Fishing Within the Blue

A guide to the top five places to fish within the boundaries of the Adirondack Park
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Story by John Coleman
Photos by Noah Fitzgerald

There are over three thousand lakes and 30,000 miles of river in the Adirondacks. That said, finding a good place to fish within the Adirondack Park “blue line” boundary is a pretty simple task.  However, there are some places that are without question the best places to fish.

According to John Sweeny, a licensed guide at the AuSable River Sport Shop and Adirondack fisherman for forty-seven years, "The Adirondacks provide some of the best fishing in the East with good aquatic life, dependable hatches, and a good number of fish per mile."

"The Adirondacks provide some of the best fishing in the East."

"The variety of easily accessible waters including rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds, as well as the variety of fish species, gives anglers plenty of options and opportunities while fishing in the Adirondacks," says Chris Williamson, owner of Jones Outfitters Ltd.

A fishing trip should be more of a sport and less of a quest, so I will identify the "top five" fishing locations in the Adirondacks. I will also identify what fish occupy this water and the most effective methods of catching these animals, as well as location and accessibility.

1. AuSable River

Francis Betters refers to the AuSable River as “The Legendary AuSable” in the book Good Fishing in the Adirondacks. It is often agreed that this river is the best trout stream in the East. Beginning as a small tributary atop Mount Marcy in the Adirondack Park before running east through Essex and Clinton counties, the AuSable River eventually empties into Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh. According to Betters, “unpolluted water, a proper temperature range, a good supply of oxygen, a plentiful food supply, and cover,” make the AuSable a prime place to fish.

AuSable River
The AuSable is considered by many to be the blue-chip trout river of the East.

The county restricts anglers to fishing most of the river from April 1 until October 15-the standard fishing season in many upstate counties. However, the 30-mile West Branch is open year-round. Be aware that some areas are restricted to catch and release and some are off-limits to fishing.

According to Betters, the most effective lures to use in the faster sections of the AuSable are spinners-handmade lures fashioned with skirts and beads to look like a bug or small minnow. Spinners include Panther Martins, Mepps, Roostertails, C.P. Swings, or Swiss Swings. For medium to slower sections, he recommends Phoebes or Rapala lures, which are crank baits made to resemble small minnows. Another option, of course, are live baits, such as minnows, worms, or the traditional fly. Colors and sizes of flies vary and different fashions are used according to what bugs are in the air and on the water at the time.

The Department of Environmental Conservation heavily stocks the West Branch with rainbow and brook trout each spring, the area's main species of fish. Most range from 8 to 18 inches; however, deep pools along this stretch has yielded trout as big as 8 pounds. Smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye can also be caught out of the AuSable in warmer, slower sections. The most scenic section of the river is in Lake Placid, where the river flows by the Olympic ski jumps. Easily accessible by Route 86, this area is open year-round to catch and release fishing.



2. Lake George

Shaped by retreating glaciers and filled by runoff from the nearby Adirondack Mountains and Green Mountains, Lake George's 32-miles of crystal clear water, along with its historical significance, landed a number two spot on the list.

Lake George
Lake George is known as "Americas most beautiful lake."

An angler can take many approaches to fishing depending on what he or she wishes to land. For landlocked salmon and lake trout, an angler needs a boat to access the deep water in the wider, middle part of the lake where depths can reach over 100 feet. During the midsummer months, lake trout and salmon are lazy and difficult to catch. In early spring, however, landlocked salmon and lake trout actively feed in the shallow waters near the shore. Brown and rainbow trout prefer cooler waters with plenty of cover and are a rare catch.

For largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel, northern pike, and pan fish, the many warm, shallow bays and narrows are hot with action. Bass love cover and structure, so weedless rigs and crank baits fished around rocks, fallen trees, docks, and any other manmade or natural cover is the best plan to catch this animal.

“America's most beautiful lake” offers year-round fishing in a picturesque environment.  The lake is dotted with 365 islands, forty-seven of which are maintained by the Department of Environmental Conservation. These islands are available for camping with permit. For $18, anglers, campers, and outdoor lovers alike can have overnight access to one of these places.

Lake George is located off exits 20 to 28 of New York Interstate 87. The “narrows” divides the North and South Basins. The densely populated South basin is where the village is located, and population density diminishes as you move north toward the wetlands. A boat would be most effective on the lake, while there are many docks and piers to fish in the village.

Lake George has long been a popular tourist destination offering shopping, dining, lodging, live music, and mini-golf in the village as well as a theme park nearby. Lake George is also the home of many events such as the Americade motorcycle rally in the summer and the Winter Carnival in the winter.



3. Lake Champlain

Surrounded by the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains, there is no shortage of scenery on Lake Champlain, the country's sixth-largest freshwater lake, which offers the most variety of fishing in the Adirondacks.

Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain is the sixth-largest freshwater lake and serves as a border between Vermont and New York.

In the shallow, cool waters of Lake Champlain, anglers will find schools of smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, pickerel, crappie, and sunfish. In the deep waters, brown trout, landlocked salmon, lake trout, and even an occasional steelhead are potential catches. Lake Champlain bottoms out at over 400 feet deep between Port Kent, New York and Burlington, Vermont. Southern portions of the lake are too shallow for fishing.

Due to its size and rocky shoreline, experienced anglers recommend fishing the lake by boat.  This action allows an angler to cover more area as well as access many islands, such as Valcour Island near Plattsburgh. However, Lake Champlain is often rough and storms sweep in without warning, so anglers and boaters need to pack the proper safety equipment and be prepared to take cover in case of one. Boat launches can be found along the western shore, including ramps in Ticonderoga, Port Henry, Plattsburgh, Point Au Roche, and Chazy. There is good fishing in the Rouses Point vicinity, as well, but there is limited accessibility.

Late spring to early fall is the best time for fishing on Lake Champlain, while the lake is a popular ice-fishing destination in the winter months. The best lures to use vary depending on what you are trying to catch. Rubber worms, live minnows, and spinner baits are best for bass, while deep diving spoon baits attached to down riggers are best for catching lake trout and salmon in the deeper water.


While fishing on Lake Champlain, take the opportunity to fish the many tributaries that feed the lake such as the “Legendary” AuSable, the “Mighty” Saranac, and the “Great” Chazy Rivers.



4. Saranac River


Just miles from the AuSable, the “Mighty” Saranac River begins in the Adirondack High Peaks before flowing east through Franklin, Essex, and Clinton counties, eventually emptying into Lake Champlain.

Saranac River
A slow-moving section of the Saranac near SUNY-Plattsburgh.

More of an industrial river, the Saranac has long been used for cooling purposes by a number of hydroelectric plants. This shouldn't discourage anglers, however, because the Saranac still offers a variety of fish. Water conditions have improved fish habitat by the varying temperatures.

A majority of the Saranac offers year-round fishing unless marked otherwise. Many spots prohibit the use of live bait, and since their waters are similar, the same lures listed above for the AuSable apply to the Saranac.


Walleye, smallmouth, trout, and northern pike, steelhead, and landlocked salmon can all be caught in the Saranac. The type of fish you catch will likely depend on the speed and temperature of the water. While trout and salmon like cold, fast moving water, walleye, pike, and bass tend to like warmer, slow moving water.

Along its path to Lake Champlain, the Saranac passes under many bridges and over a dam. One section flows behind the State University of New York Plattsburgh campus, making access very easy.



5. Schroon Lake

Fed by runoff from the Adirondack and Green Mountains, the 9-mile long Schroon Lake offers great year-round fishing in the heart of the Adirondacks. Its serene setting and quality fishing landed a spot on the top five.

Schroon Lake
Tranquil Schroon Lake.

Schroon Lake can be found off exits 26 to 28 of I-87 by following Route 9.
Landlocked salmon, lake trout, brown trout, large and smallmouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, smelt, rock bass, and sunfish can all be found throughout the lake. Trolling by boat is the most effective method to fishing on the lake. Much like Lake George and Lake Champlain, the best seasons for fishing are fall and spring. Free boat launches are available both in the Village of Schroon Lake and in the town of Horicon, on the northern tip of the lake.

Those in the North Country are blessed with an abundance of good fishing.  For those with outdoor experience looking for an adventure, the way to finding these remote lakes, ponds, and streams is to get a map and go bushwhacking. To make it easier, guide services are available to bring less map-savvy anglers to these fishing paradises.

Do you have any good Adirondack fishing tales?

Guides

Here is a list of guide services that offer fishing, camping and hiking trips in the Adirondacks. Trips are specialized for full and half day trips and payment options. Group plans are available.

AuSable River Walker
AuSable River Sport Shop
Jones Outfitters Ltd.
Adirondack Guiding
John's Guide Service


Interested in taking a trip to these fishing spots? Here are maps of the bodies of water and surrounding areas.

AuSable River
Lake George
Lake Champlain

Saranac River
Schroon Lake

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