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Adirondack North Country Fishing

Canoeing and Fishing

Angling for a good time? The Adirondack North Country has what you're looking for: cold-water streams, warm-water ponds, slow rivers, big lakes…there's no shortage of water, and no end to the variety. Trout? Of course. Browns, rainbows, lake trout, or brookies—they're all here. Salmon? Head for the Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain watersheds. Bass? No problem. Smallmouth or largemouth, the choice is yours. Walleyes? Yep. And pike, too, not to mention perch, crappies, and sunfish. You can even stalk a muskie.

RULES AND REGULATIONS The paddling season and the open seasons for North Country fish species generally coincide, though some waters are open all year round. Unless you're under 16, you'll have to purchase a fishing license before wetting a line in New York waters. The license year begins on October 1st and ends on the following September 30th. Licenses are sold at sporting-goods stores, county and town clerks' offices, and some convenience stores. Be sure to ask for a copy of the current New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Fishing Regulations Guide.

You can also find these regulations at the DEC website, along with a guide to the state's most productive fishing waters. Both sites are well worth a visit. Note that special regulations apply at state parks. Ask about this at the park office when you enter.

WHERE TO GO If you fish, you'll want to take your tackle wherever you go, but some waters are worth a special trip. You'll find a few of these listed in our trip suggestions, but the list isn't exhaustive. It's just a beginning. For more ideas, take a look at Francis Betters' Fishing the Adirondacks. Fran was born on the banks of the Ausable river, one of the Adirondack's most celebrated trout streams. He's been been fishing North Country waters—and writing about them—for more than half a century now. His book is one of the best.

High Water Fishing

TERMINAL TACKLE Every angler has his (or her) favorite flies and lures, but there are a number of regional favorites that merit a try. If you're fly-fishing for trout, traditional patterns include such streamers as the Mickey Finn, Hornberg, Black Ghost, and Muddler. Wooly Buggers work well, too. And both trout and smallmouths hit drys and wets tied in imitation of common aquatic insects—mayflies, caddisflies, midges, and stoneflies—as well as terrestrials like ants and inchworms.

If you're angling for bass, try Wooly Buggers, as well as poppers, sliders, and leech imitations. Largemouth bass anglers will argue over which lures are best, but more often than not their tackle boxes bulge at the seams with soft plastic worms in every shade and hue. And for good reason—they work. Try them in black, purple, or blue.

Plastic may be fantastic, but where it's legal, don't neglect the simple live worm on a hook, either. Bass and panfish love 'em, as do small-stream brookies. Worms have even been known to tempt jaded trophy-water browns, particularly when fished deep, using split shot to weigh down the last foot or so of line. If you go this route, though, please give some thought to replacing your old lead split-shot with modern non-toxic material. Lead kills more Adirondack loons and waterfowl every year. Why poison the streams and lakes you love? It's time to get the lead out of New York waters!

Walleyes go for brightly colored flies and lures. Which ones? That depends—on the individual fish as much as the water. Experiment. And you can always give nightcrawlers and live bait a try.

Northern pike deserve special attention. Their razor-sharp teeth will saw right through nylon leaders, so switch to steel before you take on a pike. Fly anglers will opt for flies tied in imitation of leeches, frogs, and bait fish. Spin-casters should try red-and-white Rapalas, Rebels and Dardevles.

Anglers who are ready to hunt big game will want to try their luck with muskellunge. These "tigers of the waters" aren't found everywhere, though. If muskies catch your fancy, why not fish your way down part of the Lower Oswegatchie to warm up, and then take your boat into Black Lake. Muskies lurk there—as well as downstream in the St. Lawrence River between Cape Vincent and Ogdensburg. Try casting plugs along weed beds and rock outcrops, retrieving fast to entice them to bite. If you hook one, be prepared for a fight!

IF YOU CARRY IT IN, PLEASE CARRY IT OUT Fish need clean water to live. So do wildlife and waterfowl. So do we. It's up to us. Retrieve snagged hooks and pick up any monofiliament you find. Take a trash bag along when paddling and remove the garbage others have left behind, too. You'll want to come back. Leave the place as you'd like to find it.

ACID RAIN AND FISH There was a time when fishing everywhere in the Adirondack North Country was fantastic. Now that's no longer the case. Acid rain has taken its toll, particularly in waters on the western (windward) side of the Adirondack massif. Annual restocking with acid-resistant hatchery fish provides anglers with sport in some hard-hit waters, but many legendary brook-trout fisheries are now dead. It's a shame.

HEALTH ADVISORY Gone are the days when fish could always be relied on for a great shore lunch. Conservation-minded anglers practice catch-and-release in hard-fished streams and lakes. In fact, this is required on No-Kill waters, including Little Tupper Lake in the Whitney Preserve. And it's not just a matter of conservation. Fish from some New York waters may pose a health hazard. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) recommends that

  • No one eat more than 1/2 pound of fish per week from any New York waters, and
  • Women of child-bearing age, infants, or children under 15 eat NO fish from certain specified waters, including many in the North Country.

There's no quick fix, unfortunately. Removing the lateral line and cutting off the fat on fish fillets reduces the levels of organic contaminants like PCBs, but mercury is distributed throughout the muscle tissue. If you fish in contaminated waters, the only safe course is to return your catch.

For a list of waters of specific concern, read the extensive "Health Advisory" section of the Fishing Regulations Guide, obtainable free anywhere licenses are sold. You should also stop by the New York State Department of Health's webpage for up-to-date information.

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Adirondack Guide and all pictures and drawings within are
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.
Written by Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

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