Our Finest February Ice-Fishing Lakes

Excellent angling for trout, bass, pike and panfish awaits New York's hardy winter fishermen this month. These proven hotspots are the places to be right now!

Photo by Vic Attardo

By Vic Attardo

Winter is alive and well in New York and no one gets more of a kick from the Empire State's frozen season than its legions of ice-anglers. From the Adirondacks to the Catskills and from the Finger Lakes to the Great Lake shores, New York fishermen are known for their addiction to ice-fishing and for good reason.

The Department of Environmental Conservation stocks many of the state's best lakes with ice-fishing favorites, including walleyes, lake trout, landlocked salmon, rainbow trout and brown trout. In addition, the agency's Web site offers weekly updates of ice conditions and catches for districts 7 and 8, where much of the state's ice-fishing attention is centered. There are also telephone hotlines for certain DEC districts, as well as some counties across the state. With these numbers in hand (noted below), it is easy to keep current with the state's best ice-fishing opportunities.

There are small ponds and mammoth lakes that offer excellent ice- fishing opportunities. Here are 10 outstanding waters you should consider introducing to your auger and tip-ups.

At over 22 miles in length and some five miles in width, there is plenty of room for ice-fishermen on Oneida Lake. And, there are a lot of reasons to fish this highly productive 51,000-acre lake during winter.

Oneida has a substantial population of walleyes and yellow perch and it isn't bad for largemouth and smallmouth bass, either. Of course, don't forget that there are northern pike, crappies and bluegills available as well, and these are also good ice-angling targets. Recent stockings included over 103,000 juvenile walleyes and another 161,886,000 walleye fry.

Early in the season, walleyes can be found in Oneida's numerous shallow bays. When the ice first forms, walleyes will be found in 8 to 15 feet of water near the remnants of summer weedbeds. The action is usually best in the eastern end of the lake. By February, the walleyes will have moved into deeper water. In the shank of the season, anglers fish for Oneida's walleyes in over 25 feet of water and the action will have moved to the western end of the lake over open water.

As for the plentiful yellow perch, the same migratory routine is in play. However, look for both species to begin their return to shallow water as the season winds down. This can make the tail end of February a dynamite time on Oneida Lake.

For my February money, I like the water out of Constantia on the north shore. There are shoals about a third of the way from the shore. These include Grassy Shoal, Pancake Shoal and Dakin Shoal. The dropoffs next to the shoals are generally good for winter walleyes and perch, but you'll need a snowmobile or ATV to reach these places. The Constantia marina is usually open through the winter and provides services for ice-anglers. On the south shore, Shackleton Point offers an easier way out to midlake late-winter hotspots.

Checking the Region 7 weekly fishing report at www.dec.state.ny.us can reduce some of the guesswork regarding ice conditions.

Oneida Lake is easily reached from Syracuse in the north or Binghamton in the south. Interstate 81 crosses the western end of the lake and Route 49 runs along the north shore, while Route 31 is along the south shore.

For information on accommodations, contact the Oswego County tourism office in Oswego at (800) 248-4FUN.

You need cold, deep water for lake trout to survive and Owasco Lake in Cayuga County has just what these bottom-dwellers need.

At 6,665 acres, Owasco Lake is one of the mid-sized bodies of the western Finger Lakes. Its substantial depths and excellent forage base of alewives and smelts make it an excellent choice for anglers targeting lakers and brown trout, as well as rainbows and landlocked salmon. The 11-mile lake averages 100 feet in depth, with a maximum of 180 feet.

There are no surprises in the structure of this card-carrying glacial lake. It is typically shallow at its northern and southern ends, while off the east and west shorelines the dropoffs are steep and deep. In winter, these dropoffs are excellent places to find Owasco Lake's trophy trout.

Two areas of the lake that are good for February ice-angling are Ensenore Point on the western shore and Seward Point on the eastern shore.

Owasco Lake is south of Auburn in DEC Region 7. Route 38 traverses the west side of the lake, while Route 38A continues as Rockefeller Road and runs along the eastern shore.

Check the weekly fishing report for ice conditions at www.dec.ny.us., or call the regional sub-office in Cortland at (607) 753-3095.

For more information, contact the Cayuga County tourism office in Auburn at (800) 499-9615.

There's a reason why the "Almost-Annual New York State Crappie Derby" is held almost annually on Whitney Point Lake. This Broome County lake is loaded with white crappies. And, after the crappie derby is held, the Norwich Perch Derby is usually held, and the reason is that the lake is equally loaded with perch.

There were no crappie or perch contests in 2002 (you obviously can't always count on safe ice on this 3.5- mile manmade impoundment), but last year's derbies went off well. The lake also has largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Whitney Point is only 3/4-mile wide and runs along a north-south axis and resembles a typical glacial lake. However, its 1,200 surface acres were not built by nature but by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when it impounded the Otselic River.

The derbies are staged from the main parking area at Dorchester Park on the east side of the lake, a good place for anglers to start their calico cruising.

To reach the reservoir, follow I-81 to the Whitney Point turnoff (Exit 8). Go through town and turn north on Route 26. In addition to the facilities at Dorchester Park, anglers will also find some services at Upper Lisle Park.

The reservoir is in Region 7, so check the DEC's Web site for conditions or call the Cortland sub-office.

For a list of accommodations and other services, check the derby

Web site at www.crappiederby.com, or call the Broome County Chamber of Commerce in Binghamton at (800) 836-6740.

The big daddy of all New York ice- fishing lakes is Lake Champlain. It's not called the "Great Inland Sea" for nothing. An immense 289,280 acres, Lake Champlain contains just about every fish known to bite in winter, including lake trout, landlocked salmon, brown trout, yellow perch, walleyes, northern pike and bass.

There is a good pike, perch and bass area at the upper end of the lake. North Hero Island offers good, deep- water structure close to both sides of the island and around the bottom of the peninsula north of the island. A Vermont fishing license is required to fish in this area.

From the state ramps on the eastern side of North Hero, it's not a long walk across the ice before the bottom drops down into 30 or more feet. This breakline continues for several miles along the shore. The top of the ridge held weeds in summer and, depending on what is left of the grass by February, there might still be some pike and perch inside the dropoff.

If the water was dirty during the late summer and fall, weeds likely did not grow well, so the midbay flats and humps will probably hold the most fish. However, I have fished this region of Lake Champlain and these structures were dynamite in all seasons.

To reach North Hero from the New York side, take the Plattsburgh-to-Grand Isle crossing, which is available all year. On Grand Isle, take Route 2 to North Hero. For ferry information, call (802) 864-9804. Parking on the island is available at North Hero State Park, which can be reached by calling (802) 372-8727.

For more information, call the North Hero town offices at (802) 372-6926 or the DEC's Region 5 office at (518) 897-1200.

Albany-based anglers should drive north to Saratoga Lake to sample its tremendous pike, walleye and perch fishing.

This is an extremely fertile lake and is full of weeds. If some weedbeds have lasted into February, that's where you'll find the best ice-fishing. Otherwise, start looking in depths of between 20 and 35 feet. A good place to concentrate your efforts is the southern basin, straight out from Brown's Beach on the southeast shoreline. The area around Snake Hill, also in the southern basin, is another good bet.

To reach Saratoga Lake from Albany, take I-87 to the lake district. For more fishing information, contact the DEC's District 5 office at (518) 897-1200.

For accommodations in the region, call the Albany County Visitors Bureau at (800) 258-3582.

The second-smallest Finger Lake, 1,800-acre Honeoye Lake in Ontario County, is a good bet for Rochester-area anglers.

Honeoye Lake is less than a mile in width at its widest point. Winter perch, pickerel, crappies and bass prefer the narrow midlake area off California Point. Another good spot is the fast drops off Log Cabin Point. The waters off both points are ice-fishing hotspots, thanks to good fields of holdover weedbeds and contours that descend rapidly from either shore. California Point is on the east side of this 4 1/2-mile-long Ice Age lake, while Cabin Point is on the east side.

Since Honeoye Lake has a maximum depth of about 30 feet, it is one of the easier Finger Lakes for ice-anglers to work. California Point and Cabin Point offer access to the deepest water on the lake. When you suspect that the fish have gone deep under the ice, these are definitely the two places to be. The gradients at either end of the lake aren't steep; however, the deeper waters of the lower lake have been known to attract good numbers of perch. While Honeoye does not contain trout or salmon, it does have a good population of chain pickerel, which should keep many ice-anglers happy.

Honeoye Lake is 30 miles south of Rochester. Take I-390 south to Avon and then Route 20A east to the town of Honeoye. Two main roads run from the top to the bottom of the lake. One is West Lake Road, the other is East Lake Road.

Honeoye Lake is in the DEC's Region 8. Call (716) 226-2466 for more information.

Honeoye Lake and Canadice Lake are related by geography, but they have very different temperaments. It is nice for Rochester-area anglers to have two distinct fisheries within 30 miles of home.

Honeoye Lake contains no trout, but 650-acre Canadice Lake in Ontario County offers good lake trout fishing, as well as bass. Recent stockings included 5,100 lake trout, 2,500 brown trout and 2,500 rainbow trout. Its forage base consists of alewives and smelts.

Canadice and Honeoye are next to each other and if the bite isn't good on one lake, simply get back on Route 37 at Honeoye and try the other.

While Honeoye Lake is uncharacteristically shallow for a Finger Lake, Canadice Lake has a mean depth of 55 feet and a maximum depth of 90 feet.

There is another important distinction between the two lakes, indeed between all the other Finger Lakes. This small lake has the highest elevation, and so it often freezes first and stays frozen longest. For late-winter anglers, this can mean an extended period of good ice-fishing.

To reach Canadice Lake from Rochester, take I-390 south to Route 20A. Well before reaching Honeoye, turn right on Canadice Lake Road. This road skirts the east side of the lake. A parking area is available south of Burch Hill Road. This road also connects with Route 37 and is the way to travel if you intend to fish both Canadice to Honeoye lakes.

You can also reach the top of Canadice Lake by taking Route 15A from Route 20A and turning left onto Purcell Hill Road. All of the local access roads are winding backcountry lanes, so be prepared.

For more information, contact the DEC's Region 8 office at (716) 226-2466. For accommodations for Canadice and Honeoye lakes, call the Finger Lakes Visitor's Connection in Ontario County at (877) FUN-INNY.

As the crow flies, Keuka Lake in Steuben and Yates counties is equidistant from Syracuse- and Rochester-based ice-anglers. It has a very good population of trout and excellent access, so it is worth the ride.

Lake trout are the most prominent species on this 11,700-acre lake and are maintained by natural reproduction. Alewives and smelts help fatten Keuka's lakers, browns, rainbows and landlocked salmon.

Access is available at Keuka State Park off Route 54A east of Branchport, at the municipal parking lot at Penn Yan, at Indian Pines Park off Route 54 A and on Guyango Creek near the lake.

For more info

rmation, call the DEC's Region 8 office.

One of the best and closest salmonid and panfish fisheries for Albany-area ice-anglers is Otsego Lake in the heart of the famous Leatherstocking Country at Cooperstown.

Otsego Lake has cold, deep water that holds quality fish. The lake contains 4,200 acres and has a maximum depth of over 160 feet.

Its main fishery features lake trout and landlocked salmon, but it also has plentiful perch and bass. Its forage base consists of smelts and alewives

Recent stockings include 5,000 lake trout, 2,800 brown trout and 4,200 landlocked salmon. Anglers should concentrate their winter trout- and perch-fishing efforts off some of the lake's points, particularly Threemile, Fivemile and Sixmile points.

Otsego Lake is midway between Albany and Syracuse. Take the New York Thruway to Route 80 and travel south to Cooperstown.

For more information, contact the DEC's Region 4 office at (607) 652-7366. For accommodations, call the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce at (877) UMP-IRES.

Rochester- and Buffalo-area anglers should beeline to Chautauqua Lake to sample its great winter perch fishing. DEC biologists say that recent surveys have found "healthy numbers" of perch in this 13,000-acre lake. Try Mayville, Long Point and Prendergast for eager panfish. Parking is available at Long Point State Park.

While the lake's perch fishing is considered to be good, its walleye population is in temporary decline. To stem the drop, the DEC will be stocking 150,000 juvenile walleyes in 2003 and 2004. To provide protection for the remaining walleye stock, the minimum length limit will increase to 18 inches and only three fish may be creeled beginning October 2004.

The lake is 17.5 miles long and is divided into two nearly equal-size basins at Bemus Point. Winter public access is available at Long Point State Park, Prendergast Point, Bemus Point and Mayville Park.

To reach the lake, take I-90 to Route 394 toward Mayville.

For more information, call the DEC's Region 9 office at (716) 851-7000.

For more information on local accommodations, call (800) CALL-NYS, or visit www.iloveny.com on the Web.

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