It’s hard-water season in February which means the ice is getting thicker, the days are getting longer and by now all your favorite hot spots are ready to fish. First-ice came quickly this year with the brutal arctic cold fronts we experienced in early January, and with the frigid temperatures we’ve had lately I think it’s safe to say it’s here to stay. Anglers by now have plenty of options to choose from when deciding on a location and what species they want to fish for. With ice thickness in most areas now in excess of 12 inches ATV and snow mobile use is now an option. These Machines makes life so much easier and will help you access fresh areas off the beaten path. Here’s a look at what’s hot and what’s not, some reports from local anglers and also a few tips to help you stay on the ever-evolving action as the season progresses.
Lake George has been producing excellent numbers of Lake Trout and bountiful limits of Yellow Perch. Although action can be hit or miss for Landlocked Salmon, anglers who choose to target them are catching a few here and there. As always bait location is the key to unlocking the mystery behind these silvery pelagic nomads that cruise the open water in a somewhat random fashion. Smelt and other species of fry play a huge role in the diet of the Landlocked Salmon, so knowing the habits and location of these forage species will be where you will want to concentrate your efforts. Tip-ups rigged with light fluorocarbon line and small treble hooks baited up with smelt-imitating live bait is the general standard when setting up for Salmon. Try targeting the upper 20 feet of the water column and keep your spread somewhat expansive to try and cover as much water as possible. In the gin-clear waters of Lake George the fish have no problem finding your bait so don’t be afraid to set-up your traps slightly farther apart then you typically would. Lake Trout at this time of year can be found in shallow or very deep. With large deep-water cisco populations you can always find Lakers on the bottom in 80 to 140ft. White tube jigs and a variety of spoons tipped with bait or plastics will consistently take fish in the 4 to 10 pound range. You will also find Lakers in the shallower grass flats this time of year harassing perch populations as well as schools of smelt that move in and out of these areas to feed. Yellow Perch are absolutely everywhere and anglers should move around to find the bigger Jacks. If you are finding plenty of perch but can’t seem to get the size, keep moving and try a little deeper. The larger fish will usually be found in 30 to 50 feet of water on Lake George.
The Great Sacandaga continues to produce good numbers of walleye and a few good pike over 20 pounds have been caught this year as well. Walleyes will be caught around any submerged main lake structure by now and with low-water levels you will want to focus on the deepest water you can find. If the general depth of the area your in is 15 feet, even finding a slight pocket of 18 to 20 feet could potentially hold more fish. Key in on sunken humps, wood, rock piles, underwater points, channels and inside turns on steep breaks. Walleye are not particularly picky in here and tip-ups baited up with anything that wiggles will usually do the trick in the GSL. Get up early! Have your spread ready to hunt well before sunrise to take advantage of early-biters that routinely like to feed just at the crack of dawn.
Saratoga Lake has also been very consistent with good numbers of walleye, yellow perch and pan fish being reported by local anglers. I don’t spend a ton of time mid-winter on this lake but always wanted to. Walleye are my favorite fish to target and I would love to exclusively hunt them year round, but as we all know, so much to fish and so little time! First-Ice can be very good on Saratoga and good numbers of fish and big fish will caught until about the third week in January. At this point in time there will sometimes be a lull in the season which is a dormancy or starvation phase that will eventually give way to pre-spawn feeding. Anglers can still expect action but will notice that finding the larger fish may be more challenging until things heat back up in the early spring. This past fall we had a great big-fish bite on open water and caught quite a few fish over five pounds. As for the pan fish, expect to find basin-roaming crappie and blue gill this time of year if you can. These tasty little guys will move into the weeds once late February rolls around and triggers some pre-spawn behavior, but mid-winter usually means brief feeding spells in the shallows and big-basin suspension becomes the rule.
Well that’s the scoop on just a few of many great fisheries we are so blessed to have access to in upstate New York. If you are a die-hard or even if you haven’t been before you should definitely give ice fishing a try. It also is a great way to expand your list of winter activities and get the family outdoors to experience some of our beautiful lakes and ponds. Your little ones will get a kick out of the whole experience from the initial cutting of the hole to the fish hopefully coming out of it after you hook one. Kids generally love the simplicity and excitement of a “flag”! Running over to the trap, watching the spool spin and pulling the fish in by hand is a something they’ll never forget. If you want to get started but aren’t sure how check us out at Justy-Joe Sportfishing to book a trip with experienced guide. Tight lines!