One February morning a few years ago, my buddy and I had settled in for what we hoped would be a solid morning of ice fishing for lake trout in Lake George.
After setting our tip-ups in deep water we decided to jig closer to shore, some 150 feet away from where a small brook trickles down off a mountain and enters the lake.
Sound travels a long way on a windless morning and while our fishing was quiet we suddenly heard a lot of commotion nearly more than half a mile away. A group of anglers were set up in a shallow bay that’s known as a perch fishing haunt. When we turned our attention to the racket going on down there, we knew it wasn’t about perch.
When I looked through my binoculars I could see a crowd gathering around one guy whose perch-jigging rod was bent right over. It was obvious he had hooked either a northern pike, a bass or a lake trout and it would be a challenge to bring in a lunker on a fishing outfit designed for little fish. But this guy knew what he was doing and he worked away at it, tiring the fish out. Nearly 30 minutes later he had a big laker on the ice.
Most serious lake trout anglers usually head for deep water in pursuit of their bottom-dwelling quarry. In many lakes this is where their forage fish like ciscos or smelt can be found and our baits, albeit on a tip-up or a jig rod, usually imitate the latter. While this pattern produces consistently, there is always the case where traditional logic can be tossed aside.
You often hear of someone pulling cruising lake trout from shallow waters where you wouldn’t expect them to be. Last year I got a report from an angler who iced a 22-pound lake trout that he caught on a tip-up rigged for salmon. He was fishing in 8 feet of water and the bait was just 3 feet under the ice. I’ve seen lakers hit shallow-set tip-ups rigged for salmon over deep water, but I don’t know too many anglers who target lakers in the shallows.
More common is a lake trout being caught higher in the water column than right on the bottom. When jigging, sometimes they follow the bait up and take it anywhere along the way. I’ve also had this happen to me when pulling a tip-up at the end of the day or when just checking my bait.
Last week an angler I know was jigging for perch in 30 feet of water when he realized he had something big on his line. Like the first guy mentioned here, he took his time and let the fish make a number of runs before he brought it through the hole. He also said it took about 30 minutes to land the fish, which turned out to be a 30-inch lake trout.
These days many of us use electronics to tell us where the fish are, or, where they’re not. But all of this just goes to show that when it comes to fishing lake trout, sometimes they’re just not where you expect them to be.
That’s why it’s called fishing, and not catching.
Next weekend the Chinga-Classic takes place on Lake George Feb. 15 and 16. Get more information by calling 656-9462. The weekend of Feb. 22 and 23 features the Northern Lake George Ice Fishing Derby based out of Hague. For more, call 543-6542.
The first weekend in March will see two tournaments in the area. The Schroon Lake Fish and Game Club’s annual event takes place March 1 and 2. More information is available at www.schroonlakefishandgameclub.com. That same weekend is the Colby Classic, which is run by the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club. For more information, call 891-2560.
Ice fishing tournaments are a great opportunity to fish with friends and family. Many support very worthy causes, not to mention they offer great prizes not only for those fortunate enough to catch a nice fish, but all who take part.
Good luck and be safe on the ice.
Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at www.adkhunter.com.