There’s a running joke in New York that we actually have 12 seasons: winter, fool’s spring, second winter, spring of deception, third winter … you get the idea.
For most anglers, the seasons that offer prime fishing weather in New York are all too fleeting. But when it comes to ice fishing, boy, do we have opportunities.
Any given year, there’s almost certainly fishable ice somewhere in the Empire State from December to March. While not every lake in New York offers such a generous window, suffice it to say there’s no shortage of chilly days to spend on the ice.
Whether you’re pursuing schools of perch on the frozen bays of the Great Lakes, jigging up lake trout in the Adirondacks, or setting tip-ups for pike in the Finger Lakes, New York presents an incredible number and variety of excellent ice fishing destinations.
Picking the best ice-fishing lakes in New York is no easy task, and countless excellent lakes didn’t quite make the cut for this list. But if you’re looking for a place to drill a few holes in New York this winter, the following ice-fishing lakes are great places to start.
Tenth in size among the 11 Finger Lakes, Honeoye Lake is one of the best ice-fishing destinations in the Rochester area. Anglers have many options in this 1,772-acre lake, ranging from panfish to walleye.
Honeoye Lake is also the shallowest Finger Lake at just 30 feet, making it one of the first to freeze every year. Early ice offers anglers opportunities to target bluegills through the ice at the north and south ends of this long, narrow lake.
As safe ice expands, so do the fishing opportunities.
Honeoye Lake doesn’t have a ton of notable bottom structure, but it does have ample vegetation, including a lot of weed growth that persists through winter.
Anglers commonly catch chain pickerel, largemouth bass, and black crappie in and around weed beds. The narrow mid-lake areas around California Point and Log Cabin Point are perfect places to catch these species, with steeply-sloping bottom contours and plenty of weeds.
The DEC also has stocked walleye in Honeoye Lake for many years. Lots of 2- to 5-pound fish are taken every winter.
Jigging around drop-offs and deep weed edges is a popular tactic when targeting walleye, along with tip-ups baited with live minnows.
Most years, Lake Erie freezes over completely. It’s the only one of the Great Lakes to do so, and it provides some great opportunities for ice anglers in Western New York.
Most folks who fish Lake Erie through the ice target yellow perch, but walleye, pike, and many other species are also available.
The best perch fishing is in deep water, and it can take quite a while for Lake Erie to freeze enough to allow anglers out onto the 40 to 50-foot reefs and shoals where the action is. So it may be February before the best spots are accessible.
The stretch from Sturgeon Point northwest toward the Evans-Angola Bar is the place to be, offering vast schools of 9-inch-plus perch and plenty of walleye. It’s a 3- to 4-mile trek, so a snowmobile or ATV is necessary.
For ice fishing opportunities closer to shore, head to Buffalo Harbor State Park, where the sheltered Small Boat Harbor and the larger Outer Harbor offer solid options ranging from 5 to 20 feet of water. Anglers catch perch, sunfish, and the occasional pike and crappie in these harbors.
Ice jigs tipped with mousies are the preferred bait for panfish. However, perch often fall for shiners and jigging spoons. Farther west, Dunkirk Harbor often offers safe ice.
The area to be extremely careful is the easternmost end of the main lake, outside the breakwall surrounding the Buffalo Outer Harbor. The persistent west winds and strong currents as the lake funnels into the Niagara River can create treacherous conditions.
Oneida Lake’s massive 50,894 acres of water provide ice anglers with plenty of room to spread out. A short drive from Syracuse, this Central New York lake is the largest body of water entirely within the Empire State.
It’s also one of the state’s best fisheries for walleye and perch, and that’s as true during the hard water season as it is the rest of the year. The lake produces incredible numbers of 2- to 5-pound walleyes, and some that are much, much bigger.
Rocky ledges, bars, and shoals offer some of the best walleye action. The best is the legendary Shackleton Shoal, which encompasses an enormous area in the middle of the lake, with depths ranging from 6 to 26 feet.
Yellow perch also roam the shoals and the deep water flats nearby in the 30- to 40-foot range. Ice thickness is usually sufficient to allow anglers out to this mid-lake bonanza by late January.
But there are also solid fishing opportunities in the lake’s bays and shallow areas much earlier in the winter. Big Bay is one of the first places to ice up, and anglers catch lots of panfish here.
Ratso lures are popular for panfish, as are fishing wax worms and spikes on ice jigs.
Walleye also linger around the remnants of summer weed beds in 8 to 15 feet of water in late December and early January.
Among many access points on the lake are the DEC launch on Big Bay at Toad Harbor and Shackleton Point on the south shore of the main lake.
Home to New York’s highest peaks and most remote lakes, the Adirondacks offer a wealth of winter adventures. Dozens of excellent ice fishing lakes dot the landscape of this rugged region, but few are more well-regarded than 286-acre Lake Colby.
Part of the Saranac chain of lakes, one of Lake Colby’s advantages is that it’s relatively accessible and close to civilization by Adirondack standards. Lake Colby Beach and the DEC launch site on Route 86 both offer easy access and ample parking.
Rainbow and brown trout are stocked in Colby Lake every spring, and some holdover fish are available to ice anglers all winter long. But the big attraction here is landlocked Atlantic salmon.
Every fall, the DEC releases 21-inch broodstock salmon in Lake Colby shortly before it ices up, and countless anglers come here to try and catch them. Safe ice is usually available by mid-December, and the first weeks of the season offer the best fishing.
Minnows (especially gold shiners) fished just under the ice on tip-ups are the bait of choice.
The lake also supports a few warm-water species, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and pumpkinseed sunfish.
Lake Ontario Bays
Lake Ontario offers outstanding fishing for just about everything that swims in freshwater. And although the main lake does not freeze solid in winter, its many bays and backwaters do, providing some of New York’s best ice fishing.
Sodus Bay is a standout in the Rochester area, with schools of 8- to 12-inch perch and big northern pike. And while few anglers specifically target bass through the ice, the bay also produces some impressive winter largemouths.
A little farther east, Sandy Pond is another outstanding spot for pike and panfish. This Oswego County embayment produces plenty of wintertime northerns up to 15 pounds, as well as ample catches of perch, bluegill, and sunfish.
But the crown jewel of Lake Ontario ice fishing is Chaumont Bay. Located near Watertown at the easternmost end of Lake Ontario, this massive bay offers some of the best walleye and perch fishing through the ice in New York.
On prime winter weekends, it’s not uncommon to see 500 shanties dotted across this 9,000-acre bay. Johnson Shoal and Herrick Shoal are among the best spots, but the bay offers a wealth of smaller, less well-known shoals, rock piles, and bars.
Long Point State Park is a popular access point on Chaumont Bay, and many anglers find good schools of perch within walking distance of the park. Try targeting perch during daylight hours and switching to walleye fishing as the sun sinks.
There’s also good access to the bay in the village of Chaumont, where Chaumont Hardware has been providing anglers with bait, tackle, and up-to-date reports on ice conditions for decades.
Encompassing 314,000 acres of water between New York, Vermont and Quebec, Lake Champlain is one of the largest natural freshwater lakes in North America. It’s been called the “Sixth Great Lake,” and it offers a variety of ice fishing opportunities to earn that lofty title.
The lake stretches over 120 miles from north to south, and the northernmost bays often freeze in early December, providing a very long ice fishing season. Yellow perch are the main target species early in the season in areas like Rouses Point and King Bay.
As winter wears on and safe ice creeps southward, more opportunities open up. Monty Bay and Point Au Roche State Park are prime areas for pike and perch. There’s also great smelt fishing as deeper waters freeze from Willsboro Bay to Westport.
The middle section of Lake Champlain—roughly from Plattsburgh south to Westport—is also the heart of the lake trout fishery, one of the big year-round attractions here. Anglers catch lakers through the ice throughout this stretch and a few landlocked salmon up to 7 pounds.
Live smelt are the bait of choice, and lake trout commonly strike anywhere from 5 to 25 feet below the ice. Many anglers catch smelt on teardrop jigs and then use them to bait tip-ups for trout.
Public piers and DEC boat launch sites in Port Kent, Westport, and other communities throughout Lake Champlain’s midsection offer numerous points where anglers can easily get out on the ice.
The third-largest of the finger lakes, Keuka Lake sprawls across 11,584 acres in Yates and Steuben Counties. Over 180 feet deep, this lake supports a robust two-story fishery that includes opportunities to target lake trout, landlocked salmon and brown trout.
Warmwater game fish like pike, pickerel, smallmouth bass and various panfish are also common, particularly in the weedy shallows at the lake’s northern and southernmost ends.
Keuka Lake is unique among the finger lakes in that it’s shaped like the letter Y, with two arms that meet in the middle to form the main lake. Due to the lake’s massive size and great depth, only the eastern arm reliably ices over most years.
The village of Penn Yan lies at the northern tip of this arm, and provides the main access point for ice anglers, who typically walk out from Indian Pines Park.
The weedy flats here are great for panfish, but it takes a bit of a hike to get out to the deeper water where lake trout and salmon roam.
Lake trout are the most popular species, and anglers commonly find these open-water nomads suspending over 25- to 100-foot depths along the lake’s drop-offs. The area off Keuka College also produces some good catches, including lakers over 10 pounds.
During the rare years when the western arm freezes, Keuka Lake State Park provides an additional access point in an area that gets less pressure.
Keuka Lake also produces some big yellow perch, and some anglers catch them from boats in open water all winter long off Bluff Point.
A range of ice fishing options are available at Cranberry Lake, a 6,995-acre lake that lies among the Adirondack foothills in Northern New York. It’s also a lake that has changed greatly over the years.
Historically, Cranberry Lake has been a haven for native brook trout. The DEC still manages the lake for these fish, and lucky winter anglers can catch some nice brookies through the ice. But the proliferation of yellow perch and, more recently, northern pike has shifted the balance.
These days, Cranberry Lake is known primarily as a trophy pike lake. Northerns over 45 inches are caught here, and an annual pike ice fishing derby routinely brings in fish of massive proportions.
Tip-ups baited with large minnows for pike are the most common approach on Cranberry Lake. Some anglers also use jigs and spoons to target panfish and occasional brook trout and smallmouth bass.
One thing worth noting is that the DEC boat launch at the lake’s northeast end tends not to freeze well and shouldn’t be considered a safe place to get on the ice. Better options are the state-operated Cranberry Lake Campground and the public beach in the village of Cliffton.
Tiger muskies are one of the big attractions at Otisco Lake, a 1,877-acre lake in Central New York that is the easternmost of the Finger Lakes. The DEC stocks 11,000 of these muskellunge/northern pike hybrids every other year.
Anglers have pulled tiger muskellunge weighing over 25 pounds through the ice of Otisco Lake, and fish in the 10-pound class are fairly common. The lake also offers great fishing for panfish through the ice, along with populations of walleye, largemouth bass, and brown trout.
It takes a long time for the entire lake to freeze over most years. But the north end of Otisco Lake between the Narrows and the dam—it is a natural lake, but the water level is managed—freezes much more quickly.
Most of the ice fishing takes place at the north end. Some anglers jig on the weedy flats and along the edges of the channel for bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish and perch. Others rig minnows under tip-ups for tiger muskies.
The muskie bite isn’t exactly a thrill-a-minute kind of game, so it doesn’t hurt to jig with a spare rod while your minnow waits to be eaten. Shiners are the bait of choice, and local anglers have learned to set the bait 2 to 4 feet below the ice for suspending tigers.
If and when safe ice forms on the main lake, Otisco Lake Park provides additional access farther down the eastern shore. Ice anglers targeting brown trout often have better luck in this area.
Silver Lake offers some of the best ice fishing in Western New York.
This 836-acre Wyoming County lake has ample weed growth and a gently sloping bottom contour with depths up to 37 feet, supporting a winter fishery that revolves around pike and panfish.
Bluegill and sunfish offer the most consistent ice bite, and these fish are seldom hard to find. Yellow perch are also common, including solid numbers of fish in the 8 to 10-inch range.
Panfish often bite tiny ice jigs so readily that tipping the hooks with live bait is unnecessary.
When the bite is a little slower, try tipping your jigs with spikes or mousies. Small jigging spoons also do well for perch.
Northern pike patrol weed beds throughout the lake, especially at the south and north ends. These fish average 18 to 25 inches here, but anglers pull up plenty of bigger pike every winter.
A decent self-sustaining walleye population is also available, though the DEC discontinued walleye stocking in the late ’90s.
Two public access sites provide ample opportunities to get out on the ice. Silver Lake State Park, at the south end of the lake, is the most popular spot. Farther north, Perry Public Beach is another good option.
Located in Northern New York’s St. Lawrence County, Black Lake is a 7,593-acre natural lake that offers a wealth of ice fishing opportunities. It’s especially known for offering some of the best crappie fishing in the state.
Black Lake offers widely varied bottom structures, including rocky ledges, rock piles and humps, steep cliffs, islands, and channels. Most of the lake is less than 20 feet deep, and aquatic vegetation persists well into winter.
There are countless great spots to get on the water. Rollaway Bay, on the east side of the lake, is the most popular spot. Public access to the bay is just off Black Lake Road.
Despite being a big lake with lots of ice to cover, it’s not usually too hard to find fish here. Panfish like perch and bluegill are plentiful throughout shallow parts of the lake, while crappies often school deeper than 10 feet, moving up shallower on warmer, sunnier days.
Black Lake also supports an abundance of northern pike. Anglers commonly catch northerns ranging from 18-inch hammer-handles right up to 36-inch brutes.
Though seldom prized by anglers, the lake also supports a lot of bowfin, which tend to fall for the same minnows that fool pike on tip-ups. Some impressive bass and walleye are caught through the ice too.
Catch More Fish
Ready to get out and fish on the hard deck in New York? We’d suggest you first take a quick read through our guide to ice-fishing techniques, tips, and safety information.