Big Bay on Ice

By Spider Rybaak

Lyndon Bentley, Pennelville, NY, with a nice mixed bag of sunnies and crappies.

Most ice-fishing stories set on Oneida Lake cover its fantastic walleye and perch fishing. And that’s only right, seeing how these two tasty species thrive in just about every gallon of the lake. In fact, as this is being written [February 8], ice crowning the deep water off Chapman Park, Lewis Point and Sullivan Beach is so crowded with anglers, it looks like it’s being taken over by “Occupy Wall Streeters” in blue shacks.

And though the bite has cooled considerably from the hot and furious action of late last month, enough 10 to 12-inch perch and 15 to 21-inch walleyes are biting to keep guys on the hardwater from dawn to after dark.

But there’s more in the lake than just these two. Indeed, sunfish and crappie, two popular species for ice anglers, call the lake’s productive waters home, too. And the best spot to get them is in Oswego County.

Especially in Big Bay, that big dent in the lake’s northwestern corner. Averaging 8-feet deep, loaded with weeds, it’s the perfect habitat for these sumptuous critters.

What’s more, ice on the bay comes early, thickens quickly and stays late, come hell or high water. Indeed, even during last week’s heat wave, when the majority of anglers either stayed home or close to shore, guys were all over Big Bay.

Sunnies, primarily bluegills, average the size of a big man’s hand. They’re inclined to strike small jigs tipped with mousies, spikes or waxworms.

Crappies run from 10 to 13 inches. I know, because when I was there last week, I peeked into as many buckets as I could. Their owners stared back at me like I was bad meat or something, probably because I went around bent-over, walking softly (I didn’t want to disturb them or the fish, you see) lifting lids off buckets, taking pictures and stuff. But they always calmed down when I told them I was researching a paper.

Calico bass prefer larger baits than sunfish; waxworms tipped on Swedish Pimples, for instance, and fish baits like buckeyes or flatheads.

Crappies and sunfish move around a lot throughout the water column, and are as likely to strike right below the ice as over the heads of weeds or on bottom along the edges of vegetation, so fish at various depths until you find ‘em.

For ice fishing safety tips, check out the NYS DEC web site at

Bentley’s best of the day.
Alex Doughty (left) and Alex (AJ) Jr., with a little part of their catch.
Steve Martin, Warners, NY, holding two of his bucketload of pumpkinseeds taken at Big Bay.