October 23, 2021

Fishing tournament coming up

Whitney Point crappie derby set for Feb. 16

Photos by Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Tom Decker, left, of Castle Creek, drills a hole in the ice at Whitney Point Lake on Jan. 29, 2019. Chuck Sweet of Lisle, looks on. The two ice fishermen are organizers of the Almost Annual New York State Crappie Derby, which takes place on the lake.

UPDATE: This even has been canceled due to warm weather.

Every type of fish that swims in fresh water can be found at Whitney Point Lake, Chuck Sweet said.

“This is one of the few impoundments that has white crappie,” said the Lisle man, an ice fisherman for more than 55 years. “But having a river system, it has walleyes.”

In fact, the Whitney Point Lake, site of the Almost Annual New York State Crappie Derby, has everything from perch, bass, Northern Pike, pickerel, carp and chubs, said Sweet.

If you go

What: Almost Annual New York State Crappie Derby
When: Feb. 16 – UPDATE: This even has been canceled due to warm weather.
Where: Dorchester Park, Route 26, Whitney Point
Details: Registrants get prizes. Go to www.crappiederby.com or Whitney Point Sportsmen Club’s Facebook page to find out more.
When to watch: The decision on having the derby will be made Monday.

“Every once in a while, trout — they get down here somewhere,” said Sweet, a retired job supervisor at Suit Kote.

“You name it,” said Tom Decker of Castle Creek, an ice fisherman since the ‘80s. Decker, a self-employed engineering geologist, and Sweet are members of the Whitney Point Sportsmen’s Club, which works with the Broome County Parks and Recreation Department to host the Almost Annual Crappie Derby.

‘It’s a day of relaxation’

Located in Dorchester Park, the derby is Feb. 16, which also happens to be part of a two-day free fishing day, Feb. 16 and 17, in New York. No fishing licenses are required.

Decker, the treasurer of the Whitney Point Sportsmen’s Club, and Sweet, a board member who is coordinator of the crappie derby (“I didn’t go to the last meeting and got nominated,” Sweet said.), think this year will be a go. But you never know.

Sportsmen will decide Feb. 11 on whether the derby will go forward.

“I love it,” Decker said of ice fishing.

“We open water fish, too,” Sweet added.

“It’s way better then anything else you can be doing,” said Decker.

“On a nice sunny day, 30 degrees, 20 degrees, with no wind blowing and you are out on the ice, the fish are biting, there’s nothing like it,” Sweet said. “We have all the equipment. We like the camaraderie. We have three, four of us go out, stand around and have a fire pit.”

“The way we do it, it’s a day of relaxation,” Sweet said. “Instead of watching football, we are standing on a cube of ice, eating and drinking, doing what the guys are doing who are watching football.”

Jim Everard, aquatics biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in Cortland, has been ice fishing since he was a little boy — 48 years.

“My dad would fish,” Everard said. “I was fishing since I was 2 years old.”

He likes ice fishing because it extends the fishing season another three months. And it evens the playing field for people who do not have a boat.

Around Cortland County, people fish for pan fish at Tully Lake, for trout at Casterline Pond, and sometimes make a go of it on Little York Lake, Everard said.

Besides Whitney Point Lake, people fish walleye and yellow perch at Oneida Lake and for bluegill at Otisco Lake, he said.

The equipment

Typical equipment: jigging rods, which are short fishing poles or tip ups, stands set over an ice hole with a line in the water with live bait on a hook. When a fish hits, it sends up a flag.

Also needed:

• A hand or power auger to drill through the ice.
• A sled to get equipment out on the ice.
• A five- to seven-gallon bucket to hold tip ups, put the catch in and sit on.
• A skimmer to scoop out slush.

Fishing partners Dustin Schifilliti, right, and Ciara Hilsinger, left, of Solon, put their lines in Casterline Pond in Homer Thursday while ice fishing. The pair have pulled 30 crappy and one trout from the pond this season.

“Kids love taking slush out of the holes,” Everard said. “I don’t know what it is about it.”

Fishermen need bait, typically minnows for tip ups and lures, fly larvae or maggots for jigging rods.

Be safe on the ice

Ice picks are necessary, with a cord to put around the neck, Everard said. If someone breaks through the ice, they are invaluable for getting out. Rope is also a good idea, to toss to someone in an emergency.

Let people know where you are going and when you are expected home.

“There’s no such thing as safe ice,” Everard said. A spring may lie underneath. Look for water on top. And the ice should be 4 inches thick, minimum.

Decker and Sweet say do not fish alone.

“You need to carry a spud, it’s nothing more than a huge chisel that you can poke the ice with. If you have a good one and you poke that thing and it doesn’t go through, you should be OK. If you are not sure, don’t go,” Sweet said. “Just because you see someone out there, you don’t know if its safe. You don’t know how they got out there.”

Pay attention and be vigilant, especially with children, Everard said. They have small feet and special care is needed that they don’t fall in the ice fishing holes.

Safety first

The recent cold spell has improved ice-fishing conditions across New York, but stay safe, said state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“Still, anglers should keep safety in mind and test the ice before venturing out to enjoy some hard-water fishing,” he said.

Four inches of solid ice is usually safe for anglers on foot. However, ice thickness can vary, even on the same waterbody. Anglers should be particularly wary of areas of moving water and around boat docks and houses where bubblers may be installed.

Tom Decker, left, of Castle Creek and Chuck Sweet of Lisle, out on Whitney Point Lake, checking the ice thickness on Jan. 29, 2019 at Dorchester Park in Whitney Point.

The presence of snowmobile tracks or footprints on the ice is not evidence of safe ice conditions, so check ice conditions with an auger or ice spud and avoid even a remote risk.

Ice fishing continues to increase in popularity in New York state. It doesn’t need a boat — once the ice is safe. And it’s a great sport for families, who can mix in skating, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or other activities.

Feb.16 and 17, has been designated as a free-fishing weekend, so no license is required, an effort to encourage people to try ice fishing for the first time or for experienced anglers to take their friends ice fishing.

Beginning ice anglers can download the new I FISH NY Guide to Ice Fishing at the DEC’s ice-fishing site.

Bait fish may be used in most but not all waters that are open to ice fishing. Anglers should take these steps when using bait fish:

• Review DEC bait fish regulations.
• Make sure that the use of bait fish is permitted by checking the special regulations by county section of the Freshwater Fishing Regulations Guide.
• Use only certified disease-free bait fish from a local tackle store or use only personally collected bait fish from the same water being fished.
• Do not reuse bait fish in another water body if the water the bait fish were purchased in has been replaced.
• Dump unused bait fish and water in an appropriate location on land.
• Make sure you have a valid fishing license, which are valid for 365 days from the date of purchase.

How to stay warm

Dress in layers: long johns, insulated bibs, a shirt that wicks away moisture, wool sweater and a good outer coat that’s insulated: “Something that blocks the wind,” Everard said.

Wear insulated waterproof boots with wool socks, a good hat and mittens or gloves. Bring extra. Hand warmers are useful.

People who are really into ice fishing can have ice shelters that attach to a sled or popup tents.

“Ice fishing is evolving like crazy with equipment,” Everard said. “When I first started ice fishing, you had to build an ice shelter and drag it around. Or you sat on a five-gallon bucket … Now it’s way more comfortable.”

The crappie derby

Whitney Point Lake is about 4 miles long and not super wide, said Sweet. It’s probably 30 feet deep in its middle and 11-12 feet on the sides.

Normally, the fish are looking for something to eat under that ice, Sweet said.

But on crappie derbie day, they are scared to death, Decker added. There is so much happening on the ice: holes being drilled by augers, people carrying equipment on sleds, snowmobiles, people setting up tents and tip-ups.

“But we do get our share of fish,” he said.

“You have to come down here the night before or really early in the morning. This whole lake has lights on it from people here,” Sweet said.

“I have not gone to fish there,” Everard said. “I have been there to work. It’s an amazing event. The number of people they get down there is incredible.”

Last year saw 1,500 registered ice fisherman, Decker said. But four guys may come out for one who is registered. Last year, he estimated the derby drew 3,500 people.

“There’s no way to count them,” Sweet said, from seven states, 29 nations, and 52 of New York’s 62 counties.

“People come from all over,” Sweet said. “We have so many people just watching and seeing what’s going on.”

Kids get free ice cream and it goes fast. Prizes are given out every 15 minutes for people who register.

-26 to 45 degrees

“You need to know your fishing regulations,” Decker said. “You still have to follow those. That goes for four-wheelers and snowmobilers.”

“Three years ago it was minus 26 degrees on the ice. It didn’t get to zero until noon. But we did it,” Decker said.

“And we had one day it was a 45-degree day,” Sweet said.

The pair typically go fishing 15 to 20 times a winter, but not so far this year.

“The weather’s been bad,” Decker said.