The Empire State's Winter Fishing Smorgasbord
October 04, 2010
From trout and salmon to perch and pike, New York's cold-season lakes and ponds have it all. This month, try these proven ice-fishing hotspots near you. (February 2009)
The Empire State has an impressive list of big lakes, small lakes and remote ponds offering topnotch ice-fishing opportunities -- and not clustered in just one or two regions. Every county and practically every town offers everything from trout and salmon to pike and walleyes.
In a nutshell, New York has it all!
By most accounts, last season was one of the longest in years. Just about everywhere in most of the northern counties, solid ice formed early and remained through March and into April. Whether or not this winter will provide the same lengthy season is anyone's guess.
But one thing is certain: When access is possible, the fish and angling opportunities will be there.
Many New York lakes and ponds are governed under the general fishing regulations, but some carry seasonal or special creel limits.
The ice-fishing season for certain species varies on a number of waters, so check the current regulations guide for your lakes or ponds of interest.
The same is true regarding the number of tip-ups and lines allowed. The general law allows up to five tip-ups and two hand lines, but on some waters, the number of traps or lines is reduced.
Keep in mind, too, that each tip-up must be clearly identified with the angler's name and address, and the owner must be in immediate attendance while the lines are in the water.
Across New York there are more than 7,500 lakes and ponds, nearly all of which are home to several species of fish. With the vast majority of these waters offering winter angling, it's hard to suggest a list of the "best" waters. But here are some with proven records, bound to please even the most experienced enthusiast.
Many Empire State waters offer a variety of coldwater and warmwater species, but one or two species generally predominate in each category.
If you're interested in a specific type of fish, it's best to choose a lake or pond where it's considered the primary species.
To learn which species dominate on any given water, check with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's regional offices, as listed in the fishing regulations guide.
Winters in New York's northern region are often hard and long, but those conditions typically bring prime ice-fishing opportunities. Available species include northern pike, walleyes, tiger muskies, lake trout, brown and rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and the usual assortment of panfish.
The region's ample supply of small ponds offers good fishing. But since access in winter can be a challenge, the bigger lakes receive much of the anglers' attention.
Black Lake in St. Lawrence County is a popular bass spot during the open-water season. Though the lake is closed to the taking of bass during the winter -- as are nearly all the lakes in this part of the state -- this 20-mile long lake offers phenomenal opportunities for panfish, including yellow perch, black crappies and bluegills. Northern pike will also be found in the lake's bays.
On the lake's western shore, the town of Edwardsville is the center of winter activity, offering lodging and other facilities as well as easy access.
For more information, contact the Edwardsville Chamber of Commerce by calling (315) 375-8640. Or visit the chamber's Web site at www.blacklakeny.com.
St. Lawrence River
Although they're often overshadowed by this region's number of highly productive lakes, the frozen bays along the St. Lawrence River offer some of the best ice-fishing opportunities in upstate New York. This is especially true for northern pike, rock bass, black crappie, bluegills and pumpkinseeds. Also available is some prime jigging with small minnows, lures, perch eyes and grubs, as well as tip-ups for yellow perch.
While any of the big river's bays can produce good action, the areas around Cape Vincent, Clayton and Wellesley Island (including Eel Bay and Lake of the Isles), Alexandria Bay and Chippewa Bay, the area around Ogdensburg, Wheathouse Bay and Cole's Creek are considered prime spots. Each of these areas offers lodging and other facilities, as well as easy access.
For more information, contact the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce by calling 1-877-228-7810. Or visit the chamber's Web site at www.lawrencecountychamber.org.
Lake George & Lake Champlain
It doesn't get any better than on these two big lakes in the Adirondack Region. The winter action on 31-mile long Lake George centers on northern pike, lunker yellow perch, pickerel, landlocked salmon and lake trout.
In normal years, freeze-up occurs in early January. From that point on, the lake is a beehive of activity.
Salmon, pike and lake trout are highly sought by anglers from the first ice through mid-February. The best winter sport for perch starts in mid-February. Look for the warmwater species in the bays and along shoreline areas, while you'll find the lake trout in deeper water in both the South and North basins.
Salmon can be found just about anywhere.
From the south, Interstate Route 87 leads to the village of Lake George, where lodging and other facilities will be found. For more information, contact the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce by phoning (518) 668-5755 or 1-800-705-0059. Or visit the chamber's Web site at www.lakegeorgechamber.com.
Along the Vermont border, Lake Champlain offers 290,000 acres of winter action for a smorgasbord of warmwater and coldwater species including lake trout, brown trout, landlocked salmon, walleyes, northern pike, pickerel, perch, crappies and other panfish.
Normally, the best fishing for lakers and salmon will be found in the deeper water in the lake's mid-section, where the largest schools of smelt will be found.
Warmwater fish are dominant in any of the numerous shallow bays, from Port Henry north to King Bay across from Isle La Motte.
A reciprocal agreement with Vermont allows New York anglers to fish over much of the main and southern ends of the lake, although witho
ut a Vermont fishing license, some middle and northern sections are off-limits.
Other special border-water regulations are also in effect, so check the rulebook for details.
The ice-fishing season for certain species varies on a number of waters, so check the current regulations guide for your lakes or ponds of interest
On the south end of the lake, the towns of Crown Point, Port Henry and Westport offer services and easy access, as do the beaches and smaller towns from Plattsburgh in the mid-section extending northward
To reach the big lake's middle and northern sections, take Interstate Route 87 north from Lake George, inland along the west shore, and then follow secondary roads.
Routes 9 and 22 offer good access to the lake's extreme south end.
For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce at (518) 563-1000. Or visit the chamber's Web site at www.northcountrychamber.com.
In Essex and Warren counties, Schroon Lake offers a two-story fishery of lake trout and landlocked salmon, northern pike, pickerel, perch and a variety of panfish.
Look for the coldwater species along dropoffs leading to the deeper water that runs from the middle of the lake from about Adirondack Village north to a point a few miles south of Schroon Lake Village.
Some of the best action for perch, pike and panfish will be found in the shallower south end, north of Pottersville, and in any of the bays along the east and west shores.
Access, lodging and other facilities are available in Adirondack Village, about halfway up on the east shore, and in Pottersville and Schroon Lake on the north end.
From the south or north, Interstate Route 87 runs along the west shore, as does Route 9, while Route 115 travels along the east shore to Adirondack Village.
For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce at 1-888-724-7666, or visit their Web site at www.schroonlake.org.
Of course, dozens of other upstate lakes offer hardwater action, too -- most for a mixed bag of coldwater and warmwater species. Brant Lake, south of Schroon Lake off Route 8, is home to brown and rainbow trout as well as pickerel. Chazy Lake, about midway between the towns of Dannemora and Lyon Mountain on Route 374, is a popular winter spot for rainbow trout and landlocked salmon.
Route 374 continues northward to Merrill and Upper Chateaugay Lake, where anglers will find good winter action for rainbow trout and lake trout, not to mention some of the finest opportunities for northern pike in the region, especially on the lake's north and south ends.
Off Route 3 west of Harrisville, Lake Bonaparte is home to northerns, a variety of panfish, lake trout and trophy brown trout.
Meacham Lake offers splake, brown trout, northern pike and yellow perch. Meacham Lake lies off Route 30, north of the Saranac Chain of lakes, which offer a host of species including northern pike (especially Oseetah Lake), yellow perch, brown and lake trout.
Three other spots worth exploring are Lake Eaton on Route 30 west of Long Lake Beach for lake trout, rainbows and browns; and Tupper Lake, also along Route 30, for trophy lake trout as well as northern pike and walleyes. Northern pike and tiger muskie also inhabit parts of the lake.
Piseco Lake along Route 8 south of Lake Pleasant offers good winter action for lake trout. The lake also has a good population of whitefish and perch.
Given the needed ice conditions, the Finger Lakes draw a lot of winter attention in the central region. But these are by no means the only lakes to offer topnotch hardwater action.
Lamoka & Waneta Lakes
Two prime examples are Lamoka Lake and Waneta Lake, situated between Keuka and Seneca lakes on the western edge of Schuyler County.
Both typically form safe ice before the neighboring larger lakes.
Both are jam-packed with a smorgasbord of warmwater species, including perch, bluegills, crappies, pumpkinseeds and pickerel. A few muskies are also available.
Both lakes are great places for anglers who like to stay busy catching fish. Each lake has a state-owned launch site on the canal connecting the two lakes off county Route 23, which takes off from Route 226 in Tyrone. Access is also available on the north end of Waneta Lake at Sylvan Beach on Route 24.
Ice-fishermen targeting walleyes and yellow perch will find Oneida Lake difficult to beat. Oneida's grand walleye days are long gone, but the lake's shallow, irregular bottom and many shoals, dropoffs and deepwater flats are still producing some of the best catches in the state.
The large Shackleton Shoals in the middle of the lake, the shoals off Constantia on the north shore and on the east end are popular hotspots.
Fishermen should remember that the fishing season on walleyes closes on March 15. The lake also produces good catches of yellow perch, black crappies, northern pike, pickerel, pumpkinseeds and white perch.
Interstate Route 81 crosses the western end of the lake. Exits offer easy access to Route 31 on the south shore or Route 49 on the north. Both highways connect to Route 13, which runs north-south along the east end.
For fishing information, call the Central New York Fishing Hotline at (607) 753-1551. . Honeoye Lake
With a maximum depth of 30 feet, Honeoye Lake in Ontario County is one of the shallowest and smallest of the Finger Lakes and home to good populations of pumpkinseeds, perch, bluegills, and pickerel.
Access is easy off the East Lake Road on the east side of the lake south of Honeoye Park, and off Route 36, which parallels the west side. Otsego Lake
Otsego Lake in Otsego County is a good bet for lake trout, browns and landlocked salmon. The popular lake gets a lot of wintertime attention, especially on weekends.
The DEC has reduced bag limits to one fish of each species and increased length limits on lake trout to 23 inches. Still, the lake produces some fine lake trout each winter.
To access this lake from Interstate Route 88 to the south, take Route 28 to Cooperstown, which lies on the south end of the la
ke. From Route 20 to the north, take Route 80 south along the west side of the lake.
Fishermen will find ample lodging, restaurants and other services they need in Cooperstown.
For more information on these and other services, contact the Cooperstown-Otsego County Tourism Office at 1-800-843-3394. Or visit the agency's Web site at www.visitcooperstown.com.
Keuka Lake, the third-largest of the Finger Lakes, stretches south from Penn Yan and offers good access along Route 54 on the east shore or 54A on the west side.
With a maximum depth of just under 200 feet, Keuka Lake offers a healthy and productive two-tier fishery consisting of lake trout, rainbows and browns, as well as landlocked salmon. The lake once held the New York state-record brown trout, which weighed 22 pounds.
The lake also has healthy populations of northern pike, crappies, perch, pickerel and bluegills.
The town of Penn Yan is the major center of activity. You'll find lodging and other services readily available.
For more information, visit the Yates County Chamber of Commerce at www. yatesny.com.
Canandaigua Lake is another of the Finger Lakes offering a variety of coldwater and warmwater fish species. This clear, well-oxygenated deep-water lake serves as a public water supply for a number of surrounding communities.
Because of its depth and currents, the main portion of the lake rarely freezes completely during the winter.
Ice-fishing is concentrated on the extreme northern and southern ends. Lake trout, brown trout and rainbows make up the coldwater fishery. Rainbows are sustained by natural reproduction, while the lake trout and browns are stocked annually.
Adding to the mix are pickerel and yellow perch and a variety of panfish including bluegills, black crappies, pumpkinseeds and bullheads.
To reach the north end of the lake, take Route 20/5 east or west to Canandaigua, where you'll find easy access to the lake and to ample services.
Or take Route 21 south along the west shore from Canandaigua to the village of Woodville on the south end. For lodging and other, contact the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce at (585) 394-4400. Or visit www.canandaiguachamber.com.