When the outdoor sporting goods stores start setting up their ice shanty displays and the huge selection of jigging poles and colorful jigs replace summer bait and tackle, the ice fishing season is near, and Central Lake Ontario is known to have world class ice fishing. Lately, the outdoor “big box” stores are following the path of the general merchandizing outfits. Ice gear is on display after Labor Day, the seasons are pushed together faster than the first ice appears.
Early ice areas in western New York can be predicted, although not with a solid ice guarantee when it comes to Lake Ontario ice fishing. Historically certain sections of bays and lakes will freeze first because of shallower water or protection from the prevailing wind. Get rid of the wind, drop the air temperature into the teens, and the ice making machine goes to work. Anyone attempting to fish after the first few freezes had best use caution. Early ice is never uniform in thickness.
“The guys are on Braddock’s Bay. There is three inches.” is a common remark from regional hard water enthusiasts. Braddock’s has the first safe ice every year. It’s located west of Rochester, in Monroe County, and known by most anglers for its great perch fishing.
East of Braddock’ Bay is the four mile long Irondequoit Bay. The northeast corner of the embayment will be spotted with ice fishermen early in the season. The ice is protected from Lake Ontario’s wind, and the shallow four to six feet of water will become a uniform 32 degrees very fast. This corner section is a hot spot for perch. You can also pull some nice brown trout through the ice holes in Irondequoit. The bridge that covers the outlet is removed during the winter months enabling easy access from the east, west or south points.
Sodus Bay is the largest Wayne County inland body of water connecting to Lake Ontario and therefore a little intimidating to first time winter anglers. Nevertheless, ice fishing should be a fun-filled adventure, not a daunting task; so start drilling your holes at the following hot areas.
Traditionally, first ice appears on the east side of LeRoy Island. LeRoy is one of the bay’s three islands all located at the north end of Sodus. Parking is limited; but you should be able to find a spot at the end of LeRoy Island Road which is off Lake Bluff Road.
Trophy size northern pike always swim around this island; and ice anglers will set tip-ups in large patterns, running shiners at the bottom in 12 to 18 feet of water. Bluegills will also appear early in the season. This location is a hot spot for some of the best ice fishing. However, ice thickness varies greatly because of a slight current, and the wise angler carries a spud during early ice.
Just south of LeRoy Island is another early ice haven especially for perch and blue gills. Straight out from Connelly’s Cove Restaurant anglers will find ice fishing opportunities to catch tons of these fine tasting panfish. The water is four to five feet deep; and if you dangle a chartreuse tear-drop jig at the bottom, you’ll connect. Try a spike on the end of the jig then switch to perch eyes.
As the ice fishing season progresses, the quarry you are seeking tend to move around. The schooling perch that were initially in shallow water tend to go deep. Pike will also move; however, they will remain at the weedlines. When you are looking for the perfect place to drill your ice fishing holes and put up your ice fishing huts, keep in mind: fish the weeds; catch the pike. Go deep; catch the perch.
Word gets out fast within the ice fishing community. As the fish move, the ice fishing huts or shanties appear at different locations. Further south on Lake Bluff Road the congregation of tents centers near a restaurant called Cutters. The perch will be hitting in 18 to 20 feet of water. The bait remains the ole’ standby jig; but some like the excitement of tip-down action and will have perch minnows under their holes rigged near the bottom. When the perch are hitting tip-downs, there is plenty of slipping and sliding on the ice as anglers take care of their set-ups.
East Bay, the smallest of the embayments in the county, is not heavily fished; however, it does have good sized fish populations of bluegills and perch for the winter anglers trying to ice fish here. This bay does have a small channel that is usually closed during the winter months. Perch that enter the bay from Lake Ontario are there for the entire ice season. East Bay is located at the end of East Bay Road. Take a right at Chimney Bluffs State Park, and the bay will be right in front of you.
Port Bay, a small 500 acre embayment, will have first ice at the south end. Historically there is plenty of mud resembling a tide-out situation usually associated with the mudflats of Cape Cod. Precipitation will usually fill the big pond. The fishing access road at the south end of the bay is plowed during the winter months, providing an easy walk for most ice fishermen.
Blind Sodus Bay and its bordering cousin Fair Haven in Cayuga County will also ice over at the south end where the water is shallowest. Both waters are known for early bluegill action. Pike will also roam the south end of Blind Sodus. Ten years ago a huge northern pike with a 24-inch girth came through an ice hole. The frantic angler had to chop his hole larger to accommodate that monster of a big fish.
For additional information on ice fishing Wayne County, call Wayne County Office of Tourism at 1-800-527-6510 or use the web page at www.waynecountytourism.com. There is a weekly fishing update on ice conditions. Cayuga County information is available at www.tourcayuga.com/. Monroe County information is available at www.fishingmonroecounty.com/.
Chris Kenyon is an outdoor columnist for the Sodus Record-Sun and The Finger Lakes Times and freelances for several publications. He is a member of NYSOWA and AGLOW. He is also the Outdoor Recreational Coordinator for Wayne County Tourism.