Maybe you’ve driven along Buffalo’s waterfront and seen them.
In the distance, they look like little dark lumps, blurs against the white landscape.
And you may have thought to yourself:
Why on earth would anybody go out there and do that?
After all, many people in Western New York wake up on Saturday mornings thinking about coffee, breakfast and leisure activities like exercise and shopping – indoors.
Not these folks.
By late morning on Saturday, dozens of hardy souls were sitting in cold temperatures, some inside huts, on the frozen waters of Lake Erie near the Small Boat Harbor, peering at translucent, coffee-can-sized holes in the ice.
A raw wind whipped in off the lake. Dry snow eddied and drifted over the flat, slippery surface of the ice.
Every once in a while, someone would cheer or howl.
A plump perch, a near miss.
“No keepers today,” said Ed Walther, 30, with a laugh.
The Town of Tonawanda resident said he had been out on the ice since the early morning hours and had caught a few perch – none of which he was taking home, because they were small.
“The other day I had one that was 14 inches,” Walther said. “So it varies a lot.”
But that fact may, you see, be beside the point – at least for these folks.
“A day off from work,” said Walther. “Not enough snow for snowshoeing.” He gestured at the small sledge he was dragging, packed with his ice fishing rod case – tricked out with five rods – and collapsible one-man hut.
“This,” Walther said, “ is it.”
Let’s be clear: Ice fishing is not for everyone.
It requires patience. These folks are out there for hours, often.
And stamina. Wool socks help, said one experienced fisherman, Gary Suchocki.
“Bring a heat source with you,” advised Suchocki, snug in his thick Ice Armor suit. “And pocket warmers.”
You need equipment, too. Not a ton, some of these practiced ice fishermen and -women said, but definitely winter fishing gear, typically a piercing tool such as an augur, and even a shelter of some kind; perhaps a hut. Many of those structures, some called Clam huts, dotted the ice Saturday.
Some people, though, were fishing without huts.
That made it extra frigid.
“It’s peaceful,” said Devin Springer, 16, of Forestville, who was one of those fishing in the open air, of his reasons for being out there. Moments before, he had confessed another reason: “I like eating perch.”
Fishing fans were out not only Saturday, but also during Friday’s extremely cold temperatures, as well as on New Year’s Day, some said.
“New Year’s Day I was here at sunup, and I left at 4, 4:30,” said Walther.
Of Saturday’s conditions, Walther had this summary: “The wind is the main thing today.”
For the more than three dozen individuals or groups in the area of the Small Boat Harbor on Saturday around midday, all these were reasons enough to dress up in warm layers, leave home and tramp over the snow-crusted ice in this part of Buffalo’s waterfront.
The Suchockis of Buffalo were among them.
Gary and Linda Suchocki have fished a lot. Gary has been fishing in all kinds of weather since he was a kid. (Once, as a boy, he fell through the ice while he was ice fishing with his father. He has a funny story about it.)
The Suchockis said they try to get out ice fishing as much as they can during this time of year.
The couple were inside their heated shelter on Saturday afternoon, watching their rods, along with their 5-year-old beagle, Billy Fenton.
“It’s lots of fun,” said Linda. “We meet all kinds of people.”
Walther, who said he has been fishing most of his life and ice fishing the past five years or so, put his reasons this way: “It’s my relaxation.”
The ice fishers even drew a few spectators.
One family, the Bauerleins of West Seneca, had stopped at the harbor area to walk around and take a closer look at the ice fishing scene.
Ed Bauerlein, who was with his wife, Melinda, and two children, said he used to go ice fishing with his dad.
“I haven’t ice fished in years,” Bauerlein reminisced. He said they used to pull in perch and walleye.
Gary and Linda Suchocki said they think fishing is a good outdoor activity for families to enjoy.
Linda Suchocki had this bit of advice for newbies: Fish where you see other folks out on the ice already.
And Gary counseled neck and face protection – like the hat-neck warmer he was wearing – as well as sunglasses and a good snowsuit or snowmobiling suit.
“It’s a healthy sport,” Gary said.
Linda, turning back to their work, chimed in about the expected ending to their day: “We’ll have a nice fish fry tonight!”