As an ice fishing destination, New York certainly falls under the radar compared to midwestern states. Perhaps that’s our best kept secret.
When it comes to ice fishing, however, there is no shortage of hard-water options here in the Empire State, all destinations that are well-managed and easily accessed. Better yet, there are a variety of fish species to pursue across the state.
As a result, many of these waters see as much or more angling pressure during the winter as they do during the summer.
We’ve tapped the recourses of four writer/anglers to offer the following sampling of New York’s finest ice fishing lakes. So get your gear ready and keep an eye out for falling temperatures.
Unless you catch a muskie through the ice – always a possibility – you won’t be overwhelmed by the size of the fish you catch on Chautauqua Lake, but you could be so pleased by the numbers that the effort remains worthwhile.
On Chautauqua, a good yellow perch tops out at 9 or 91⁄2 inches with tons in the range of dink to 8 inches. Crappies are a bit better though few of real trophy size. Mix in bluegills and rock bass and you’ve got a plethora of panfish on this 13,156-acre lake that will keep you busy from icy morning to icy evening.
Of course, when the afternoon lengthens and the light weakens, you could go after the double- digit walleye along the drop-offs but this too, like muskie fishing, is real hit or miss.
A considerable amount of action takes places off Long Point State Park on the eastern side of the lake. The parking facilities are excellent but then it’s a long sled pull from the boat ramp out until you’re fishing in 35 to 45 feet of water. This is where considerable numbers of yellow perch are picked up in the winter, along with a slighter number of crappies.
The somewhat tricky thing about the crappies here is they tend to suspend, often about 10 feet above the bottom. Here I prefer a simple split-shot and minnow rig, with the minnow on the bottom. If not that then the ubiquitous vertical spoon with a treble hook festooned with freshly caught perch eyes. If that doesn’t catch you a mess of medium-size perch then they just aren’t biting.
For evening, walleyes attempt retreat toward shore to work the Long Point drop-off in 25 to 30 feet of water and use a horizontal minnow jig.
The first question you’re asked is, “Can Cayuga be ice-fished?” It’s a reasonable query. After all the core of Cayuga with depths of 435 feet has not turned to ice since the last woolly mammoth shuffled down the streets of Ithaca. But the upper quarter (approximate) and the lower sliver freezes in many years and ice fishing, at least at the top of the lake, is terrific.
From where the canal inlet enters the lake at Lock No. 1 down to about the Village of Union Springs, there is super fine fishing for yellow perch, bluegills, pickerel and northern pike. And though you have to sled a considerable distance from the public access on the west side of the lake, Cayuga often draws a crowd – if the heaved pressure cracks can be negotiated.
On the upper end you can actually sight-fish for yellow perch in the shallow weedy water. When you see a good perch underneath that’s when you drop your jig.
On the upper west side, down from I-90 and Route 20, a state park has a sizable lot, and there are unimproved parking spots on the side road, Route 116 parallel to Route 89. Access on the lake’s upper east side is catch-as-catch can and also at Union Springs for a limited fishing area when it freezes “that far south.”
East & West Caroga lakes
East Caroga Lake is a warm-water fishery that contains yellow perch, black crappies, bluegills, pickerel, sunfish, rainbow trout, and bullhead. Access is from either a state campground, or from the town’s beach, that is just to the north of it. East Caroga has a shallow shoreline with sprawling weed beds that hold an abundance of fish. Fishing in 4 to 10 feet of water along the shoreline offers the best opportunity to catch pickerel, black crappies, and other panfish. There is a deeper section in the south end of the 198-acre lake where locals target stocked rainbow trout.
West Caroga Lake is a 275-acre cold-water fishery that contains yellow perch, rainbow smelt, smallmouth bass, brown trout, and splake. DEC stocks the lake with browns and splake. Access to West Caroga Lake is primarily from the parking lot at Vrooman’s Restaurant or at the old Sherman’s Amusement Park parking area. Tip-ups with small bait such as fat heads or shiners that are set just under the ice, 1 to 3 feet off bottom, produce perch, brown trout, and splake.
I like ice fishing unusual places, and a place I really relish because it’s so unusual and also filled with fish and history, is between the walls of the Erie Canal. And this isn’t a pipe dream. From the canal I’ve caught yellow and white perch, smallmouth bass, black crappies, bluegills, pumpkinseeds and northern pike. And lots of them.
Fishing the Erie Canal is like working the capital letter “U.” Along considerable portions of the canal there are rock walls and on the opposite side, a flattened shoreline. The center has the deepest part, but that’s not where you want to fish. The best fishing is just outside the abrupt slopes, laden with canal rock and rip-rap. All the species habitually run along or are pushed into the crumbled bottom of these ledges. Fishing the extreme shallows where there are gentle slopes out to the center is just about worthless, I believe. Enter the canal by catch-as-catch can parking where the slope is easy but then go across to the drop-off zone.
Honestly ice anglers are still finding ways to access the canal and since a lot of work has been done on part of the canal in the last two years, access has both dried up and improved in spots.
Located in Warren County, Glen Lake often lurks in the shadow of nearby Lake George. It should not, as Glen Lake is a unique fishery all its own, and one that always buttons up early. Quite often, it is one of the first lakes near the lower part of the Adirondacks to see some action.
Both Warren County and DEC stock rainbow trout in Glen Lake, and in recent years, it has produced some nice ‘bows through the ice. A small local tournament usually yields a dozen or more trophies, some well over 16 inches; including a 21-incher that won the contest in 2019. Although there is a 50-foot hole that stretches across the main part of this 320-acre lake, rainbows are taken throughout the lake by anglers usually setting tip-ups with nightcrawlers or shiners just under the ice. There’s also some big pickerel in Glen Lake as well as some quality jack perch.
What is a car-top only summer launch is also motorless during the winter, so leave the ATV or snowmobile at home. Otherwise, Glen Lake should be on your list of fishable waters early in the ice fishing season.
Great Sacandaga Lake
The Great Sacandaga Lake is a 26-mile long reservoir that covers over 24,000 acres and has 115 miles of shoreline. The bulk of the water body is found in Fulton County while the “arm” that extends to the dam enters into Saratoga County. Access can be found at any of the DEC public boat launches in Day, Broadalbin, and Northville. Many of the restaurants on the lake have parking where fishermen can walk on, or for trailering an ATV or snowmobile.
The lake is stocked by DEC and the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation with rainbow and brown trout, and the GSLFF also stocks walleyes. The lake is known for its outstanding walleye and pike fishing. The former world, and current state record northern pike, was taken from the lake in 1940. The pike weighed 46 pounds, 2 ounces. Walleye fishing has gotten better over the past few years. Walleyes in the 14- to 20-inch range are common and larger fish up to 25 inches are caught frequently. The lake boasts a yellow perch population where it is common to catch 13- to 16-inch perch mixed in with schools of walleyes.
You don’t ice fish the main flow, that is just about impossible if not deadly, but you do fish the setbacks and side channels and these are absolutely terrific places on the frozen Hudson River.
During this season you’ll find black crappies, yellow perch, bluegills, pumpkinseeds and some very big northern pike in the stilled-shallows. These shallows still hold lots of winter weeds so these areas very much have a sizable population of fish.
The thing about Hudson River setbacks and bays is that you’ll sometimes be fishing beside old docks. Amazingly, just as in the wet-water months, the docks with weeds still hold fish. Also study the old Hudson locks like Lock No. 4 at Stillwater.
Be prepared to fish shallow on the Hudson using mostly tiny ice jigs with soft plastics or larva bait. Your flasher is going to be of big use here as the fish are accustomed to being hooked and released so by midwinter they can acquire a healthy respect for artificials, which is why, old fashionably, I still like a piece of bait on the hook.
Make a decision whether you’ll fish the lower end of Lake Champlain from somewhere below Crown Point south, or else the upper parts in the Hero Islands zone. Both ends are mammoth on their own and are their own watery worlds.
Ice fishing on Champlain can be excellent with black and white crappies, yellow perch, pumpkinseeds and bluegills being downright abundant and northern pike swimming in significant numbers.
Besides fishable ice, a key to picking the north or south end is water color. The lower end seems susceptible to being stained even in winter. If that occurs, due to precipitation and run-off, visit the middle to the upper area which doesn’t get as bad. On many a day we’ve left the south end around Ticonderoga because of off-colored water, traveled about 20 miles north and found clear water and cooperative fish. Stay footloose.
On lower Champlain a lot of ice anglers fish from their trucks and smaller vehicles. If you can only stay close to shore, plan on fishing water less than 15 feet for shallow black crappies, perch and gills. If you’re driving a vehicle on the ice, you can go out to the main channel in the southern end and fish for white crappies. To fish the spacious Hero islands area you don’t need a vehicle to reach the abundant panfish and pike.
Often one of the earliest bodies of water to ice over, this lake is located just north of downtown Saranac Lake off Route 86. There is a public parking lot on the northeast bay of the lake as well as parking on the southeast bay once you leave Saranac Lake. The main attraction here are brown trout, rainbow trout, and landlocked Atlantic salmon as well. The state stocks usually about 100, 21-inch or better brood stock salmon in the fall before the lake freezes up. During the winter the trout and salmon can be found cruising right under the ice often in 10 feet of water or less. Don’t be afraid to fish just a few feet from shore, trout and salmon are usually very shallow at this time of the year, so they may be feeding in just a few feet of water.
Small baits like emerald shiners or fat heads suspended a foot or two below the ice are very effective. Trout and salmon can be very leader-shy so using 6-pound, or lighter weight fluorocarbons or tippets will improve your chances of catching them.
The crown jewel of the Adirondacks, the lake didn’t earn the nickname “The King” for nothing. Arguably the top water for lake trout and perch through the ice, this lake is a must-fish when it freezes. Due to its size and how far south the lake is in the Adirondacks, it can unfortunately be slow to freeze – often times not providing fishable ice until well into January. Once it does freeze, however, get there early and often.
Anglers can access the water on the south basin of the lake from Million Dollar Beach, Vet’s Park in Bolton, and Hearthstone Point Campground. If the northern basin of the lake freezes, you can get on the ice at Rogers Rock Campground (beware of the steep hill) and Hague’s town park.
Lake trout are the apex predator in this lake and can be found in depths from 20 to 60 feet usually from halfway down in the water column to 10 feet off of the bottom. Tip-ups with suckers or hunts will work great for them but jigging can be more productive and a lot more fun! Heavy jig heads tipped with white tube baits or swim baits will generate strikes from hungry lakers. When you get a laker interested, reel it up fast. You will be surprised at how aggressively these fish will pursue a lure.
Perch can be found in any of the bays or around islands like Green Island or Crown Island off of Vets Park and can easily hit a pound in weight. Action can be fast and furious and many anglers come in the morning just to catch their daily limit. Small brightly colored tungsten jigs or Swedish pimple spoons tipped with wax worms work very well.
Lake Pleasant is located right in the Town of Speculator, Hamilton County. The lake covers 1,475 acres and contains yellow perch, pickerel, bullhead, rock bass, rainbow smelt, and walleyes. DEC also stocks it with rainbow, brown, and lake trout to help control the smelt population. Ample parking is available at the north end of the lake right off Route 30.
There is a large weedy bay that extends from the access trail onto the lake, to the south (left coming onto the lake) and out in front of Camp of the Woods Resort. From the shoreline out 50 to 300 yards, it is shallow and weedy. It’s a large bay that produces chain pickerel and great yellow perch numbers. Out at the end of the shallow bay, there is a distinct and steep dropoff that goes to depths of 20 to 25 feet. Setting tip-ups rigged with medium to small shiners, hunt bait, or fat head minnows on the edge of the drop off, or in the deeper water, will yield yellow perch, pickerel, and either species of trout. Moving around and jigging with small jigs either tipped with a minnow or grub will liven up the action as perch and trout are always actively cruising the edge or through the weeds.
Grafton Lakes State Park in Rensselaer County sits at an elevation of 1,500 feet and therefore is likely one of the earliest lakes in New York, outside of the Adirondacks, to button up. Long Pond is the park’s featured ice fishing destination with plentiful populations of rainbow and brown trout along with some yellow perch.
Access is directly through the park to this roughly mile-long lake with a maximum depth of 33 feet. Special regulations allow a three-fish limit with a minimum creel size of 12-inches. Second Pond (31 acres) and Shaver Pond (44 acres), also within the park, are open to ice anglers and are both stocked with rainbows and browns. The park also regularly holds family-oriented ice fishing clinics but the COVID pandemic could affect them this year.
Some call it a walleye factory, and it is, but Oneida Lake in central New York also provides its share of yellow perch to hard water anglers as well as northern pike. Often called the “thumb” of the Finger Lakes, Oneida is extremely popular among ice anglers. And why not, as it’s hard to pass up those walleyes and perch.
At 21 miles long, over 5 miles wide in places, Oneida Lake is nearly 51,000 acres in size with 77 miles of shoreline. It is the biggest lake that sits entirely in New York State and there’s plenty of access scattered about Madison, Oneida, Oswego and Onondaga counties.
Anglers find themselves often fishing in shallower waters for walleyes, so finding deeper water to work in is paramount. High winds can make navigating on the lake difficult but many consider it to be worth it. Current regulations allow only three walleyes to be kept per angler at a minimum size of 15 inches.
Otisco Lake is the eastern most Finger Lake and is found about 40 minutes southwest of Syracuse in Onondaga County. There is access at both the north and south ends. This lake, as do the rest of the Finger Lakes, contains very clear water, so using light line is a must to fool the fish. The north and south ends, as well as along most of the shoreline, contain weed beds that hold a variety of fish such as yellow perch, walleyes, tiger muskies, brown trout, and a variety of panfish.
The northern end of the lake contains a large bay that is frequented by fishermen targeting yellow perch and tiger muskies. Using tip-ups with medium shiners and fat head minnows in and around the weed beds will produce yellow perch, brown trout and the occasional tiger muskie. The southern end, where the “causeway” is located, is also weedy and shallow. Yellow perch react well to both tip-ups set with medium shiners and jigging. Jigging using Hali jigs, spoons, and small Swedish Pimples tipped with grubs produce some good numbers of solid yellow perch.
This long and narrow lake located in central New York is a lake trout factory with a good population of walleyes and perch too. Access is excellent with a large parking lot available at Glimmerglass State Park and a smaller informal boat launch at Threemile Point. (Note: There is a steep hill going in and out of this lot.) Lake trout cruise around the dramatic drop-offs and can be caught using tip-ups baited with hunts or small suckers that are placed halfway down in the water column to a few feet off of the bottom.
Jigging large white swimbaits with heavy jigheads and spoons tipped with pieces of minnow works for lakers too. Make sure to bang your lure on the bottom to attract some attention. Walleyes can be caught on baits placed a foot off the bottom in deep holes and dropoffs in the day, but can be caught shallower at night. There is a large flat that extends out from shore at Glimmerglass State Park that attracts walleyes in the shallows at night, so it is worth staying an hour or so after the sun sets if you fish this area.
This big 2,800-acre Adirondack lake in Hamilton County is just a 20-minute drive from Lake Pleasant. It holds lake trout, brown trout, lake whitefish, rainbow smelt, yellow perch, and pickerel. Access is best found off Old Piseco Road, on the north side of the lake or at one three state campgrounds. Piseco Lake is most known for its abundance of lake trout. The minimum size limit for lake trout is 21 inches, and there are plenty of them to keep an angler busy all day chasing flags. Tip-ups rigged with medium hunt bait or small suckers are deadly on the lake trout.
The northern and southern ends of the lake contain more weedy, shallow water, where yellow perch can be found. If tip-ups are not popping, try jigging using Swedish Pimples, Kastmasters, silver and copper colored spoons, or white swimbaits for lake trout. Vary the cadence and depths of water when jigging to find actively feeding fish. Sometimes if live bait is not working, jigging gets the lazy fish juiced up to chase bait and get hooked.
The smaller and northern cousin to Lake George, the northern half of this lake often freezes fairly early and can be one of the first lake trout waters available to fish through the ice. Access is from roadside pulloffs along Dock Street right in town or from the dead end of Fowler Ave a little farther north. If you access the lake from the Fowler Ave parking be very vigilant about checking the ice thickness; this is near where the Schroon River enters the lake and the flowing water can really affect the ice there in a negative way.
The big game fish here are lake trout, salmon, and pike. Lake trout can be found along the drop-offs going from shore out toward the middle of the lake, usually preferring depths from 20 to 60 feet. They can be a bit finicky in this lake, so scaling down the size of your bait and the thickness of your leader can be useful in getting some action. The same thing applies when jigging for lakers here. Use smaller swim baits and spoons, which seem to make the fish more cooperative. Salmon can be found anywhere in the lake, but seem to prefer cruising near the area of where the Schroon River comes in at anywhere from 1 to 3 feet under the ice. The salmon can be tough to catch, but you can increase your chances by using very light leaders and small hooks. If you do get one on, play it very carefully so it doesn’t break the line on one of its strong runs. Pike are an added bonus and there are some monsters in this lake.
One of western New York’s top ice fishing destinations is Silver Lake in Wyoming County. The lake is popular among ice anglers because of the variety of species present in the 836-acre fishery with a maximum depth of about 25 feet.
It starts with panfish, especially yellow perch, which DEC says there is an abundance of. Harder to catch, but also present are black crappies. DEC’s efforts to restore walleyes in Silver Lake have also proven successful whereas the walleye population is now sustained by natural reproduction. Northern pike too reproduce naturally.
Access is at Silver Lake State Park on the southwestern shore, and at the Village of Perry Park and Public Beach located on the northeast end.
A good early ice spot, this large lake is often fairly quick to freeze and is a real fish factory. Boasting all of the major sport fish species: lake trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon, pike, walleyes, and perch, Tupper Lake is a premiere Adirondack fishery in the winter. The large lobes at the eastern end of this lake are where most of the fishing occurs during the winter. Simon Pond is especially famous for producing large pike all winter. While Raquette Pond has strong pike numbers, you can also catch a bonus walleye if you fish before sunrise or after dark.
Parking for Simon Pond is located at the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club on Lake Simon Road while Raquette Pond is accessed from the town park off Route 3. Large shiners or suckers suspended 1 to 3 feet under the ice will get the attention of the pike. Stir your bait up every once and awhile by raising and lowering your tip-ups throughout the day. Sometimes the baits can get lethargic making the pike uninterested and a jolt of movement can convince them to bite.
Westchester County reservoirs
Assuming the weather is cold enough for these waters to freeze, a number of New York City reservoirs in Westchester County are open to ice angling These include Amawalk, Cross River, Muscat and Titcus reservoirs. All are trout waters where the catch (pun intended) is the requirement to obtain a free NY City Public Access Permit.
Ice anglers can consider the shallow Mohansic Lake, which has a solid sunfish population and is popular among families. Access is through FDR State Park, and the lake will not open unless there is six inches of ice.
Note: Vic Attardo is a regular contributer to Outdoor News publications. Stephen George is an outdoor columnist for the Gloversville Leader-Herald in Fulton County. Alex Martin is a freelance writer and fishing blogger from the Capital region.