For some Essex County anglers, fishing season doesn't begin until they can walk on water.
That's just how good the ice fishing can be in the heart of the Adirondacks of northern New York.
It's true. Many diehard ice fishermen spend their summers doing other things - playing golf, canoeing, biking and hiking. Everything but fishing.
But when the waters freeze (as early as mid-December on some smaller lakes), it's time to break out the fishing tackle. Sharpen the auger. Repair the portable shanty.
Essex County boasts not only a variety of summertime fishing opportunities, but an almost equal number of ice fishing decisions. Big lake (such as Lake Champlain) or small pond? Lake trout or northern pike? Perch or brookies?
Sometimes, the toughest thing about ice fishing in Essex County is deciding where to go and what species to pursue. After that, it's pretty close to a sure thing.
Here are a few of the hottest of the ice fishing hotspots in Essex County:
Lake Champlain: By far the largest of our ice fishing waters, Lake Champlain has been attracting hordes of hardwater anglers for decades. In some locales, virtual towns on ice spring up - usually in January - as anglers haul their portable shanties out onto spots like Port Henry's Bulwagga Bay. While perch and smelt anglers converge on Lake Champlain each season, those willing to put in a little extra time and effort can land some nice lake trout and landlocked salmon, and even, on occasion, a walleye or two. Northern pike and pickerel are usually very cooperative during the winter, as anglers set out tipups with minnow combinations to attract these aggressive feeders. There's no better fishing trip than a mid-March outing on about 18 inches of Lake Champlain ice, with temperatures in the 40s on a sunny day when the perch are biting. There are many public access points along the lake.
Schroon Lake: Sometimes overlooked due to its location in the shadow of Lake Champlain, this beautiful water attracts knowledgeable anglers who know what lurks below the ice. Lake trout and landlocked salmon are there in both good numbers and size, and perch, pike and pickerel are often found as well. You may even catch an occasional bass, but they must be returned to the water during ice fishing season. In March, an annual weekend ice fishing tournament attracts hundreds of anglers and yields some impressive catches.
Eagle Lake: A fine trout lake any time of year, action really heats up during the winter. Ditto for nearby Connery Pond, where ice fishing is also legal.
Paradox Lake: A fine ice fishing spot for brown trout, some of which grow to trophy size. You'll also find lakers, pike and pickerel.
Lincoln Pond: This hourglass-shaped water near Elizabethtown is stocked heavily with tiger muskies that can be caught through the ice. You'll also encounter perch, maybe some crappies and usually some bass - but return the bass to the water.
Crane Pond: A sometimes-overlooked water where lakers grow big. Use of baitfish is prohibited.
Ice fishing can be an extremely enjoyable and productive winter activity, provided you exercise a few safety precautions. Always check on the thickness of the ice before venturing out, and consult the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Web site (www.dec.state.ny.us) on regulations and general ice fishing safety rules.