St. Lawrence River Winter Pike Update

Excellent angling for pike in the 15- to 20-pound class awaits adventurous winter anglers from Alexandria Bay to Coles Creek.

By Matt Curatolo

In January and February, when New York's duck blinds and tree stands are covered with snow, outdoorsmen across the North Country flock to ice shacks along the St. Lawrence River in search of northern pike.

The only natural outlet for the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River extends from the outlet of Lake Ontario approximately 112 miles, separating New York (and the United States) from Canada.

The river winds through the New York communities of Alexandria Bay, Morristown, Ogdensburg, Waddington and Massena before flowing into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.

That long stretch of river features a variety of bays and coves where pike fishermen go when safe ice forms. Many riverside communities hold catch-and-release tournaments for northern pike throughout the winter, drawing thousands of anglers to those areas.

During the winter of 2002, warm weather hampered the efforts of ice- fishermen. But then, weeks of below-freezing temperatures during the 2003 winter provided anglers with plenty of ice.

Rodger Klindt, an aquatic biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in Region 6, said the St. Lawrence River provides ice-anglers a long stretch of water to seek a healthy population of northern pike.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Although Klindt calls the northern pike fishery on the St. Lawrence River "healthy," DEC fisheries biologists have documented a decline in pike numbers in the river, he said.

Spawning habitat for northern pike, primarily shallow wetlands, have been depleted because of changing water levels following the construction of various dams along the river.

Zebra mussels have helped change the water quality of the river, according to Klindt, resulting in clearer water, while removing vital nutrients, as well as the smaller organisms that fish consume.

Weedbeds and structure, such as sunken islands or steep dropoffs, should be the first place an angler sets up while ice-fishing for pike on the St. Lawrence River. Structures that hold baitfish and pike will be nearby.

If you are new to an area along the river, the best advice is to set up near other anglers. Or talk to bait shop owners about hot fishing spots. They hear all the latest news from anglers buying minnows and suckers.

Another key to finding pike is to purchase depth charts of the river. Charts can be found in most bait shops. These detailed charts reveal the location of deep dropoffs or other structure in the area.

Deep water off dropoffs or near weedbeds can be productive for pike seeking warmer waters. During the late ice-fishing season, deeper is usually better, according to most ice-fishermen.

The following is a sampling of popular ice-fishing areas for northern pike on the St. Lawrence River in New York, starting with Alexandria Bay in Jefferson County and ending at Coles Creek in St. Lawrence County.

Alexandria Bay is known for its excellent northern pike fishing during the winter months. Ice-fishermen can expect good catches of pike in both the upper and lower bays, which feature a multitude of weedbeds and dropoffs in the 15- to 20-foot range that give pike good cover and deep, warm water.

Anglers won't have to go far from shore. Most dropoffs are only 15 to 20 feet from the river's banks. Most anglers fish off the public boat launches in the village and park on village roads.

Alexandria Bay is on state Route 12 off Interstate Route 81 north. For fishing information, contact the Thousand Islands Bait Shop at (315) 482-9903. For lodging information, contact the Alex Bay Chamber of Commerce at (800) 541-2110.

Across the Thousand Islands bridge to Wellesley Island from Alexandria Bay, anglers will find a number of popular places for northern pike this month.

Eel Bay and Lake of the Isles are two public areas where anglers can go from the boat launch straight to decent fishing conditions. These waters are shallow with a sandy bottom and hold good quantities of perch and sunfish, which lure pike to the areas.

Eel Bay is off the bridge near the state boat launch. Lake of the Isles is near the Minna-Anthony Nature Center on the island. For more information, contact the Thousand Islands Bait Shop noted above.

Northeast along state Route 12 from Alexandria Bay, anglers should place some tip-ups at Goose Bay in the town of Alexandria in Jefferson County.

A large and shallow bay varying from 5 to 7 feet in depth, Goose Bay provides anglers with some good pike fishing, thanks to its heavy weed cover. A popular place for pike is at the tip of Kring Point in Goose Bay.

There is a public boat launch and access to the ice can be found along the Kring Point Road off State Route 12. The Thousand Islands Bait Shop will also be able to supply fishing information for this stretch of water.

In the town of Hammond on state Route 12 in St. Lawrence County, this bay boasts shallow water that freezes earlier than most other waters along the river.

Because of this, Chippewa Bay is a favorite spot for anglers during the early winter months. It gives them a chance to fish in December and early January, depending on how cold the weather has been.

Filled with weedbeds, it's a haven for northern pike and perch. In past years, the pike population has been depleted, but thanks to the restoration efforts of members of the Chippewa Bay Fish and Game Club (with the help of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation), the pike population is on the rebound.

To get there off state Route 12, take county Route 6 into the hamlet. There are plenty of access points and ample public parking.

Wheathouse Bay on the shores of Ogdensburg is fished with great results, not only for n

orthern pike, but perch and walleyes.

Due to the swift current of the St. Lawrence River, it takes a long period of cold temperatures for safe ice to build up in the bay. During most winters, safe fishing can be done in Wheathouse Bay beginning in late January or early February.

Tip-ups set along the steep dropoffs in this bay have anglers routinely pulling in 5-pound northern pike. When the pike aren't biting, there are abundant populations of perch that anglers can jig for.

To get there, take state Highway 37 and turn onto Ford Street. Wheathouse Bay is at the end of Wall Street on property owned by the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority. There is a large public parking lot as well as an access point for ATVs, snowmobiles and passenger vehicles when the ice is thick enough.

For more information, contact Hank Bouchard, owner of St. Lawrence Sports at 608 Ford Street in Ogdensburg; call (315) 393-1032. For lodging information, contact the Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce at (315) 393-3620.

These two bays are in the town of Waddington off state Highway 37. Most fishermen park along the highway or on side roads next to these fishing areas.

Brandy Brook is a small, shallow inlet that freezes early in the winter. It offers ice-fishermen areas to fish, while other stretches have open water. Most winter pike anglers set up along a deep channel that runs through the middle of Brandy Brook, which provides northern pike with some deeper water.

Coles Creek is deeper and wider than Brandy Brook. Ice-fisherman often target the several sandbars that are in the shallows of the bay. Late during the winter of 2003, there were reports of pike in the 10- to 15-pound range being taken in this bay.

For more information, contact the Waddington Chamber of Commerce at (315) 388-5576.

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