Shanties sinking away
JIM KINNEY , The Saratogian

STILLWATER -- State conservation officers and forest rangers patrolled Saratoga Lake on an airboat Wednesday, copying people's names and numbers from ice fishing shanties as the structures sank through the thinning ice.
The Department of Environmental Conservation wants those people to retrieve their shanties, but not until the weather turns cold enough again for the ice to firm up.

'They just can't get to their shanties now,' said DEC Lt. Joe Schneider. 'They'll have to wait until it refreezes, then use chainsaws to cut them free.'

By law, anglers must put their names and contact information on shanties. Normally, the shanties have to be off of the ice by the middle of March.

It's not safe for anyone to go out on Saratoga Lake now, Schneider said, though angers were out there Wednesday.

'I appreciate ice fishermen and their love of the sport,' he said. 'I ice fish. But you have got to keep safety as a consideration, too. It's a dangerous time.'

A pair of ice fishermen coming off of the lake Wednesday afternoon reported dangerously uneven ice conditions.

'It was a foot thick in one spot, then I saw someone go in up to his crotch,' said an angler who didn't want to give his name. 'He put one foot through and the other foot stayed on top.'

Tim Blodgett, owner of Saratoga Tackle, said there is a lot of open water, especially where the Kayaderosseras Creek empties into the lake on the western side and at the northern end where Fish Creek begins. The Route 9P bridge also has open water underneath it because the abutments absorb heat from the sun.

'The salt and sand blow off the bridge into the water, also,' Blodgett said.

Some shanty owners were caught by surprise by the warm weather last week and didn't have a chance to retrieve their structures.

'It's been tough,' Blodgett said. 'I get phone calls from people asking if the lake is even frozen.'

Warm weather means fewer people buying bait and tackle.

'We're like farmers,' he said. 'We just have to live with the weather. It's been great for your heating bill but tough on people who were looking forward to winter weather for recreation.'

On the up side, the fishing has been great. Changes in weather can spark feeding in fish, Blodgett said, flipping through photos of customers with their trophy fish. One showed a 15-pound northern pike -- the average is 8 pounds -- and an 8-pound walleye. The average walleye is more like 2 to 4 pounds.

The DEC came too late Wednesday for about four of the small shed-like shanties, which were already roof-deep in the lake.

'They'll have to cut them free with a chainsaw once the ice gets thick,' Schneider said.

The same goes for the owner of a pop-up camper in the ice near Riley's Cove.

DEC officers tried Wednesday to tow a couple of sunken shanties closer to shore with little success.

'The airboat really doesn't have recovery capabilities,' Schneider said.

If a shanty ends up in the water, the DEC will fine the owners and charge them to have a state crew pull it out with a boat.