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Joe Ognibene.  
Mr Ognibene has been covering the Outdoor Scene in his weekly column for 46 years
This article was reprinted from one of his recent winter articles. 
Posted 1/16/2003

During a normal winter, most outdoor columns would be filled with information on the best ice fishing locations and how to take limits of perch and other fish. Not this year. There is very little, if any, safe ice to be found around Western New,, York. If it's ice fishing you want, then northern Canada is the place for you.

Many wintertime fishermen head for Lake Simcoe for perch and a few white fish, but call ahead. So far this yea2~ Simcoe has been iffy at best. Considering how the weather has been, going from cold to warm with snow changing to rain a common occurrence, ice conditions change rapidly. If you feel you just have to get out on the ice, there are a few things you want to do to assure you're going to come off the ice safely.

 Don't venture out on the ice if no one else has gone before you. Lots of footprints in fresh­ fallen snow on an ice covered lake or pond usually means it's safe to walk Don't you be the first to test the ice to see if it will hold you. Remember, the ice testers are found in the Spring.

If you plan on using a snowmobile to get out to a favorite spot, be absolutely sure the ice is thick enough to support the machine. In Minnesota so far this year, nine snowmobilers have lost their lives because they crashed through what they thought was safe ice. in New York, Lake Oneida leads the list of lakes snowmobiles crashing through with resulting loss of life. Some of the smaller inland lakes ‑Cayuga, Otisco, Little York and a few others  might be safe to fish on, but check first. You can find charts that list safe ice thickness and they are generally right, but don't bet your life on them.

A simple but very effective device that can be made at home could save your life if you happen to break through the ice. I've mentioned it before in columns throughout the years, but it's worth mentioning again. Cut off about six inches from an old broom handle and pound a large nail in one end. Grind the nail to a point. Drill a hole on the other end of the handle to accept a cord that is long enough to run from the end of the handle up your arm, across your shoulders and down the other arm. Thread this through your jacket sleeves and let the ends dangle. If you break through, these devices will let you dig into the ice and pull yourself out. Otherwise, you will not be able to haul yourself out with just your hands on slippery ice. [see diagram below]

There are all kinds of advice given to assure safety on the ice, but the primary rule is to use common sense and let someone else take the chances. 

Ice Safety Tips From New York State DEC: Ice conditions can change quickly over short distances and in short periods of time. Here are some rules that will make your ice fishing safer. Always keep at least 3-4 inches of good, solid ice under you at all times. New, clear ice is usually stronger than white ice that has thawed and refrozen, or black ice that is deteriorating. Go with a friend, walk in single file, spread out, wear flotation gear, and check ice conditions often. Tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back. Shore ice usually melts first during a thaw so head back early on warmer days when the ice is marginal. Carry 50 feet of throwing rope in case a rescue is necessary. Avoid areas around moving water, springs, roads, where plants or objects protrude through the ice, and other areas where the ice may be thinner or weaker. Don't take chances.  USE COMMON SENSE!

Submitted by John Eddy

For those that like to rough it out in the open come hard water, here is an old trick I'd like to share with you. Take a one pound coffee can and drill a ¼ inch hole ½ inch from the bottom of the can. Take 8 feet of ¼ inch copper tubing and stick about 8 inches out of the hole in the can and wrap the tubing around and around the inside of the can with the last foot or so sticking out the top, aiming down. Throw a couple of handfuls of self-starting charcoal in the can and light it. Set the can next to your hole, with the lower end of the tube in the water. The heat from the charcoal will suck up the water, heat it and spit it back into the water from the top tube, keeping your hole ice-free no matter how cold it gets and the charcoal will burn for hours. You can fashion a handle from a coat hanger or whatever. 

Joe Ognibene 
Joe Ognibene is a local Outdoor Writer and has done a weekly newspaper column for over 46 years, and has hunted and fished  for more years than a lot of us has been alive!!

For many fishermen ice fishing and watching paint dry are about equal in appeal. Sitting on a patch of frozen water is not everyone's cup of tea. You have to be really desperate for something to do to go out and try for a fish through the ice is what a lot of fellows think about ice fishing. True, ice fishing can be boring unless you decide to try something new and different in the fishing department. 

One very appealing thing about ice fishing is the cost of equipment is nowhere near what it costs to do some trolling or casting for bass, salmon, trout or walleye. A rod can be bought for a couple dollars or you can make your own. All the rod does when ice fishing is to have something to hold some line over a hole in the ice. Usually an ice fishing rod is about 18 to 24 inches long with a handle to take a simple, and I mean simple, reel and maybe two guides and a tip. A lot of fellows use a broken rod to make an ice fishing rod. 

The reel is simplicity itself. You can use just about anything that is round to store line on as you aren't going to be fighting a fish with the drag of a reel. Fish during winter tend to be very sluggish and the fight they put up isn't much. An old fly rod reel that has seen its best days will work or you can buy an ice fishing reel complete with rod for a couple dollars. The line is usually monofilament and some line makers tout an ice fishing line, but plain old mono will do just fine. 

Instead of using a rod and reel to fish through the ice a lot of ice fishermen use a tip up. This is simply a stick balanced on a pivot point with line, bait and small sinker hanging in the water through the hole. The idea behind a tip up is to stare at the thing and when it starts bobbing you know a fish is fooling around with the bait. Some fellows make tip ups that are things of beauty while others are satisfied buying one or two. Check your regulations on how many holes you are allowed to fish through at the location you're fishing at. 

Bait choice is up to you. Many ice fishermen use mousey grubs, oak leaf worms, cider worms, cut bait, cheese balls, yarn balls or solid lures they jig. The choice is yours as all will work. The time honored Swedish Pimple is a great ice fishing jigging lure and there are those who swear by it. If you are inclined to jig so time passes faster and you feel like you're doing something useful just about any bright colored lure will do. 

Most ice fishing is done in shallow water and the fish many go after are perch. Around home Beaver Island State Park at the southern end of Grand Island is a popular spot as well as Big Six Creek Marina on Grand Island or the harbors at Wilson or Olcott. 

There is no ice fishing on the Niagara River, either upper or lower. Our inland lakes, once they freeze, are popular spots for perch, walleye, Tiger muskies and northern pike. Check your regulations booklet for closing dates. If you decide to fish any of the inland lakes, Cayuga, Seneca, Otisco, Canandagua, Skaneateles, Oneida, Chautauqua or any of the other smaller lakes, be sure you are aware of where you may or may not park. Some of the cottage owners associations on some lakes feel they and they alone have rights to the water of state owned lakes. They make a lot of money by enforcing parking bans and other restrictions such as a stated distance from someone's lawn. A few years ago deputies were seen measuring to be sure a car was parked the proper distance. A half-inch could cost you money. On some inland lakes windbreaks are not allowed. Check the particular lake you're fishing. The cottage owners want you to be so uncomfortable you will leave their lake to them. 



NON SEQUITUR Ó Wiley Miller.  Reprinted with permission of uclick.  All rights reserved.


[Joe Ognibene]

ICE SAFETY AND COMING BACK ALIVE......"Ice testers are found in the spring"
Joe Ognibene

Probably the most important thing about ice fishing many writers leave until last. I'm talking about ice safety and coming back alive. There is an old saying that claims the ice testers are found in the spring. The smart ice fisherman goes out on the ice after he has seen many others go first. The ice fisherman who expects he might have some troubles prepares for them. Falling through the ice is not the most pleasant thing to do on a winter's day. In most cases the water isn't deep, but it's cold!! Let's say you went through and you're standing in water up to your waist and there's no one around to give you a hand climbing out. Trying to get a grip on the flat surface of ice is next to impossible. To forestall failure in attempting to haul yourself out you can make a life saving device in a few minutes. Take an old broom handle and cut off two pieces about six or eight inches long. On one end of each, drill a hole through the top so you can run a cord through. On the bottom end drill a pilot hole and pound a nail that has the head cut off into it. Now run a cord that is long enough to go through the sleeves of your jacket so the wooden handles dangle from each hand. Now if you break through you simply jab the nail ends into the surface ice and pull yourself out. Going out onto the ice can sometimes be a thrill too. You might have thick ice when you start out and suddenly the ice thins out and you could go through. That's why when two fellows are going out they tie themselves together with a long rope. If one goes through the other can pull him out. A lot of ice fishermen wear skis when heading out. Skis distribute your weight over a larger surface and chances of breaking through are lessened, not eliminated. 

There are those who will tell you if you hear a loud cracking while you're on the ice to not pay any attention. Don't you believe it. Ice cracking is one of the scariest sounds you can hear. It means the ice is under stress and could break so pressure is relieved. It could break under you or a mile away and there is no way to know. Around home on Lake Erie if you're out on the lake a goodly distance from shore and you hear cracking my advice is to haul out of there. There have been many cases of ice fishermen trapped on floating ice floes and having to be rescued by helicopter. The most notorious lake in the state for fatalities is Oneida north of Syracuse. The lake is an attraction for snowmobilers who break through regularly. 

Ice fishing can be one way to help pass winter that is inexpensive and you can meet some very fine fellow fishermen. If you're new to the sport the old-timers on the ice will be more than willing to give you a few tips to make your outing a success. Dress warmly and take no chances on ice you aren't sure of and you could discover a new way to catch a fish and that's the name of the game. 



Loss of body heat to the water, is a major cause of deaths in boating accidents. Often the cause of death is listed as drowning; but, often the primary cause is hypothermia. It should also be noted that alcohol lowers the body temperature around two to three degrees by dilating the blood vessels. Do not drink alcohol around cold water. Keep in mind, wind and rain can also cause severe hypothermia. Good raingear is a must. The following chart shows the effects of hypothermia in water:


32.5 degrees............................Under 15 min........Under 15 TO 45 min.
32.5 to 40................................15 to 30 min.........30 to 90 min.
40 to 50...................................30 to 60 min.........1 to 3 hrs.
50 to 60...................................1 to 2 hrs..............1 to 6 hrs.
60 to 70...................................2 to 7 hrs..............2 to 40 hrs.
70 to 80...................................3 to 12 hrs............3 hrs. to indefinite
Over 80...................................Indefinite...............Indefinite

 PFD's (personal flotation devices / better known as life jackets) can increase survival time because of the insulating value they provide. In water less than 50 degrees you should wear a wet suit or dry suit to protect more of the body. 

MORE ON PFD’s. Go to our picture page on our website and look there to see fishermen wearing the  survival suits most smart winter steelhead fishermen wear. There may be other places where they are available, but the Niagara River Anglers Association have TWO advertiser/supporter’s that carry a complete line of cold survival suits. One is Peter’s Tackle and Bait in St. Catherine's Ontario. Peters is located on 22 Secord Drive just off Lake Street. [905] 934-2512. The Dory in Youngstown NY carries a great supply also. They are located right on Main Street in the Village of Youngstown. [716] 745-3335.

These suits are basically the same worn by Coast Guard Personnel and were developed up in the sub-zero temps of the ocean oil drilling fields in the far north.

SOME POINTS TO REMEMBER: While in the water, do not attempt to swim unless to reach nearby safety. Unnecessary swimming increases the rate of body heat loss. Keep your head out of the water. This will increase your survival time.  Keep a positive attitude about your rescue. This will increase your chances of survival.  If there is more than one person in the water, huddling is recommended.  [see picture below] Always wear your PFD. It won't help if you don't have it on. 

Learn to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia. 
Here are the symptoms in order of severity:

1. Shivering
2. Bluish lips and fingernails
3. Loss of feeling in extremities
4. Cold, bluish skin
5. Decreased mental skills
6. Slurred speech, blurred vision
7. Rigidity in extremities
8. Unconsciousness
9. Coma
10. Death. 


CHECKED YOUR MAGGOTS LATELY?                      

Hoppie Leggett                                                                                      

While visiting a Tackle Store in Buffalo one day Hoppie wondered about what the best temperatures for storing maggots, wax worms or spikes.

Here’s what he found out. For wax worms the favorite temperature is 55 degrees. You can store in the basement next to an outside wall. The temp will remain steady there.

Maggots and spikes should be kept at temps in the low 30’s, 34-35 degrees is ideal. They should be kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door! Be careful, they will freeze quick if you are not careful!

Generally when you buy these little guys, they are packed in sawdust. Every few days you should remove the dead ones and change the sawdust often. Never use plywood dust or pressure treated dust as they can kill your little treasures in a hurry.

When you peek in the box at them they will be dormant and playing dead on you. Take some in your hand and warm them up. They will start wiggling quickly. The guys that don’t wiggle, toss ‘em. If you don’t pay attention to them, they will turn black and then you have to go and buy some more.

I can see some of you wigglin’ right now. Put them in your hand you said? Yup. A maggot is harmless and has no teeth. In fact the Inuit people ate live maggots as a delicacy in their diet. They are full of fat and protein. They are harmless and for centuries it is known maggots have helped heal open infested wounds on people. It is known as Maggot Therapy.

 FYI. The worm in the tequila bottle is not a maggot it is a caterpillar. A caterpillar is the larva of a moth or butterfly. Also, the  maggots we talk about is a fly larva. One other thing, most grubs are larvae of a beetle. E.g. the “mousee” grub we like to fish with doesn’t come from a mouse. It’s the little guy with the tiny tail and looks similar to a mouse. 

Anyway, with all of these creatures, fish just love ‘em and is the favorite bait for ice fishermen and bluegill fishermen year round.


Captain Frank Campbell

Understanding clear waters vs. stained waters or discolored waters and what type of lures and baits to use is an asset to anyone fishing the Niagara River.

 Here are some tips to work with to make your chances better of latching into a nice “steelie” this winter.

1.      Use smaller diameter line. Steelhead in clear water tend to be shy.
2.      Use longer leaders. Sometimes up to 8-10 ft. in length.
3.      Use smaller baits. Weather it is eggs skeins or minnows.
4.      Best to use the new fluorocarbon as leader material.
5.      Use softer colors. Pink and yellow are both good. Weather used with egg sacks or yarn.
6.      It is important to fish deeper waters. 20 to 35 feet will generally do the trick.
7.      Using an electric trolling motor vs. the main engine. With an electric you can control your drift better.

1.    Use Kwikfish lures in place of eggs or skein. The lures give a more visible target.
2.    If using egg sacks, run bright colors such as chartreuse or orange.
3.    Fish shallower water. Usuall 4 to 15 ft. is good.
4.    Always run your electric trolling motor because you can spook your fish at shallow depths.

[top]                                                 "Always wear PFD's"

Mark Daul

Locally we don’t get too many opportunities for good hard safe ice and the Niagara River never freezes except in small bays. The most popular bay being at Beaver Island state Park marina on Grand Island.

Wilson Harbor offers some perch action as do some of the smaller frozen ponds in the area. Oak Orchard is an area favorite too.

A lot of our locals head for the Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake just north of Syracuse. Great ice fishing can be found in the Buffalo Harbor and is a popular spot for Western New Yorkers as well as Chautauqua Lake.

Tons of Canadian Lakes offer excellent Ice fishing opportunities and the one you hear of our area fishermen heading to the most is Lake Simcoe, just north of Toronto. Yellow Perch and Whitefish is the usual table fare. There are many Ice hut Operators there that cater to U.S. fishermen.

Lake Erie freezes over pretty nice after prolonged cold spells and fishing the harbors are relatively safe. If anyone can tell us if there are any Ice Hut operators on the U.S. side of Lake Erie, let us know. You can post it on our website forum page.

On Lake Erie on the Canadian side there are some at St. Williams and around the Turkey Point area.

There, that’s just a quick analysis of area ice fishing opportunities that are within short driving distances and in most cases you can get there and back in a day for a day trip including Lake Simcoe.

REMEMBER: if there is current under the ice you want to travel on, 
it can be extremely dangerous ice. Be EXTRA careful.
[We hate losing Members that are not careful!]


If you a hard water angler or a fisherman of any sort, you will want to check the following sites. All site recommended and submitted by member John Eddy.

FISH ONTARIO    www.fishontario.com       FISHING FORUM:  http://forums.fishontario.com/ 
FISHING LAKE SIMCOE      www.fishinglakesimcoe.com

 Ice Fishing Shanty IceShanty.com   The Ice Shanty site lists lakes from different states


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