Nestled between mountains in the Adirondack Park, Lake George is a beautiful, spring fed glacial lake nicknamed The Queen of American Lakes. The lake extends north and south for approximately 32 miles and is considered part of the Lake Champlain Basin because it drains north into Lake Champlain through a number of waterfalls via the short La Chute River. Lake George is divided into two major basins. The Southern Basin is home to Lake George Village and is the hub of tourism in the region. The Northern Basin is relatively undeveloped and serves as a quiet, rustic alternative to the hustle and bustle of the village.
Lake George is renowned for its fabulous sport fishing and as one of the preeminent ice fishing destinations of the Northeastern United States. There is a remarkable lake trout / landlocked salmon fishery in its cold deep waters and a respectable cool water fishery exists for smallmouth bass, northern pike, perch and panfish. All these fishes with the exception of the smallmouths are on tap when the lake freezes over usually by mid January. When freeze up occurs there are legions of anglers at the ready, venturing onto the crystal clear ice. At 4 inches the ice is as clear as glass. It is an eerie feeling walking along, ice fishing gear in hand, seeing distinctly the bottom features 20 or 30 feet below.
The large size of this lake means that it generally doesn’t freeze over completely at one time. There are certain protected bays and coves that will harbor safe ice, sometimes for weeks, before it is considered safe to venture out on the open lake. These bays have become legendary to the ice fishermen that ply them harvesting the tasty yellow perch, pumpkinseed and bluegills that dwell just below their frozen surface. Huddle, Sawmill, Harris, and Northwest bays are some of the more popular southern basin locations for “first ice” on Lake George. When the ice indeed gets safe there are times when hundreds of ice anglers will be squeezed into an area of just a few acres making for an “on ice city” and a “party atmosphere”. When fishing for yellow perch most ice anglers use tiny fishing rods called “jig rods” these will be equipped with a matching reel and 2 or 4 pound test line. There are several choices for bait: waxies, spikes, or mousies are all good choices. Sometimes the fish seem to show a distinct preference for minnows so it is wise to have a few dozen icicle minnows on hand just in case.
As the cold upstate New York winter progresses the ice eventually gets thick enough that dedicated ice fishermen can access the deeper waters of the main lake basins. Lake trout are the primary target when fishing the depths but some anglers will target and occasionally catch landlocked salmon too. Lake trout can be caught by “jigging”.
However, a much stouter jig rod is required to haul a 24 to 38 inch laker from the depths than those used for the comparatively smaller perch. The traditional way to approach laker fishing is by employing tip ups. Tip ups come in a variety of types and configurations. Basically they all have a submersed spool for the line, some sort of arrangement to support the spool over the hole in the ice and a tripped signaling device, usually a small brightly colored flag. This little flag has given rise to the cry heard all around the lake when the fish are biting, FLAGGGG! When ever it is heard all heads will be craning to see if they are the ones with the luck this time. If it happens that I am the lucky angler all bets are off as I go flying, slipping and tripping across the slippery surface of the lake “chasing the flag”.
There are as many theories about how to best proceed once you get to your tip up as there are anglers on the ice. Some say to let the fish run with the bait then stop to swallow it. When this is done and the fish begins to move off again it is time to set the hook. This is how I was taught and it is a distinctly old school approach. Attitudes have gradually changed over the years and now a significant portion of the bigger game fish caught are landed, photographed and quickly released. Catch, photograph and release, abbreviated CPR. This new awareness of the value of our larger game fish has given rise to some techniques and tackle to facilitate CPR. Treble hooks rigged with bait are called quick strike rigs and that is how they are employed. Instead of waiting and allowing the fish to swallow the bait deeply, we now get to our tip up wait for the line to come up taught once we can feel the fish we then set the hook. Sometimes we miss a fish this way, but the ones that are brought out on to the ice can be easily unhooked and then quickly returned to the water where they stand an excellent chance of survival.
As you can see Lake George is an ice fisherman’s paradise. The beautiful lake in its spectacular setting dressed in snowy whiteness will have you wishing for 12 months of winter every year. If you have fished the lake you know what I’m talking about. If you have yet to make your acquaintance with this North Country Lake then this would be a good year to give it a try. If you hear a cry in the distance FLAGGGG! and see a guy dashing over the ice to a his tip up it might just be me!
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Lake George Bait and Info:
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