishing enthusiast Ryan Coulter shares some of his favorite Valley spots by county:
East Branch Reservoir
Sullivan White Lake
Swinging Bridge Reservoir
Orange Greenwood Lake
For a full list of DEC-approved ice fishing locations, visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor