DEC cautions public about thin ice

With warm weather moving in this week and more forecasted for this weekend, ice conditions in the Adirondacks are expected to become less reliable and dangerous in spots.

The ice is already behind schedule for this time of the year. Ice fishermen had been reporting five or six inches of ice on small ponds and three and four inches on larger lakes like Lake Colby in Saranac Lake. Those numbers will vary from water body to water body and depend on a number of factors, such as snowpack and elevation.

A minimum of 3 to 4 inches of ice is considered safe for walking on, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. People should also take into consideration that ice thickness will vary even on the same water body.

In general, the pond and lake ice is thin for this time of the year and serious consideration should be given before venturing out onto it, especially if the weather warms up even more this weekend. Many rivers and streams haven’t even frozen yet.

The thin ice is a result of warmer than normal weather in December, followed by a heavy snowpack that came with the cold weather. The snowpack insulated the ice, preventing it from growing at a fast rate.

Because of the ice conditions, the DEC has issued a warning to ice anglers, snowmobilers and others to be careful on the ice. The DEC is cautioning that the presence of snowmobile tracks and footprints on the ice are not indications that the ice is safe, and that individuals should take their own measures to ensure it is safe before venturing out on it.

“During warm winters such as the one we are currently experiencing, some anglers take risks that they would otherwise not take,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a press release. “Last year, safe ice did not form on many larger waters, but smaller lakes and ponds eventually provided sufficient ice for safe angling. Although the wait can be frustrating, falling through the ice is not a risk anyone should take.”

People should be especially cautions around areas of moving water, boat docks and places where bubblers are installed to reduce ice buildup.

Ice has also thawed and refrozen in some cases, making it weaker than solid ice, according to the DEC. Layers of water, slush and ice may be present under the snow.

Ice fishing

For those who have found solid ice to fish upon, the DEC is encouraging people to pay attention to bait fish regulations, which are in place to prevent the spread of fish diseases and invasive species.

The use of fish for bait is very popular when ice fishing and bait fish may be used in most but not all waters that are open to ice fishing. See on the DEC website for a list of special regulations by county to find out where bait fish can and cannot be used, and for other regulations that apply to bait fish.

The DEC is reminding anglers to take these important steps when using baitfish while ice fishing:

– Follow the bait fish regulations to prevent the spread of harmful fish diseases and invasive species.

– Use only certified disease-free bait fish purchased at a local tackle store or use only personally collected bait fish for use in the same water body in which they were caught.

Anglers looking for ice fishing locations can request a copy of “I FISH NY Guide to Freshwater Fishing.” This map and brochure provides locations of good public fishing opportunities throughout the state.

Anglers can obtain a copy at any DEC regional office, or can request a copy online by emailing DEC at Put “NY FISHING MAP” in the subject line. Additional information on ice fishing, ice safety and regulations can be found on DEC’s website at