Ice Fishing on the St. Lawrence

Ice fishing is the practice of catching fish with lines and fish hooks or spears through an opening in the ice on a frozen body of water. Sounds easy, right?

For the hardy residents who live in the St. Lawrence River Valley of northern New York State, this is a winter ritual that spans generations, bringing together the young and the old. Oh, and hardy is an under-description of the people here who spend hours and hours in the freezing cold air on thick layers of ice for a fresh fish dinner!

Photo submitted by David Shea

Why Do People Ice Fish?

I am intrigued over the high degree of fervor the folks in my community have with this popular winter pastime. So I have asked a few neighbors what makes them so passionate about this seemingly arduous (and sometimes dangerous) style of fishing.

David Shea, a local angler shown here snow-shoeing on the icy St. Lawrence River, told me of his enthusiasm for ice fishing:

“I love the desolate beauty of being on the ice and the fact that you have unlimited access to anywhere you want to go, within reason.”

“When you go to an area where there are a lot anglers, you are part of a community who are out enjoying the day and each other’s company.”

“So for a few hours you can just leave the rest of the world behind.”

David Shea


“It’s a lot of fun pulling a fish up by hand, rather than on a pole.”

Shannon Demers

It expands fishing opportunities for people who do not have boats. They can just walk far out into the river.

Some people simply enjoy being outdoors in the crisp, fresh air.

It’s the perfect cure for cabin fever.

And of course, there are the ultra-competitive fishing derbies.


From years ago, submitted by Shannon Demers

Abodes

An ice shanty (also called an ice shack, ice house, fishing shanty, fish house, fish coop, bobhouse, ice hut, or darkhouse) is a portable shed placed on the frozen river to provide shelter during ice fishing.

Back in the day, the ice shanties were composed mainly of wood and were driven out on the ice in the backs of pick up trucks. Today, light weight tents are used and people use four wheeler recreational vehicles to get them on the ice. This greatly reduces the chances of shanties and trucks falling through the ice when the temperatures start to rise and the ice starts to thin out.


Wheathouse Bay, a popular location for ice fishing on the St. Lawrence River. Submitted by Steve Krauz

Coinciding Activities

Ice fishing takes a lot of time and patience. When the fish aren’t biting, people have to come up with creative ways to stay warm and entertained.

My niece and her friends used to bring their sticks and play hockey on the frozen river.

To help fight off the boredom, some people bring lottery scratch off games. Each hour they scratch a ticket with their lucky coin with the hopes of winning big.

More than ever people are video chatting, playing games and reading books on their cell phones and tablets.



Food

You can work up quite an appetite while spending hours out on the cold ice. When asked about their favorite ice fishing foods, local anglers invariably answered “something hot!”

Dig out those mini propane cookers and you can have a smorgasbord! The sky’s the limit…hot dogs, hamburgers, even pizza!

A thermos filled with hot coffee, hot tea, hot soup…anything hot!

Others keep warm by enjoying a steaming hot bowl of chili or goulash. Also, there might be an opportunity for a little adult beverage!

Beef jerky, any type of snack food


Ice fishing is most definitely not for the faint of heart, but the spirited residents of our community enjoy this wintertime ritual. As I sit inside with my glass of Cabernet Sauvignon 🍷 and watch this time-honored fishing tradition, I salute the hardcore and resilient people of this fishing community!

My brother-in-law and nephew, Kim and Jason Demers

Thank you for reading! – Barb, the River Blogger (Btrb)

Feel free to reblog anything I post. I welcome all comments and discussion.


Special thank you to the community members who contributed photos and other content: Shannon Demers, David Shea, Dana Connell, Karen Kitchen and Steve Krauz

Submitted by Karen Kitchen. Photographer is unknown. It was on social media last year. But it is such a cool photo, I had to share it! My apologies for not giving proper credit to whomever took this photo.

16 comments

  1. Ice fishing, when fishing just isn’t extreme enough for you, lol.
    It sure takes a lot of patience and will power to go through such harsh conditions. It is so lovely how humans can make the best out of anything and not only learn to enjoy things that are hard but look forward to them and make them fun. Awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

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