Local Fishing Wisdom

When we talk about fishing in the Adirondacks, we often say, "talk to the locals." Want to know where the fish are biting? The locals know. Curious about changing up your bait options? The locals can tell you what's been working well. Whether it's early morning coffee at the diner, or across the counter in the local gear shops, the happy fishermen and women of the Adirondacks love to talk fish and share their tips and stories. I recently caught up with Moriah native Matthew Brassard, who has been ice fishing in the Lake Champlain Region for most of his life, to ask him for a few tips and to learn more about his love for ice fishing. Warning: ice fishing is addicting. Proceed at your own risk!

Matthew Brassard out on the ice. Photo courtesty Matthew Brassard.

First, could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I am 35 years old and I am from Moriah. I have lived here my entire life besides going to college in Plattsburgh for a couple years. I am currently a town councilman for the Town of Moriah.

How did you get started ice fishing?

I started ice fishing back when I was about 5 years old. It began with trips out to the ice shanty a couple times a month with my father and uncles to catch smelt. As I got older it was more like every weekend from 6 a.m. 'til dusk. Once I was old enough to go alone I spent just about every free second I had ice fishing. I remember I would get out of school at 3 p.m. and go straight to the lake to fish 'til dark many days during the winter. As an adult I spend a majority of my weekends fishing somewhere, but now I'm with my son Landen, hoping to hook him in to the sport just as I was as a young boy.

Is ice fishing something you do with friends and family?

I spend many days on the ice now with my son Landen. I have a friend named Jeff who moved to upstate New York from Dallas, Texas about 12 years ago. He absolutely loves it. I remember the first time I brought him with me we hiked into a small local pond and it had just freshly snowed. The entire walk into the pond he kept saying how amazing it was and when we got to the pond to fish he didn’t believe me that we were actually on the ice; he thought it was just an open field. 

Two men give ice fishing a big, happy thumbs up on the ice.

What are some of your favorite places to go ice fishing? 

I love fishing right here, close to home in Lake Champlain. However, since the smelt have changed their habits and don’t come down the lake to spawn as they used to, I have found myself exploring different parts of the lake such as north of Plattsburgh, south of Ticonderoga, and many places along the Vermont shoreline. Early in the season before the lake is frozen, I hit many local ponds to fish, mostly for pike.

A northern pike caught by Matthew Brassard. Photo courtesy Matthew Brassard.

What are some of your favorite things about ice fishing?

I enjoy just being outdoors. When a majority of Americans head inside for the winter months, I’m the complete opposite. That’s when I find myself outdoors more than any part of the year. I enjoy building a small fire, cooking some hot dogs while I wait for the next flag to go up. Also, there are many places I can fish in the winter that I can’t get to in the summer due to needing a boat.

Speaking of summer, do you prefer ice fishing to fishing in the summer?

Absolutely. I honestly don’t do much fishing outside of ice fishing. I just don’t enjoy it as much for some strange reason.

A fisherman walks across the frozen lake.

What's the best catch you ever had, and why?

The best catch I’ve ever had was one day I was fishing with my brother in-law on what we call the west channel just north of Port Henry. The smelt were biting so great that day that we each filled a 7 gallon bucket.

Do you have any special tips you want to share?

I would say just have fun. If you go into it thinking you are always going to catch a ton of fish or catch a huge fish every time out you will probably not enjoy the sport. I have gone home empty handed many times in my 30 years of ice fishing.

Frozen Lake Champlain. Photo courtesy Matthew Brassard.

With a variety of bays, inlets, and wide open spaces, Lake Champlain is an amazing place to go ice fishing. You don't need to catch anything to have a great time and make awesome memories. Local shops can help you get set up with gear, and there are plenty of great restaurants for either a hearty early breakfast or post-fishing dinner. While you're out on the ice, be careful, but also watch for beautiful "clear ice." In places the ice is crystal clear and if you're lucky, you'll see fish swimming right beneath your feet!

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