December 21, 2022
Chris Powers once worked as a fisheries biologist in Vermont, a tiny state that's just 9,623 square miles in size. He worked in the southeastern part of the state and was familiar with most of the bodies of the water and the fishing that took place in his tidy, compact region. Powers is an aquatic biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5, which encompasses most of the massive Adirondack Region.
Adirondack Park is 9,375 square miles in size (more than three times the size of Yellowstone National Park) and has more than 3,000 bodies of waters. Just five state biologists oversee this enormous region that offers countless opportunities for ice fishing—everything from tiger muskies to northern pike to yellow perch to trout and smelt.
"It's a little bit crazy," says Powers. "We'll get calls from people wondering where they should go ice fishing and we have to narrow down [what part of the region] they want to go and what they want fish for. There is no shortage of ice-fishing opportunities here."
Powers asked the four other biologists he shares duties with in Region 5 to come up a best-of list for ice-fishing spots. While it may not be comprehensive, it will surely give hardwater anglers plenty of choices to consider when planning a trip to the North Country this winter.
Trout and Salmon
Let's start with a warning: Not every one of the 3,000 lakes in the Adirondacks are open to ice fishing. New York holds their brook trout waters in high regard, so a number of lakes and ponds that contain brook trout, particularly wild populations, are off-limits. But there are still plenty of lakes to catch trout and salmon, so we will leave this as just a gentle reminder to check the regulations book or DEC website before you even drill a hole in the ice.
If you are going to drill a hole, there aren't many more spectacular places to do so than Lake George. At the southern end of the Adirondack Region, the big, deep lake has wild populations of lake trout that feast on a forage base of rainbow smelt and ciscos. "The whole lake supports very good populations of lake trout," says Powers. "Once the ice forms and the temp drops, they can be caught even in the shallows."
Schroon Lake is another popular laker hotspot, and it tends to freeze over earlier than Lake George. Chazy Lake is also a favored destination, as is Lake Eaton, which lies just west of Long Lake. For easy access, Powers suggests Piseco Lake in the southern part of the region. Stocked with lakers, it's a large body of water featuring campgrounds on its shores that allow anglers plenty of space to get out on to the ice.
Toothy Critters, Part 1
One more warning: In much of the region, it's illegal to specifically target largemouth or smallmouth bass through the ice. But where there are bass there are often northern pike, and the Adirondacks are full of waterbodies where the big, toothy waterwolves prowl. Interestingly, within the Adirondack Park, northern pike populations are much higher than pickerel populations, so pickerel, while they are there, are not a top target for ice anglers. But pike certainly are.
According to Powers, one of the better pike lakes in the region is Great Sacandaga, a 29-mile-long body of water just east of Saratoga Springs. "There are pike in the 40-inch class there," says Powers, "and people catch them every winter."
The popular Tupper Lake, site of the Northern Challenge Ice Fishing Derby each February, is a well-known pike spot. While it can be busy, traveling anglers will find plenty of hotels and dining options around Tupper. Long Lake is a decent bet for northerns, as is Cranberry Lake and both Upper and Lower Chateaugay lakes in northeastern Franklin County. Powers does remind anglers to be up to date on New York’s baitfish rules. Basically, he says, you can’t fish with bait unless it’s been purchased at a certified bait shop.
Toothy critters, Part 2
There is some walleye fishing to be had in the Adirondacks as well. Great Sacandaga Lake has a lot of fish in the 15- to 18-inch class and is a good place to go if you’re looking to put some fillets in the freezer. Harris and Rich Lakes, part of the upper Hudson Valley drainage, offers good tip-up fishing and jigging for walleyes, while Little Wolf Pond near Tupper Lake can also produce keeper fish.
Since we’re talking about putting some fish in the freezer, it should be noted that, by and large, good populations of yellow perch and bluegills are found in virtually every waterbody in the Adirondacks.
Here's where the Adirondack Region gets to proudly fly its freak flag. New York DEC manages a handful of lakes for both tiger muskies and splake, hybrid species that are stocked annually. Lake Durant in Hamilton County is the epicenter of tiger musky fishing in the region.
"You have to put your time in on Lake Durant, for sure," says Powers. "It's shallow and weedy and has good panfishing, but every year it seems somebody pulls a three-foot musky out of there."
As for splake, a hatchery-produced hybrid of lake trout and brook trout, Caroga Lake on the southern fringe of the Adirondack Park is one spot that stands out.
"It's a unique fish to [target]," says Powers. "They can get big, but any fish that's in that 20-inch class is considered nice."
With the variety of fish available, the Adirondacks can serve as a choose-your-own ice fishing adventure destination. Pick a spot, pick a species and go.
"Every day can be different," Powers says. "There are fish everywhere in the Adirondacks. If you're willing to try different spots, eventually you will find success."
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Outside of the ski areas, winter in the Adirondacks isn't peak tourist season. That means hotel rooms and tables at restaurants are often easier to get than during the high-volume summer months.
The village of Lake George, for instance, is a bustling hub in summer and into fall, but by the time the snow flies and the second-home owners leave, hotel prices plummet. There are multiple hotels chains represented in Lake George Village and nearby Queensbury.
In popular Tupper Lake, the big national hotel brands are outshined by locally owned spots like The Thirsty Moose, which rents cabins and features a pub and restaurant. The Tupper Lake Motel is also open year-round and provides quick access to the lake.
If you find yourself wheeling around the North Country, do yourself a favor and stop at Jreck Subs for lunch one day. The chain sub shop, founded in Watertown, has dozens of locations around northern and central New York. It’s fast and affordable and the grilled chicken sub topped with hot red relish is one particular menu standout.
And don't forget the beer. The Adirondack Region has a remarkable number of local brewers pumping out some outstanding brews. The Bolton Landing Brewing Company on the shores of Lake George is one standout, as is the Fulton Chain Craft Brewery in Old Forge.
Note: This article on ice fishing was featured in the East edition of the February 2022 issue of Game & Fish Magazine. How to subscribe.