Early Ice Fishing Recommendations in STLC
Local Tips from Area Fishing Guide Bobby Helms
As open water season winds down, early ice fishing season is upon us! While just about every lake, pond, and bay of the St. Lawrence River freezes every winter, there are a select few locations that have the water characteristics to allow them to freeze a bit earlier than others. Depth, size of waterway, and current present are generally the determining factors when it comes to early, safe ice.
While Bobby's recommendations are by no means a guarantee of early safe ice, they can help you make a decision about where to go, what you'll want to fish for in these various waters, how to target them as well as where the access sites are located.
Early Ice Fishing: Coles Creek Bay
Coles Creek Bay is another area where anglers can generally find some safe ice earlier than a lot of other places in St. Lawrence County. Coles Creek Bay and State Park are located off of Rt. 37 between Waddington and Louisville. Coles Creek is a very diverse fishery. On any given day a fisherman or woman should expect to catch Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Blue Gills, an occasional Crappie and Walleye. The Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, and Walleye are the main attractions at Coles Creek. All three species can be caught using a variety of gear and tactics.
The Yellow perch fishing in Coles Creek Bay can be good to great on any given day. Generally the Perch will be found on flats and gradual drop offs. Small jigs tipped with a small fathead minnow, a minnow head or spikes (maggots) are top producers. Another productive method that can eliminate smaller perch is to use Tip Downs and Tip Ups rigged with a 2-3” shiner minnow. The larger size minnow makes it harder for small Perch to ingest so your chances for the larger 10”-13+” perch; Coles Creek is known for goes up. It's not uncommon for a couple fishermen/women to fill a 5 gallon bucket over the course of a few hours but be mindful, unlike Jefferson County, our neighbor to the south which has no limit on Yellow Perch, Coles Creek as well as the rest of the St. Lawrence County water bodies have a daily limit of 50 Yellow Perch per person. So get out after the Perch and have yourselves a great fish fry at the end of the day!
The Northern Pike fishing on Coles Creek Bay can be exceptional at times. You have a chance at some really large Pike but generally speaking most of the fish are going to be between 25”-30” long and weigh between 4 and 6 lbs. What Coles lacks for average size of Pike it makes up for in sheer number of Pike that an angler should expect to catch. If you’re fishing with tip ups expect to be chasing flags all day long and to bring a lot of bait. I usually like to use sucker minnows that are between 4”-6” long but in recent years they have been becoming harder to find consistently at local bait shops. However, 4”-5” Golden Shiners will do just fine. When you’re at a bait shop just ask for Pike bait and you’ll be all set. These guys are “toothy critters” so most anglers will generally use steel leaders to attach their hooks to their tip up line. I like to use 20lb-30lb fluorocarbon leader line instead of the steel leaders because the fluorocarbon line basically disappears in the water and is also highly abrasion resistant. The steel leaders can stick out like a sore thumb under the ice but generally speaking the Pike won't care if you’ve got a big, juicy minnow swimming around just waiting to be eaten. The Pike will generally be found in the same areas as the Perch so you can catch Perch jigging one minute and be battling a nice Northern Pike on a tip up the next!
Where to Access the Bay
Coles Creek can be accessed from a small parking area on the north side of the causeway on Rt. 37 as well as a couple small pull offs along the causeway.
A Few Ice Fishing Tips to Consider
Remember, to check the condition of the ice before you head out onto it. If you don't feel comfortable with the amount of ice, do NOT go out onto it. Ice sheets are never uniform across a body of water and can change in one step. Always have safety gear and use the buddy system early on.
Catching Walleye at Coles Creek
And last but not least, the “Golden Ticket” that droves of North Country anglers search far and wide to tangle with...the Walleye! The St. Lawrence River is known internationally as being a Walleye hot bed. Unfortunately the main channel of the River doesn't freeze so ice anglers are stuck in the bays. Generally speaking the Walleyes aren’t going to be a big average size like the ones that live out in the main channel of the St. Lawrence but there's a good number of legal size Walleye (18” minimum) in Coles Creek. A lot of anglers like to target the Walleyes by jigging and “hole hopping”, drilling lots of holes in areas so you can go from one to the next to find a “hot bite”. When jigging for Walleye I like to use minnow style baits like the “Jigging Rap” by Rapala and other minnow style baits from other companies. I’ll tip my Jigging Raps with a small minnow head on the center treble hook. Early in the morning you can find the Walleyes migrating from the 6’-10’ flats where they feed during the evening and night to the deep channel where they find refuge during the daylight hours. In the evening you’ll find the walleye doing the opposite and moving back up into the shallower water to feed. Tip Ups also work great for Walleye. 3”-4” shiners work the best but walleye can be line shy so 6lb-8lb fluorocarbon leaders and small hooks will work the best when targeting Walleyes on tip ups.
As you can see Coles Creek is a very diverse and exciting fishery. Whether you’re a seasoned hard water angler or brand new to ice fishing, the fish in Coles Creek will keep you busy throughout the day. As always be sure to check the ice before venturing out, have the necessary safety equipment and always use the buddy system on early ice! Have fun, be safe, and I look forward to seeing everyone out on the hard water this winter!
Originally from Tupper Lake, NY, Bobby Helms relocated to Canton this fall. An avid outdoorsman, Bobby has been a fishing guide in the Adirondacks, the Lake Ontario Tributaries, and in Alaska for many years. He also spent some time as a “trout bum'' in the Greater Yellowstone area of Idaho and Wyoming. When he’s not out on the water he can be found spending time with his girlfriend, Brittany and playing with his Yellow Lab, Cutty.