Bait and catch

Whether using a tip-up or a jig during ice fishing, there are various types of bait that anglers can use to make that next great catch.

“Ice fishing jigs are great options for panfish like perch and smelt,” says fisherman Mickey “Captain Mick” Maynard. “These small jigs are often tipped with soft plastics or insect larvae like spikes and maggots.”

For larger fish, such as pike and trout, anglers use larger jigs which may be tipped with soft plastics or minnows.

“Live bait, like minnows, are a good option in many cases,” says Maynard.

With any type of live bait however, it’s important to always check and make sure it is certified virus-free. It’s also illegal for anglers to transport baitfish from one body of water to the next, which can cause contamination.

Ice Fishing: An Adirondack Pasttime
Local spots on many anglers' to-go list

Claire Durham
Photos provided by:
Provided by Mickey Maynard

Two is better than one especially on a cold day! Marshall Maynard catches two perch on Lake Champlain.

“Chazy, Chateauguay and Saranac Lake are located in higher elevations with cooler climates allowing for earlier, and eventually, safer ice throughout the winter,” says fisherman Mickey “Captain Mick” Maynard. “With the warmer weather trends we're experiencing, anglers are relying on these Adirondack fishing spots to extend their seasons and provide safe conditions.”

Each spot has its own array of fish that inhabits the location, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)

“Chazy Lake is a popular ice-fishing spot for lake trout, rainbow trout, rainbow smelt and yellow perch,” says Richard Preall, NYSDEC Senior Aquatic Biologist.

In Upper Saranac Lake, anglers can catch large rainbow smelt and yellow perch. Northern pike and yellow perch frequent the lower and middle Saranac Lake area. And while, upper Chateauguay Lake is good for northern pike, yellow perch and lake trout, lower Chateauguay Lake provides only yellow perch.

Maynard explains that fish migrate from area to area depending on many conditions, including but not limited to forage, ice coverage, and even light penetration, so the fishing locations are always different when fishermen set up for the day.

He has been fishing on Lake Champlain and other local bodies of water for about 40 years and says all three of the locations are good spots to fish.

“I have had many good experiences fishing these lakes,” says Maynard. “I even lived on the eastern shore of Chazy Lake for a brief time and enjoyed setting tip-ups along the shore in front of my residence and watching them from my porch.”

According to Maynard, northern pike were somehow introduced to Chazy and Chateauguay lakes a few decades back.

Two Lake Champlain Angler Charter clients come away with a significant group of perch at the end of their ice fishing escapade.

“Smelt is the native bait-fish forage in these lakes, and the pike thrived feeding on them,” says Maynard. “While the invasive pike was not good for the propagation of cold-water fish in the lakes, like trout and salmon, their introduction led to trophy pike fisheries in the lakes.”

Today, Maynard says, double-digit northern pike catches are relatively common in all three lakes, and panfish like yellow perch and smelt are also popular target species for ice fishermen in the lakes.

The NYSDEC says popular ice fishing spots are indicated by various holes already cut into the ice since anglers found good catches there. So, before heading out on the ice, anglers should pay attention to fishing regulations, found on the NYSDEC website, as well as ice safety and make sure to have a current fishing license.

A minimum of three to four inches of ice are required before going out to fish, but ice fishermen use their own judgment, as well.

Also according to the DEC website, a limit of two jigging lines and five tip-ups are allowed in most waters in New York State. Jigging is a hand line and a small lure with a piece of bait on it. A tip-up is a spool on a stick holding a baited line, which releases a signal when there’s a pull on the line. Each tip-up must be marked with the operator's name and address and the operator must be in immediate attendance when the lines are in the water.

Anglers should always check online to determine what areas allow tip-ups. In Upper Saranac Lake, tip-ups are prohibited on the lake, according to Preall.

“Ice fishing is a fun experience, as long as you have the right gear,” says fisherman Joshua DuBray. “Wet feet mean a bad day. It’s hit or miss. You can go all day with no hits or you can have a day where you never stop moving.”

What's your biggest ice fishing catch?

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