By Tim Thomas
While many anglers look at the upper Midwest as the prime destination for landing trophy fish during the winter, opportunities in the northeastern United States should not be overlooked.
Leaderboards from recent tournament events in New York state are a testament to the size and diversity of trophy fish in New York waterways. Multiple pike over 20 pounds, walleye over 14 pounds, and perch over two pounds have hit the scales.
How can you find success in this world-class northeastern fishery?
Start with some research on the waterways you plan to target. Find out what forage base the fish is targeting. It might be an insect larvae hatch or spawning minnows. Then, try to ‘match the hatch’ as this is what the fish will be most likely to go after.
Ice Fishing Tips for Northern Pike
In the northeast, one of the most targeted species during the winter is northern pike. Tip-ups are the top choice when targeting predatory species because they can be deployed and then allowed to sit. A favorite tip-up for this is an insulated Pro Thermal to keep the hole from refreezing. Often times, pike will be on the prowl traversing weed edges, drop-offs, and other underwater structures. They are considered opportunistic feeders and will usually consume a distressed minnow if given the chance.
Use underwater cameras to scope out structure and deploy an array of tip-ups. This allows you to cover ground and target multiple areas where the fish may be lurking. Once a pattern is found – like a particular depth contour or edge of a weed bed – you can adjust.
An extremely effective approach for targeting northern pike is to hook a lively golden shiner just in front of the dorsal fin using a small size 10 or 12 treble hook. Use the largest and liveliest shiners available as these will often attract larger fish. Set it one to three feet off of the bottom with three to five feet of fluorocarbon ahead of the main line and a small split shot sinker. This approach allows the fish to swallow the minnow and hook without an angler hook-set. Since the line is then situated between their teeth, this approach requires more of a finesse fighting strategy to prevent a bite-off.
Whether you are a hole-hopper with a Recon and the essentials for maximum mobility or an angler who likes to bring out the full arsenal of gear in your SideStep shelter and set up shop for the day, northeastern U.S. waterways offer a rich fishing experience for all. On most of these waterways, you never know what you might hook into – that’s the beauty of ice fishing!
Of course, with the variability in ice conditions, don’t forget your safety gear and check the ice often. Good luck, stay safe, and tight lines this winter!