By Joeseph Hackett
The St. Regis River system develops its three branches from, in and around, the St. Regis Canoe Area. Once they flow out of the St. Regis Canoe Area, they cross through private lands and are posted against fishing for the majority of the drainage. The canoe area is zoned strictly for canoe use (no motors, electric or otherwise, allowed) and encompasses some 58 ponds and lakes. It is located north of the old Remsen-Lake Placid Railroad tracks between Paul Smiths and the Upper Saranac Lake. There are several entrances into the area, all of which require portages.
To enter the eastern and of the St. Regis Canoe Area there are two public boat launch/ parking areas. One is located on Little Clear Pond, behind the Saranac Inn State Fish Hatchery off Rt.30; no fishing is allowed in Little Clear Pond as it is a brood pond for landlocked salmon. Access to St. Regis Pond, the largest pond in the area, is accomplished via a two mile paddle up Little Clear Pond, then a quarter mile carry to St. Regis Pond. The other launching site is located off Rt.30 on Upper St. Regis Lake, next to the private Lake Shore owners Association's boathouse and docks. This site requires a half mile paddle across the Upper St. Regis Lake and several short carries through Bog Pond, Bear Pond, and Little Long Pond.
The western end of the St. Regis Canoe Area is accessible off the Floodwood Road, four miles west of the State Hatchery on Rt.30. The Floodwood Road divides the St. Regis Canoe Area from the Fish Creek - Rollins Pond Camping Areas. It is also the dividing line between cold water and warm water gamefish species. For access to this section of the St. Regis Canoe Area, a state launch is located on Hoel Pond, adjacent to the Saranac Inn Golf Course. Putting in on Hoel Pond requires a paddle of two miles across the pond, a carry over the railroad tracks and into Turtle Pond. From Turtle Pond, one can paddle into Slang Pond and carry over to Long Pond or carry one mile into Clamshell Pond. From Clamshell a half mile carry leads to Fish Pond directly. From Clamshell a half mile carry leads to Fish Pond. Long Pond, which has a state launch on it's western end; can be accessed via the Floodwood Road just past the West Pine Pond turnoff. Long Pond has a decent population of smallmouth bass and is a starting point for trips to Ledge Pond, which holds lake trout, brook trout and lots of perch. Also accessible from Long Pond are carries to Mountain Pond, (brook trout) and the trail to Nellie and Bessie Ponds, which requires a mile long carry. Fishing the ledges along the narrows on Long Pond always produces some nice smallmouth bass.
Now that you know where to go, lets discuss why you should go. The ponds and lakes of the St. Regis Canoe Area were scooped out by glaciers and they lie very close together. Most portages are no more than one hundred yards and are well maintained by the N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation. All are marked by small white Directional signs, and you can easily travel from pond to pond and fish several ponds each day from a base camp. This is the most effective method as it allows a fisherman a chance to find which pond is producing on which particular day. Travel in the St. Regis Canoe Area quickly illustrates the value of a lightweight canoe, and the Kevlar models are the finest. Tugging a heavy aluminum or ABS canoe over a one mile long buggy, muddy carry is not one's idea of a good time. Be sure to travel light, with canoe and gear.
The East End is centered around St. Regis Pond, the largest body of water in the area. St. Regis Pond holds a good population of lake trout (18" minimum size limit), splake and brook trout. It is best fished on calm days, as the wind can make for rough water due to the size of the pond. Trolling shorelines or casting spinners along the shore of the big island on St. Regis Pond is a good bet in the early season. As the heat of the summer wears on, fish deep using copper or lead core line about 50 yards off the island shore. The East End of the canoe area also holds Little Long Pond, Grass Pond, Little Clear Pond (no fishing), Bear Pond, Bog Pond, Ochre Pond, Green Pond, Meadow Pond and St. Germain Pond. Nearly all of these ponds hold brook trout, some lake trout, splake and rainbows. Fly hatches are common in these stone bottom ponds and are very noticeable on Little Long Pond in May and June. The dimples on the water at dusk will make any fly fisherman smile.
Try trolling or casting spinners along the east shore of Green Pond, especially around the downed trees. Another hot spot is along the small island on Little Long Pond, often a favorite location for shore fishermen to angle for rainbows throughout the evening.
The fishing remains good on these ponds due to the fine stocking by the NYS DEC. The East End of the St. Regis Canoe Area does, however, see a lot of traffic. It is very popular with day tripping canoeists, and holiday weekends result in crowded conditions. Overfishing in the early season can reduce fish populations, so catch and release fishing is stressed. Keep only enough for the evening meal, and you're sure to be rewarded in the future.
The West End of the St. Regis Canoe Area is centered on two large bodies of water. Long Pond, which has been mentioned, offers access to Ledge Pond, Mountain Pond, Slang Pond, Turtle Pond, Ebony Pond, Track Pond and Hoel Pond. Hoel Pond, Ledge Pond and Long Pond are known for big lake trout. The others hold decent populations of brook trout. Between Long Pond and St. Regis Pond lies the other big pond in the area, Fish Pond, with its two lean-tos on opposite shores. The tranquility this woodland pond offers is the reward most brook trout fishermen seek; the fishing is a bonus. Fish Pond is surrounded by Nellie Pond, Bessie Pond, Kit Fox Pond, Mud Pond, Little Long Pond, Little Fish Pond, Lydia Pond and Clamshell Pond and offers more solitude than any of the other large ponds in the area. It is arduous getting to Fish Pond and that tends to keep the day trippers at bay. The ponds surrounding Fish Pond all hold good populations of brook trout, with Nellie, Bessie and Clamshell Ponds clear favorites. Fishing pressure in this end of the area is heavy at times, particularly in the spring and fall. Fish Pond also produces some nice lake trout, along with a generous supply of brook trout. The shoals along the west end of Fish Pond offer particularly good opportunities for lake trout in the spring. Again, to promote the best angling opportunities for everyone, a system of catch and release should be employed by all fishermen. A couple of nice fish for dinner is all that is necessary; the rest should be returned to the water for future fishing fun. Bullheads, a fine eating fish, are plentiful in nearly all the ponds in the St. Regis Area, and can be caught all night long with a hook, sinker and worm that is cast out and left on bottom.
Techniques for travel and fishing in the St. Regis Canoe Area are best summed up in one phrase - go light.
Canoes should be very lightweight, and those rigged with oar locks for rowing are a plus. When trolling, it is essential to keep a slow speed, to present the bait to the fish; yet one must row fast enough to keep the bait from dragging bottom. Rowing allows for greater control, especially in windy conditions.
Trolling methods have proven productive for trout and are easily mastered. Try using a Lake Clear Wobbler with a snelled hook or leader trailing behind. Attached to the leader use either a nightcrawler or a streamer fly. Mickey Finn, Hornberg, Grey Ghost and Muddler Minnow are popular patterns for streamers. Trolling a streamer without the wobbler requires that the fisherman twitch or sweep the rod to cause the streamer to dart like a wounded minnow. Real minnows are not allowed as bait in any of the St. Regis Canoe Area Ponds, as most of the ponds have been reclaimed to clean out all the junk fish.
Rods should be medium action with six to eight pound test lines for trolling. Ultralight spinning rods with four ponds test lines are good for casting. Fly rods should be 7 1/2 to 9 1/2 feet in length, and should take a six to seven weight line; a sinking tip line is useful for trolling. Fly hatches are numerous and are similar to most Adirondack river hatches. The peak of the may fly hatches is late Make through early June, yet sporadic hatches occur throughout the season. Using dry Flies like a Black Gnat or Adams in sizes 14-16 at dusk is often productive. Lakers have been known to feed heavily on the surface late in the day, and trolling a size six to eight White Wulff or Rat Faced MacDougal will sometimes result in furious action. A favorite technique is to drift the shorelines of these ponds and cast small 1/8 - 1/4 oz. spinning lures alone the shore. Look for schools of fleeing minnows along the shore early and late in the day and cast the lure in front of them. A slow retrieve with a twitch of the rod every few revolutions has taken many nice fish. Many lures work, but good results are often had with Phoebes, Mepps, C.P. Swings and Kastmasters, in gold and brass tone.
Adjacent to the St. Regis Canoe Area, but on the south side of the railroad tracks is the Fish Creek Rollins Pond State Campsite. The Fish Creek area offers some outstanding fishing opportunities for both warm water and cold water species. The State Campgrounds on Fish Creek and Rollins Pond are well kept and operated by the NYS DEC. They offer a fine base camp area for day trips to the many ponds surrounding this area. Boats with motors are allowed in many of these ponds and access is often right off Rt.30. The fishing opportunities for smallmouth and largemouth bass are excellent, and there are enough northern pike available to make things interesting. Some of the better warm water ponds are Follensby, Clear Pond, (off Rt.30), Coppers Pond, Square Pond, Rollins Pond and Fish Creek Ponds. One pond that has consistently produced nice catches of bass and northern pike is Floodwood Pond off the Floodwood Road and Rt.30 at Saranac Inn, the pond offers some furious smallmouth fishing with surface poppers. It is one of the prime "heat of the summer" bass ponds in this area. The action found in trolling for northerns can also be surprising, especially at the western end of the pond near the channel to Rollins Pond. Fish surface popers, or lures along the shoreline wherever you find downed trees and stumps. These ponds all feed into the Upper Saranac Lake, and many primitive campsites are located on the shores. Boat and canoe rentals are also located nearby at Hickoks Boat Livery, on Fish Creek Ponds. Numerous roadside ponds are located in this area, and some hold decent populations of brook trout and rainbows. Whey Pond in the Fish Creek Campsite is a special regulations water (with a size limit of 12 inches and a bag limit of three fish a day, artificials only). It is known for its trophy rainbows and brook trout. Black Pond, located nearby, is also a good bet. Horseshoe, Sunrise, Echo, Green, Rat and Sunday Ponds round out the list of brook trout ponds. West Pine Pond and also Pollywog Pond off Floodwood Road hold good populations of Kokanee Salmon. Known as dwarf or red salmon, these little fighters nearly reach sizes over 12 inches, yet can be caught readily by trolling a wobbler and worm and are one of the best eating fish anywhere. The silvery exterior yields a bright pink interior meat that rivals any salmon for sweetness and taste.
Bass fishing has been overlooked in the Adirondacks basically because trout and salmon are so readily available. The warm water fisheries of the Fish Creek - Saranac Area ideal bass habitat, as are Upper and Lower St. Regis Lakes and Meacham Lake. The shorelines of these waters offer rocky shoals and numerous downed trees. This spells structure, and bass love it. Other than a large salmon, there is nothing I'd rather have on the end of a fly rod than a scrappy smallmouth bass. At the end of a hot summer day smallmouth action can be outstanding. Using a small cork popper on a flyrod or a surface lure on a spinning rod, fish close to the shorelines of the ponds. The closer you can cast to the shore, right in among the weeds and limbs, the better your chances. As the water calms towards dusk, the big fish are often taken in the shallow areas near drop offs to deep water. Bass in the two to three pound range are available - and the occasional northern pike will often boil out of the water for a surface plug. Best choices are cork poppers with rubberlegs in green black or yellow, or surface rapalas, rebels and frog imitations. Fishing Crank baits or leadhead jigs with rubber worms in the deeper water will produce fish in the heat of the day. Minnows either trolled or cast with a bobber to shore will do well, especially for pike. Unfortunately, mostly all pike will take live bait deep, making releasing fish difficult. Although minnows produce well; so many small fish are killed in releasing them, that minnows should be reserved as a last resort when all else fails.
Another area that rivals the St. Regis Canoe Area for beauty and solitude is the recently opened Bog River Flow Wilderness Area. Located in St. Lawrence County, just west of Tupper Lake, the Bog River Flow Area is accessed via Rt.471 off Rt.30 south of Tupper Lake. The turnoff to Horseshoe Lake- Veterans Mountain Camp leads around Horseshoe Lake, six miles to a dirt road that dead ends at the state launch on the lower dam of the Bog River. This large tract includes the Bog River Flow which connects Hitchins Pond, Lows Lake, Grassy Pond, Tomar Pond and several other natural ponds which were back flooded as a result of the creation of the upper dam of Lows Lake. Recently (1986) purchased by the state from private hands the focus for this area is Lows Lake. This is a very large body of water, but quite shallow. With a average depth of eight to ten feet, Lows Lake is very susceptible to heavy waves. Even with a light wind the lake can whitecap, and with the prevalent western winds not blocked by any large mountains, Lows Lake can often be unnavigable by canoe.
The launch at the lower dam leads one upriver two miles to Hitchins Pond. Another shallow body of water, Hitchins rarely gets as rough as Lows Lake. It contains brook trout and yellow perch; however, the trout are only fishable in the very early season. As soon as the water warms enough for the perch to become active, an angler cannot get through the perch to get to the brookies. The Perch, some as large as 1 1/12 lbs, and 15 inches long can provide plenty of action for the kids, and if prepared as "poor man's shrimp", they make a wonderful meal for adults. They are easily caught on spinners, or hook and worm. A short carry at the head of Hitchins Pond leads over the upper dam and into Lows Lake. The first seven miles up the flow are quite narrow and not often windy. Once you get past the Boy Scout Camp on the right shore, the lake begins to widen until a second narrow passage is reached about one mile further along. Once through this channel, a view of Lows Lake proper is achieved, and you are greeted with the usual white-capped waves. Lows Lake is speckled with several beautiful islands, but camping is limited to a few numbered sites. The majority of the island campsites are reserved for Boy Scout use in June, July and August. Grassy Pond located near the head of Lows Lake offers true remoteness and a feeling of real wilderness. Grassy Pond Mountain, with it's soaring cliffs, is a known nesting site for bald and golden eagles. Eagles are often spotted on Lows Lake, along with large numbers of loons which breed in this area. Coyotes and owls usually are heard during the evening.
The fishing on Lows Lake, Grassy Pond and the Bog River is quite good for brook trout. Because the wind so often a problem, trolling can be difficult yet it is effective. Spinners cast along shorelines can produce nice catches, as can fly fishing during a hatch. Best bets are to cover shorelines in stumpy areas, or along the cobblestoned islands. The trout seem to slack off by late June as the water warms, but pick up again in the month of September. I find that trout fishing on the lakes and ponds falls into several distinct time frames, in regards to peak production.
Ideally, the best time to fish brook trout is right after the ice goes off the pond. Generally, this is late April or early May in the northern Adirondacks by the amount of snowfall and extremes of winter temperatures affect ice out dates drastically. In a five year span, ice-out on the ponds has ranged form March 28 to May 7. Predicting the day the ice will go is difficult at best; even so, the first weekend in May is often a safe bet for good fishing.
Brook trout feed heavily and respond favorably to just about anything tossed their way for the first week to ten days after ice-out. Unfortunately, this feeding frenzy leads into what I call the "two week doldrums", some ponds may produce for two days after ice-out, some up to ten days. Yet after this initial strong feeding period, the trout can then go off their feed for up to two weeks. The end of the doldrums is marked by the first few hatches of the season and is over for sure once the dragon fly nymphs are out. Consistently, the weekend of Mothers Day in early May has produced the finest fishing of the year. Hatches continue throughout May and June, and the trout remain on the feed. As the heat of the summer comes upon the ponds, the water warms and trout seek deeper, cooler water. Often they congregate on the spring holes or in the area of feeder streams on the ponds. Usually, the depth of the water the fish are in negates trolling, so still fishing is the order for the day. July and August bring the hottest weather, and trout fishing is reduced to early morning or early evening trips in search of rising trout. This period need not be a fishless one, however, as bass and pike can be taken readily in deep water during the day, and along the shoreline at dusk. The trout fishing picks up in September, and is very food as the cool fall nights lower the water temperature. A fat fall brook trout in spawning colors offers a splendid complement to the spectacular autumn foliage. The warm days and cool nights make for enjoyable camping, and there are no bugs and fewer people in the woods after Labor Day.
Joe Hackett has owned and operated Tahawus Ltd., since 1978. He grew up in Elizabethtown, New York, fishing the Boquet River. After earning a Masters in Recreation/Outdoor Education in 1980, Joe was a cofounder of the New York Outdoor Guides Association and today specializes in fly fishing remote ponds for brook trout. Father and son trips constitute the majority of his season, and the St. Regis Canoe Area is one of the region's he knows best.
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