Icing Hawg Perch

By Spider Rybaak
Burt with Billington Bay ice hawg.
Oneida Lake is one of the most productive lakes in the country. No matter what warm-water species you have swimming in and out of your imagination all day long, the place is full of ‘em.

Still, yellow perch ranks as top dog, year-round. And lately, they’re bigger than ever and more plentiful than at any time in recent memory. In fact, 2014’s first weekend saw colorful shanty cities sprout all over the lake, and the perch spread on the ice outnumbered all other species by about 10 to 1.

So when Burt Menninger called, saying: “Sorry to call you on such short notice Spider, but there’s a good perch bite on right now. My contacts caught their limits yesterday and they’re well on their way to matching that today. I’m leaving within the hour. Wanna come?”

His words launched me into a flurry of activity that had the whole house (four cats and my sweetheart) running for cover. What can I say? My stuff is stashed all over the house and I had the opportunity to go ice-fishing with one of the lake’s living legends; nothing was gonna stand in my way.

You see, Burt has lived on the lake for almost 60 years. In that time, he’s fished every inch of the place. In fact, his reputation for catching walleye and perch was so widespread in the last century, a popular refrain around the lake was “If Burt ain’t catching fish, no one is.” And while 75 years of life have slowed him down a bit lately, he still knows his stuff.

Before long, we were standing on the ice in the fish-rich southeastern corner of Oswego County’s territorial waters. Cazenovia’s Michael Sattler (an old friend of Burt’s) and son Hunter did their reconnaissance well and a batch of perch was sprawled out in front of their ice shanty like a Persian rug.

We stood on ice 11 inches thick, over 18 to 20 feet of water. Burt started catching perch, including monstrous 13-inch hawgs, on hardware tipped with a perch eye. Mike and Hunter were doing equally well on buckeyes. I started nailing them on flatheads. Jim Evans, another buddy of Burt’s who was already out there when we arrived, was running around tending tip-ups loaded with buckeyes.

At one point, Jim’s action was so fast and furious, he called Hunter over: “There’s a load of them down here. Fish one of these holes before they move.

They moved, eventually, over to my hole, then over to Burt’s, followed by Jim’s tip-ups, one after the other…round and round.

So dig a couple holes in a 50-foot radius and when they stop hitting in one, do “the ice fisherman’s troll:” move to the next.

Rick Sorensen, over at App’s Landing, a bait and tackle shop at the Cleveland Docks, says the perch are scattered all over the lake, and any spot can produce right now.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Web site offers an informative feature on ice fishing, covering everything from clothing to tackle and techniques. Check it out at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7733.html. If you’re new to ice fishing and don’t have time to read the above article, the most important thing you should know is the power of ice. While many veterans won’t go out unless the lake is paved in at least 3 inches, the DEC considers 2/3 of that safe.

Below is a short list of DEC’s recommendations drawn from the article:
Ice Thickness Permissible Load
2 inches one person on foot
3 inches group in single file
7.5 inches one car
10 inches light truck (2.5 tons)
In addition, stay away from open water and tributary mouths.
Hunter’s bucket running over.
Michael next to his rug of perch.
Jim with three in five minutes.