Thursday, January 27, 2011

Big Pond and Little Pond - Ice Fishing the Western Catskills

Yes, this winter has certainly been complete….with plenty of snow that is. But winter is never truly complete - in the western Catskills anyway - without a little bit of ice-fishing. So where does one go ice-fishing in the tranquil western Catskills? Well….it is usually Big or Little Ponds, silly. Both are located along Barkaboom Road, near the Ulster-Delaware County line in the Beaverkill Valley.

Little Pond is of course a popular NYSDEC campground – operating from Memorial through Labor Day. In the winter though, there is no entry fee, certainly no camping, and a long walk in (the entrance gate is locked) greets the die-hard fisherman.

Big Pond, located adjacent to “the Barkaboom”, is deeper, larger, and like Little Pond, but unlike most of the waterbodies throughout the Catskill Mountains in winter - allows for trout fishing year-round. Even more importantly, well sometimes anyway, is that after you shut the door on your truck (usually at around 4:30am if you are a die-hard), you are on the ice in under 60 seconds. Don’t be worried about the ice thickness this year either. NYSDEC recommends a minimum of 2” to support a person – the pond is at least 6 to 7 times that now…and getting thicker.

To ice-fish, you need a few things. Aside from the obvious things like tons of warm clothes, a fishing license, and something to drill a hole in the ice, you need to know the regulations. Many waterbodies in the Catskills have specific regs that are important and necessary in order to protect and preserve the fishery. Abiding by the minimum length, type of species and numbers taken is so critical to keep the fishery intact for others to enjoy next year – or even in the following Spring. Some regs also limit the number of lines in the water per fisherman - each person can have 2 jigging rods (a mini fishing pole) and up to 5 tip-ups. A tip-up consists of a spool of fishing line attached to wooden crosspieces that sit over the hole in the ice, and a flag that pops up when a fish takes the bait.

I know what most of you are thinking….ice-fishing is like what happens in that movie Grumpy Old Men; A wooden shanty that blocks all of the wind, however this is not exactly like most ice-fishing in the Catskills. Sure, some folks have collapsible shanties, but ‘warm’ is not the wod I’d use to describe them. Then there is the issue of piercing the ice. I use a hand ice auger to make that 6” hole, others splurge for a gas powered one, making quick work of even the thickest ice.

So, just before the sun begins to rise, the typical fisherman loads up a plastic sled (or sleds) with his gear, pulls it all out on the ice - heading to an open, but ‘lucky’. Then, it is ‘drill baby drill’ - drilling holes (up to 7) with the ice auger, setting up the tip-ups – baited with live minnows, and affixing your ‘best guest’ of tackle to the jigging rods (usually flashy lures or mealworms). Turn over a 5-gallon bucket for a seat, sit down……and wait.
And wait…..
And wait…..

Would you believe me if I told you that ice fishing certainly can be fun? Well next time I’ll do my best to convince you.

Aaron Bennett

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