Ice Fishing Thrives in the New York Suburbs

 

In the Suburbs, When the Cold Is Biting, and So Are the Fish

On the Cross River Reservoir in Westchester County, about 40 miles from New York City, ice fishermen hook brown trout, perch, sunfish or bass.

Wind cut across the acres of frozen water, as dozens of ice fishermen trudged out at dawn, their astronaut-size waterproof boots fitted with metal spikes for better traction.

Dave Stewart Stuckert using an auger to drill a hole in the ice. He caught a two-pound brown trout at the Cross River Reservoir in Westchester County, N.Y., on Feb. 6.

Some pulled sleds loaded with necessities: food, thermoses and augers to bore holes in the thick ice. Each carried a jigging rod — a short fishing pole, often less than three feet long for ice fishing — and a bucket filled with minnows that would conveniently double as a seat as they hunched over a hole no bigger than a saucer waiting for the tug of a fish.

The scene seemed straight out of a winter photograph of northern Minnesota or Vermont, maybe even Alaska. But this was in Westchester County, about 40 miles north of New York City.

“I’m an outdoors person, and this gets me out of the house for the winter instead of being cooped up,” said Dave Stuckert, 51, a general contractor from Somers, N.Y., who fished the Cross River Reservoirnear Bedford.

Mr. Stuckert had one of the most luxurious setups, resembling a tailgate party on ice. He pulled from a bottle of homemade wine and placed venison steaks, marinated in peppers and garlic, on a barbecue set atop the ice. A black sled tipped sideways kept the grill shielded from the wind as his son, Dave Stewart Stuckert, caught dinner — a flopping two-pound brown trout that the family’s two Chesapeake Bay retrievers, named Gunner and Toby, licked as it rose from the frigid water.

Ice fishing requires boring a hole through the ice with an auger, a contraption that resembles a four-foot corkscrew. Most of the ice fishermen cranked manually powered augers, but a few, like Mr. Stuckert, had electric ones.

The fishermen, using ladles with small straining holes, constantly scoop out the new ice crystals that form around their fishing lines. The ladle handles are also a way to measure the thickness of the ice.

Troy Steger, 47, of Pawling plunged his ladle into the reservoir and measured the ice at 10 to 12 inches thick. Eight inches is thick enough to support a truck, he said — though no vehicles are allowed on the ice of Westchester reservoirs.

Mr. Steger said he counted himself as one of the more daring anglers because he was willing to venture out on ice barely thicker than his wrist in pursuit of brown trout, which he called “the filet mignon of the reservoir.”

The severity of this year’s winter has brought out scores more ice fishermen than usual, said John Miller, owner of Bob’s Sport and Tackle in Katonah, where many fishermen fill their plastic five-gallon buckets with shiners before a day out on the reservoirs.

Before Christmas the ice was already three inches thick, enough to support a man, Mr. Miller said. Usually that does not happen until January, he said.

“A lot of people are shaky about going out on the ice — they’re scared of falling through,” Mr. Miller, 26, said. “It’s been so cold this year that they’re not scared anymore.”

The weather took Andy Aaron, 58, a computer programmer from Ardsley, and his son, Sam Aaron, 13, to the Muscoot Reservoir in Katonah to go ice fishing for only the second time.

“It suddenly occurred to me after all the time in the cold, there might be one good thing out of this: ice fishing,” Mr. Aaron said as he sent a hook down a hole.

Fishermen spread out in groups across the ice. Friends clustered within a few dozen yards of one another, close enough to be heard shouting “flag!” whenever they saw the orange beacon rise on a tip-up — a spring-loaded device that sits above an ice hole and sends a flag waving when a fish bites. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation allows anglers five tip-ups and two jig rods each.

The ice fishers would send a weighted line down to the bottom of the reservoir to gauge its depth, around 30 feet on the Cross River. Fish cruise about five feet from the bottom, they said, and that is where they send their hooks, baited with maggots and shiners.

Dorothy Wasilewski, 29, a dental assistant who lives in Brooklyn, bounced up and down to stay warm as she fished with her husband, Piotr Wasilewski, 34. She said the fishing trip was her idea.

“I love ice fishing because of the surprise factor,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to pull up out of the ice.”

Mr. Wasilewski, a plumber originally from Bialystok, Poland, said he had never ice fished until he came to America because he was scared of falling in. It was his wife’s promise of a breaded brown trout dinner that motivated him to wake up at 3 a.m. and spend the day on ice.

“She definitely loves this more than me,” he said, threading a maggot onto a hook.

As fishermen do, they gossiped about their catches. Many talked about a five-pound brown trout that Tim Tymon, a landscaper from Stamford, Conn., nabbed a week earlier. Mr. Tymon, 57, who said he preferred eating winter-caught brown trout because their flesh was firmest, plans a dinner party for all his friends with his big catch as the main course.

“I don’t mind eating fish from this reservoir,” he said. “They swim in the same water New Yorkers drink.”

To fish the Westchester reservoirs, anglers need to apply for a free watershed recreation access permit with the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Marcin Naranowicz, 31, a carpenter from Queens who fished from 5 a.m. until almost dark, was kept warm by a sack of Polish ham sandwiches and a concoction he called “ice tea for ice fishing.” As he sipped the steaming brew, made with raspberry syrup, lemon and rum, he wished for warmer weather.

“In the summertime it’s more peaceful,” Mr. Naranowicz said, waving his hand at the crowd in front of him. “Look at all these people.”

 

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