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Tips to Stay Safe While Ice Fishing in New York


New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos is reminding anglers to be safe when venturing onto the ice this season, especially given recent variations in weather conditions. Outdoor enthusiasts considering ice fishing this winter season should be aware of essential safety guidelines during ice fishing season and anglers should make sure the ice is thick enough before venturing out.

“Winter in New York provides outdoor adventurers with some of the very best opportunities to enjoy New York’s natural resources,” Commissioner Seggos said. “While 2023 was the warmest year on record and the start of the current winter season has been fairly mild, as temperatures drop conditions are improving for activities like ice fishing. However, even as it gets colder, wintertime anglers need to exercise extreme caution and always put safety first when heading out onto the ice for fishing.”

Before leaving shore, ice anglers are advised to check the thickness of ice. Four inches of solid, clear ice is usually safe for anglers accessing ice on foot. However, ice thickness can vary between waterbodies and even within the same waterbody, increasing the need to ensure thickness. Anglers should be particularly cautious of areas of moving water and around boat docks and houses where bubblers may be installed to reduce ice from forming. Checking the ice can easily be done with an auger or spud bar at various spots. Local bait and tackle shops are a great source for finding out where there is safe ice and what anglers are catching. In addition, fishing with family and friends is also encouraged for safety.

Those interested in trying ice fishing for the first time should mark the weekend of Feb. 17-18 on their calendars. As a designated free freshwater fishing weekend, the need for a freshwater fishing license is waived during these days. This free fishing weekend is also a great opportunity for experienced anglers to introduce someone new to fishing.

For some fish species, ice fishing can be more productive than open-water fishing. Given good ice conditions, anglers normally limited to shore fishing can access an entire waterbody. Beginning ice anglers can download the Ice Fishing Chapter (PDF) of DEC’s I FISH NY Beginners Guide to Freshwater Fishing (PDF, 16 MB) for helpful information on how to get started.

For a more interactive option, DEC released a series of six ice fishing videos on the agency’s YouTube channel. Visit the playlist to check out the brief instructional videos. Additional information, including a list of waters open to ice fishing, can be found on the DEC ice fishing webpage, and also through the new Tackle Box feature in DEC’s HuntFishNY app. With the app, fishing regulations, access information, fish species present, and more can be accessed from a map-based interface, all from the convenience of a smart phone.

The use of bait fish is popular when ice fishing and may be used in most, but not all, waters open to ice fishing. For more information on bait fish regulations visit DEC’s website. To protect New York’s waters from invasive species and the spread of fish diseases, anglers are advised to take these critical steps when using baitfish while ice fishing:

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