Ice fishing?! Yowsa – Keuka Lake 2/28 out of Keuka State Park


It looks like we are official with the coldest February on record here in Central NY. No surprise there – I’d never seen week after week with lows below zero and highs sometimes also below zero until this year. People ask me fairly often whether I ice fish or not. I usually go once or twice a year with my buddy Mike – generally for bluegills on small lakes. Those are the only reports I don’t post, since parking areas are limited and it really has nothing to do with the Finger Lakes. But I used to ice-fish a lot from around 7th or 8th grade onwards. I was never particularly adept at it. We’d set tip ups for pike or pickerel and jig for perch. No electronics (like nearly everyone back then.) No real shelter. Just stand or sit on a 5 gallon pail and let the nose run. Look for the anglers and set up not too far away, or just wing it. I bought a cheap Frabill shelter and I also did a little bit of icefishing when I moved up here in 1995, mostly at Whitney Point Reservoir.

My buddy Mike convinced me to get a good shelter this season and I broke down and bought a nice Frabill. They are great for tall people. On the way back from the boat show I stopped in at Bass Pro Shops and grabbed a Jason Mitchell Mackinaw stick – the last one they had. I want to catch a laker through the ice. I also want to jig a few pickerel.

Angling Zone Friend Jeff B. has been into icing lakers for years and on a whim I texted him and found out Keuka Lake State Park had been hot. No surprise there. So off we went yesterday. My buddy Jarrod, his 6 year old son Max, Jarrod’s buddy Eric and myself. We got set up around 11:30/Noon and fished away. We wound up doing pretty well once we got things dialed in. Jarrod nailed the first laker then Eric caught a beauty (with 6lb test.) I started hitting them good as well and I have to give my Vexilar FL-18 a lot of credit. We wound up with a nice bunch of fish. I was able to help young Max (doing all the fishing himself) get a nice fish around 23″ or better. Our best action was around 140′ to 155′.

There was a good foot of clear blue ice on the lake. I could see my jig come up 7′ or 8′ below the ice without even looking in the hole. It was great seeing the pale lakers coming up towards the hole doing their usual twisting and pumping. Eric’s fish took some nice runs, which was cool. Jeff B. told me that the Keuka Lake fish load up with bait in the winter. He wasn’t kidding. Nearly all of our fish were spitting bait. My theory is that the well-fed lakers on Seneca and Cayuga Lake don’t need to feed as hard in the winter. They can live on their fat reserves. These Keuka fish need to keep eating!

My setup was pretty basic. The 34″ Jason Mitchell rod was great. I could jig in my shelter, the tip was soft enough not to pull the jig away from the fish and there was plenty of backbone to fight the lakers. It’s a well thought out rod. I went with an ABU Orra Casting reel loaded with the smoke (black)14lb Fireline so I could see it against the ice. The Fireline Crystal probably would’ve been fine in the shelter. (I brought a reel set up with it, but didn’t get to try it. I will next time.) I used the usual 12lb test Seaguar Invis-X Flouro leader. Stout stuff – I don’t think lakers are line-shy and stout gear makes it easy to get the fish coming up through the hole till you can grab him or just pull him through. Also ice can nick line and why take any chances? A 1+1/2 oz jighead with a white Lunker City Swim Fishie did the damage. Spoons and bladebaits are also working good. These fish aren’t that picky. They are hungry!

On an added note, one angler I spoke with landed a 17″ Landlocked salmon. If you want DEC to keep stocking salmon and browns in Keuka Lake and you fish there, make a point of signing up for the angler diary program. They aren’t seeing much interest or success with these species. If that continues to be the case, you may see these stocking programs discontinued. The same angler told me of a 19lb laker iced yesterday on Canandaigua Lake! That’s a BIG FISH!