Fish of Lake George
The 36 Fish of the Lake George Watershed
From: The Fishes of the Lake George Watershed by Carl R. George
Lake George has a “two-story” fishery; both warm water fish, such as perch, bass, and sunfish and cold water fish, such as lake trout and salmon, are found in the Lake. There are 36 fish species in the Lake George watershed.
Cold Water Fish of Lake George
Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), the largest trout native to North America, are highly sought by anglers. These fish inhabit the deep, cold waters of the Lake, especially during the summer. They will move into shallower water during the colder times of the year, making them a favorite for ice fishermen. Lake trout can reach a weight of up to 30 pounds, averaging 15 - 34 inches in length. Adults eat primarily smaller fish and can live up to 20 years. Lake George is well known for its lake trout fishery because the population is high. However, lake trout were not always so abundant in Lake George. Lake trout are incredibly susceptible to exploitation. In the 1800s, overfishing nearly decimated lake trout populations. However, since the 1970s they have been successfully reproducing in Lake George and continue to be closely monitored by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Landlocked Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) are not believed to be native to Lake George, but have been stocked for many years because of the spectacular fight they offer anglers. Landlocked salmon are a sub-species of the Atlantic salmon, living in lakes without ever descending into the ocean. During the fall, the salmon enter a stream to spawn. The female turns on her side and fans out a nest in the streambed where the eggs are deposited. After spawning, the fish return to the lake, unlike Pacific salmon that die immediately after spawning. The eggs hatch shortly after and the young landlocked salmon usually stay in the streams for a couple of years before migrating back to the lake. Suitable stream habitat is one of the important components required for salmon spawning. Lake George streams offer only marginal salmon spawning habitat, due to the steep terrain of the watershed. Steep terrain limits the availability of long runs of streams with pebble bottoms for nesting and the low flow conditions in the summer are not conducive to rearing young fish. First introduced into Lake George in the late 1800s, landlocked Atlantic salmon have been persistently stocked to maintain the population. In the spring they are found in shallower waters. Once water temperatures reach the upper 50s, they move offshore to deeper water, returning to the shallow stream-mouths again in the fall.
Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) are a relatively small, slender, elongate fish, averaging six to eight inches long. This silvery fish has iridescent purple, blue and pink sides and weighs about three ounces. Rainbow smelt have been successfully introduced in Lake George as forage for other recreationally valuable fish. First conducted in 1918, and again in 1925, stocking has paid off. Rainbow smelt have become an extremely important component of the Lake George fisheries. Smelt spawn annually in numerous tributaries of Lake George shortly after ice-out, when water temperatures approach 45° F. Spawning primarily occurs at night. Females lay thousands of very small eggs in gravelly streambeds, males fertilize them, then both males and females return to the cool medium depths of the lake where they eat other small fish and invertebrates. Newly hatched fry work their way back to the Lake, becoming important forage for larger fish. It is illegal to collect smelt in the Lake George watershed, due to their importance in sustaining the cold water fishery. However you can witness the “smelt run” at many of the streams around the lake, including West Brook, Foster Brook, and Hague Brook.
Warm Water Fish of Lake George
Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieui) are an important game fish and provide anglers with an outstanding fight. The smallmouth bass is generally greenish-bronze with dark vertical bands along the sides. The upper jaw does not extend beyond the middle of the eye. These fish live in the cool, clear water and are generally intolerant of pollution. As a result, smallmouth bass are used to assess environmental conditions in the Lake. Nests are built in two to twenty feet of water. Newly hatched fry will remain in the nest motionless, then they will eventually rise in a dense school that will be herded and protected by the male for a short period of time. Smallmouth bass are opportunistic predators and will feed on crayfish, small fish like yellow perch, insects and frogs.
Yellow perch (Perca flavescens) are identified by two dorsal fins, one spiny and the other soft rayed. They have yellow sides and seven blackish bars on the sides. Adults can grow to nineteen inches in length, but average between four and ten inches. They travel in schools, preferring shallow waters less than 30 feet deep with grassy, weedy beds for feeding and breeding. Their preferred diet is primarily immature insects, larger invertebrates like crayfish, and the eggs and young of other fish. In turn, large and smallmouth bass, northern pike and lake trout all prey on perch, so they represent an important link in the food chain. In the spring females swim in cool shallow water emitting a long, gelatinous ribbon of spawn woven among the grass and weeds. As many as a dozen males swim along behind, fertilizing the eggs that may number between 10,000 and 48,000! They hatch in about three weeks feeding on zooplankton and providing abundant forage for larger fish. They can be found near the shore and in the open water of the Lake, depending on the time of year. They tend to move into deeper water as the summer progresses. Yellow perch remain active all winter and become great sport for ice fishermen.
For more information about the fish of Lake George, visit the Lake George Fishing Alliance website.
To learn more about the Freshwater Fishes of New York on the NYS DEC website.
View the Special Fishing Regulations for Lake George at the NYS DEC website.