It’s derby day!
In Hamilton County, communities gather on the icy surfaces of our frozen lakes to partake in ice fishing derbies all over the region. When the days are dark and the weather is less-than desirable, ice fishing men and women set out on these frozen tundras to cast for the fish that fill the numerous lakes around. There's a reason folks around here wake up at first light to get prime fishing in. The lakes of Hamilton County offer incredible fishing year-round, but in winter, the experience completely transforms.
Where fishermen could once simply don shorts and bring their tackle box on the canoe on a sunny Saturday in the summer, preparing and setting up shop on the ice is half of the fun in winter! What’s more, there’s less competition for fish, as the crowds have all gone into hibernation, all that’s left are the most dedicated fish-folk looking for something to bite. Add in the spirit of classic Adirondack competition, and you have a day filled with epic highs and lows on the icy surface.
Why so popular?
First, the Adirondacks are cold - really, really cold - in winter, thanks to being surrounded by towering mountains that keep the chilling weather of this area pretty contained. Because of the low temperatures, our ice reliably covers the lakes each year, unlike the rest of the country, which increasingly gets less and less snow. And, like most other cold-climate pastimes developed due to the unique terrain, (think snowshoeing and cross-country skiing) folks in the ‘dacks learned to keep fish incoming no matter what, ice or no! Fishermen can choose how they’ll fish, most choosing portable ice fishing shelters also known as ice shanties or ice fishing tents to shield them from the cold. These shelters can house two to three fishers, or more, and can allow for seating, storage, and even portable heaters while you wait for your catch.
Another attractive aspect of ice fishing is snowmobiling. Fishermen know where most hotspots are located around the lakes, however, some of these spots are a bit far from entry points to just walk with your gear. Instead, most snowmobile with their gear strapped behind them, making for a seamless (and fun) addition to the experience. What started out as a simple way to maintain food on the table in winter, has grown into a multi-million dollar sport, generating crowds from all over to come partake in a unique tradition.
What you’ll find
You never know what's on the other end of the line, but there’s a few regulars you might see take the bait. Yellow perch, splake, Rock bass, Largemouth bass, Lake trout, and carp fill our waters, and the rush you’ll feel from reeling one of these in from the black depths of water is like no other. In Blue Mountain Lake specifically, you can find landlocked salmon, one of the few lakes in Hamilton County where 1,300 landlocked salmon are stocked every year!
For derbies, you don’t have to look far to figure out who’s got the competition brewing this season. In Raquette Lake, the Mike Norris Ice Fishing Derby takes place every year on the last Saturday of January, this year on January 27, 2024. Long Lake hosts its derby on Long Lake and Lake Eaton, two separate derbies on the same day for both kids and adults! The derby will be held February 10, 2024. Not in the mood to weigh your catches against some fierce competition? No biggie, the surrounding ice-covered waters of Blue Mountain Lake, Forked Lake, Fourth Lake, Lake Abanakee, and Indian Lake (quite a handful!) are prime spots for some peace and quiet while you cast.
A fishing frenzy
So, if you’re looking for something to fill those cold wintry days around the Adirondacks, or you’re simply looking for an excuse to get out on the lake, Hamilton County is primed with ice fishing derbies to fill your weekends (and your coolers) with lots and lots of fish! Set up camp on the ice and relax as you take in the quiet scenery of the surrounding mountains as you wait for the fishies to come on down to your line. More of a novice when it comes to ice fishing? Take up one of the many expert guides around to teach you the ropes and give you the skills for years of derbies and winter casting to come. When you’re not out on the lake, explore the charming towns that host these waters for dinner, shopping, and attractions.