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New York's January Ice-Fishing Bonanza

New York's January Ice-Fishing Bonanza

Empire State winter anglers have it all, from trout to walleyes. Here's a sampling of best bets to consider for some great hardwater angling this month. (January 2007)

Photo by Gary Clancy

You don't have to be crazy to be an ice-fisherman -- but it helps! Those who love ice-fishing know that some of the best fishing of the year awaits if you know where to go.

This year, ice-fishermen should be especially anxious to put their augers to work. Last year's unusually mild winter didn't provide enough opportunities on most waters. Let's hope for plenty of good ice this winter!

If the weather cooperates, eastern New York offers bountiful ice-fishing resources. Lakes big and small offer a wide variety of species that are fair game to ice-fishermen.

Here is a look at some of the better lakes in the region:


Norm McBride, a fisheries biologist with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, said that the region's smaller lakes provide some good ice-fishing, but might not stand up to heavy ice-fishing pressure. On some waters, ice-fishing is allowed by permit only. Two larger lakes offer contrasting and very tempting winter fisheries.

"Canadarago Lake has always been good," McBride said. "There have been a couple of poor winters, but the fishing has been improving. There should be plenty of action through the ice this month."


A good year-class of yellow perch provided a lot of action last winter, but those fish were only 5 to 6 inches in length. This year, McBride expects they will be 7 inches to 10 inches in length.

"Canadarago is also good for walleyes," he noted.

Experienced ice-fishermen know that walleye fishing can be largely a matter of timing: Get on the ice early and stay late. Though there might be some action during midday, the better ice-fishing is more often in the early mornings or late in the evenings, and at night. Local walleye specialists ice-fish for a couple of hours around sunrise or sunset.

Most walleyes taken by ice-fishermen are in the 15- to 19-inch range, but McBride said there are bigger walleyes available, including fish up to 25 inches.

Perch can be fished year 'round, with a daily limit of 25 and no size limit.

Canadarago Lake has a surface area of 1,945 acres and a mean depth of 35 feet. It lies in northern Otsego County south of Richfield Springs and can be reached from the New York State Thruway, via state Route 5 west to state Route 28 south.


Otsego Lake is the destination in the capital area for trout through the ice. It is in Otsego County east of Canadarago Lake and immediately north from Cooperstown. From Interstate Route 88, take state Route 28 north to Cooperstown.

Brown trout and Atlantic salmon also inhabit Otsego Lake, but the lake trout are the mainstay of the trout fishery.

"The bread-and-butter fish in the lake are lake trout," McBride said. "Anglers catch them 25 to 30 inches."

McBride noted that an upcoming regulations change would increase the size limit on lake trout in Otsego Lake from 21 inches to 23 inches and change the two-fish creel limit for a combination of brown trout, lake trout and landlocked salmon to one fish of each species. Anglers are advised to check the current regulations booklet for confirmation.

Information on local services for both Otsego and Canadarago lakes is available by writing the Cooperstown-Otsego County Tourism office, 242 Main Street, Oneonta, NY 13820; by calling 1-800-843-3394; or by visiting the agency's Web site at


Scott Prindle, a Region 7 aquatic biologist, says that Oneida Lake is the gem of the region.

Oneida Lake covers 50,894 acres. There is considerable irregular bottom structure with several large, shallow reefs, especially in the Oswego County section. Maximum depth is more than 50 feet, but most of the lake is much shallower.

Walleyes and yellow perch draw most of the attention from ice-fishermen. In fact, Oneida Lake has a longstanding reputation as one of the top walleye lakes in the country.

As with virtually all lakes, fish populations here have had their ups and downs. The trend now is "promising."

The most abundant walleye year-class for anglers is about 17 inches long, which means 4-year-old fish. Also reasonably abundant are 8-year-old walleyes that will measure over 20 inches in length, and some substantially larger specimens.

"Since about 2000, there's been a resurgence in bigger walleyes. There was a pretty big crash in the mid-'90s. It's back up now to about the long-term average," Prindle said. "A regulation change protected walleyes to a larger size."

For those who expect Oneida Lake walleye fishing to return to the "good old days," forget it.

"It's never going to be as good as it used to be. It's never going to have the same biomass," Prindle said. "Traditionally, Oneida was a turbid lake," he explained. "That's what gave it its productivity."

Sewage systems around the lake have greatly reduced seepage from surrounding homes and camps. Phosphorus load from fertilizers and municipalities has been reduced. These sources previously acted as fertilizer in the lake, encouraging plankton growth that colored the water.

The appearance of zebra mussels cleared the water again, making walleyes more difficult to catch. But this change in the ecosystem has not been bad for all species of fish. Bluegills and pumpkinseeds have become much more abundant.

Clearer water has also prompted the growth of more aquatic vegetation, which is perfect sunfish habitat. Bluegills reach respectable sizes, a few to 10 inches -- highly prized catches anywhere.

"Everybody is targeting walleyes," Prindle said. "The perch population appears to be down. It's been a slow, progressive decline, and it's been up the last two years. But right now, there is nothing to get excited about."

The lake's perch, however, are of respectab

le size and the best anglers can find them in reasonable numbers.

Oneida Lake is easily accessible by turning north from the Thruway onto I-81. State Route 31 follows the southern side of the lake, while state Route 49 follows the northern side.

The walleye season is from the first Saturday in May through March 15. The daily limit is three walleyes. East of the I-81 bridge, and upstream in tributaries to the first barrier that's impassible to fish, the minimum size is 15 inches.

For information about local services, contact the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism, County Office Building, 46 East Bridge Street, Oswego, NY 13126; or call (315) 349-8322.


Panfish action might be better at Whitney Point Reservoir, where the outlook for crappies is promising.

"We conducted a survey last fall (2005) at Whitney Point Reservoir. The population had been down a few years. We found a large number of 5- to 6-inch crappies. They should soon be up to the size where they're worth catching," Prindle said.

Walleyes are also present in Whitney Point Reservoir. A good tactic is to set out tip-ups for walleyes while jigging for crappies.

Whitney Point Reservoir is in northern Broome County east of I-81. A U.S. Corps of Engineers flood-control reservoir, it has a surface area of 1,131 acres and a maximum depth of about 15 feet. The lake may be accessed by a state launch ramp off state Route 26, about a mile north of the Whitney Point Reservoir dam in Dorchester Park.

Crappies may be fished year 'round, with a daily limit of 25 fish and a minimum size limit of 9 inches. Walleye season is the first Saturday in May through March 15, with a minimum size of 18 inches and a daily limit of three fish.

The surrounding land is undeveloped, with no homes or camps. Get local information by contacting the Broome County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 49 Court Street Metro Center, 2nd Floor, Binghamton, NY 13901; or call 1-800-836-6740.


At 300,000 acres, Lake Champlain offers some fine ice-fishing for lake trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon, northern pike, walleyes, smelts and panfish. But safe ice could come late and vary considerably from one place to another, due to the lake's depth, which is about 400 feet maximum. Do not stray far from other ice-fishermen if you're unfamiliar with this big lake! Watch for clusters of ice shanties that crop up in various places every winter, and follow the lead of other ice-fishermen.

Lake Champlain has its own set of fishing regulations with a reciprocal agreement with Vermont. The minimum size is 15 inches for landlocked salmon and lake trout, and for other trout, it is 12 inches. The daily limit is two landlocked salmon, three lake trout and three trout of other species.

The open season for all trout and landlocked salmon is year-round. The season for walleyes and saugers is the first Saturday in May through March 15. The minimum size for walleyes is 15 inches, with a daily limit of three fish. There is no minimum size and no daily limit for saugers. Pike may be fished year 'round with a minimum size of 20 inches and a daily limit of five.

Yellow perch may be fished year 'round, with no size minimum or daily limit except in Cumberland Bay, where the daily limit is 50 fish. Pickerel may be fished year 'round with no size limit and a daily limit of five fish. Crappies may be fished year 'round with a minimum size limit of 9 inches and a daily limit of 25 fish.

Fifteen tip-ups and two hand lines may be used for ice-fishing from Nov. 15 through April 30. Check the regulations booklet for details.

Lake Champlain has numerous access points. Take Interstate Route 87 north to Exit 29, and then drive east to Port Henry; or continue on to Exit 30 and go east to Westport.


Lake Pleasant

If you yearn for serious adventure, head north into the Adirondack region, where several lakes offer fine ice-fishing.

Lake Pleasant is a good choice if your goal is big brown trout. Browns over 20 inches are reasonably common. Rainbow trout, landlocked salmon, walleyes, pickerel, lake whitefish and yellow perch are also present, some weighing more than a pound. The state-record lake whitefish, at 10 pounds, 8 ounces, was caught here in 1995.

Lake Pleasant has a surface area of 1,475 acres. The average depth is 29 feet, with a maximum depth of about 60 feet.

Lake Pleasant is near Speculator in Hamilton County. Exit the Thruway at Amsterdam and follow state Route 30 north to Speculator. Or if you're approaching from the west, exit the Thruway at Utica, go north on state Route 28, then take state Route 8 east to Speculator.

Trout may be fished year 'round at Lake Pleasant with no size limit, and a daily limit of five trout.

Information about local services for Lake Champlain and Lake Pleasant is available through the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council, P.O. Box 2149, Plattsburgh, NY 12901. Telephone (518) 846-8016, or log on to


Ice-fishing in the New York City water-supply reservoirs can produce some very big brown trout, along with other species. But you'll need to get a permit and adhere to numerous special regulations.

Public Access Permit applications must be submitted by mail to the address indicated on the application forms, which are available at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) offices, DEP police precincts, town offices, tackle shops and sporting goods stores within the NYC watershed area.

In New York City, applications are available at the DEP's One-Stop Center at 59-17 Junction Boulevard, 1st Floor, Low Rise, in Queens, or call (718) 595-4820. Or try the DEP's Bureau of Customer Conservation Services in Manhattan, 1250 Broadway, 8th Floor in New York City; or call (212) 643-2215.

To learn more about changing NYC reservoir access conditions, information about fishing on New York City reservoirs, Public Access Permit applications and fishing and boating regulations, visit the DEP at

For more information, including a list of the reservoirs where ice-fishing is allowed, check New York State's DEC Web site.


Ice-fishermen will be pleasantly surprised to find there's some good fishing to be had in the lakes on Long Island. Adult trout are stocked during fall here. A color brochure showing the locations of the various fresh waters of Long Island and New York City, along with information about access and fish species, is avail

able from the Region 1 Freshwater Fisheries Unit at (631) 444-0280.

For travel information, contact the New York State Division of Tourism (North America Group Travel), Empire State Development, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, Room 110, Albany, NY 12223; or call 1-800- CALL-NYS, extension 47624.

For more about ice-fishing in New York, contact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Fisheries Division, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753. Call (518) 402-8920, or you can visit

Find more about New York fishing and hunting at:

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