Sure it's cold, but for some Long Islanders, fishing on a frozen lake is a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family and break the monotony of winter. But remember, with ice fishing, it's always safety first. Here are some things you need to know before you drill your hole.
* Ice fishing season generally runs from late December to mid-February on Long Island. Waters with depths of at least 8 feet produce best; morning and late afternoon are prime times.
* A freshwater fishing license is required for ages 16 and older (see www.dec.ny.gov for full fishing regulations).
* As is the case with skating, thick ice is the safest ice. The golden rule is to stay off the ice until it is at least 4 inches thick. Never drive a motor vehicle onto the ice and never venture onto unknown ice alone. Beginners should fish near other anglers.
* While a lake does not have to be frozen fully across for ice fishing, stay well clear of open water and be wary of thin ice that can develop where rivers and streams enter or exit a lake.
* When initially stepping onto the ice, anglers should stand several feet apart to spread their weight. All groups should carry a safety line that can be tossed to someone who falls through.
* The maximum diameter for ice fishing holes is 8 inches. Before leaving, be sure to mark each hole with a pile of snow so its location will be obvious to skaters, ice-boaters and others.
* JIG POLE ($10-$20). Tiny ice fishing rods can be purchased, or make your own using duct tape by attaching an ultralight spinning reel to the rod tip section of a two-piece panfish or trout rod.
* TIP-UPS ($10-$12 each). This simple device allows the angler to set a small spool of line in the water below the ice with a spring-set flag. When a fish bites, it pulls the line and the spool rotates to "tip up" the flag.
* ICE AUGER (About $70). Used to drill fishing holes through the ice, hand augers are fine for most Long Island spots.
* ICE SCOOP ($10). Basically slotted spoons, they're used to keep fishing holes free of new forming ice.
* SLED. Pile your gear into a 5-gallon bucket and place it on a sled. Add a towrope and slide it along.
* BAIT. Live minnows are preferred, but wax worms and pieces of night crawler also work. Popular lures include small teardrop jigs, tiny soft-tailed jigs and Swedish Pimples.
HOW TO DRESS
* Before venturing out, dress in layers as you might for skiing, including thermal underwear, a sweatshirt or turtleneck and a coat that blocks the wind. Top off with a knit hat, insulated, waterproof boots, thermal socks and water-resistant gloves. Dry rags to clean hands after handling the catch or baiting hooks are key to staying comfortable.
* Anglers are allowed to fish through the ice on many Suffolk County lakes and ponds, but ice fishing is prohibited in Nassau and Suffolk county parklands. The following spots make great starting points.
ARTIST LAKE, ROUTE 25, MIDDLE ISLAND
WHAT YOU MIGHT CATCH Crappies, bluegills, yellow perch, pickerel and largemouth bass.
* Perfect for beginners and those with kids. This lake freezes easily and is likely to attract other ice fishermen from whom to learn. Set up at mid-lake, in front of the parking area, so it's just a short hike to the car. Panfish provide action, while pickerel and bass offer trophy possibilities.
LAUREL LAKE, ROUTE 25, LAUREL
WHAT YOU MIGHT CATCH Brown and rainbow trout, yellow and white perch, bluegills, largemouth bass and pickerel.
* Cold, deep and buffered from the wind, this lake freezes for at least a few days most winters. It's a 100-yard hike from the parking area to the ice. Drill holes along the south side, 100 to 200 feet from the shore. Space the holes at least 10 feet apart. The trout, especially, bite best before 10 a.m.
LAKE RONKONKOMA, DEC VICTORY DRIVE LAUNCH RAMP, RONKONKOMA
WHAT YOU MIGHT CATCH White and yellow perch, walleye, crappie, bluegill and largemouth bass.
* It's not often that Long Island's largest lake freezes over, but when it does, smallish perch, crappie and bluegills feed aggressively. The walleye and bass, if you find them, can top 6 pounds. Fish near the Victory Drive Ramp, in the northwest corner, or in front of the Islip and Brookhaven town beaches.
* You also can try these other destinations. Call 631-444-0280 for information or visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24155.html.
CAMAANS POND, Merrick
FOREST CITY PARK POND, Wantagh
FREEPORT RESERVOIR, Freeport
GRANT POND, Hewlett
HEMPSTEAD LAKE, West Hempstead
MASSAPEQUA LAKE, Massapequa
MASSAPEQUA RESERVOIR, Massapequa
MCDONALD POND, Hempstead Lake State Park
OYSTER BAY MILL POND, West Shore Road and Lake Avenue, Oyster Bay
SMITH POND, Rockville Centre
UPPER TWIN POND, Wantagh Parkway and Old Mill Road, Wantagh
WANTAGH MILL POND, Merrick Road, Wantagh
AGAWAM LAKE, Southampton
ARGYLE LAKE, Babylon
BELMONT LAKE, Belmont Lake State Park, North Babylon
BIG FRESH POND, North Sea for Town of Southampton residents only
BIG REED POND, Montauk
DEEP POND, WADING RIVER, Schiff Scout Reservation, Wading River
FORGE POND, South River Road, Calverton
FORT POND, Montauk
HARDS LAKE, Southaven County Park, Yaphank
HOOK POND, East Hampton
KAHLERS POND, north of Merrick Road, East Moriches
KELLIS POND, south of Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton
LITTLE FRESH POND, North Sea
MARRATOOKA POND, Mattituck
MILLERS POND, Smithtown
MONTAUK FRESH POND, Montauk
PATCHOGUE LAKE, Patchogue
POXABOGUE POND, Bridgehampton
SAYVILLE MILL POND, Sayville
SHELTER ISLAND FRESH POND, Shelter Island
SOUTHARDS POND, Babylon
SOUTHOLD GREAT POND, Southold
TWIN PONDS, Centerport
UPPER MILLS POND, Calverton
WATERMILL POND, Water Mill