Decisions, decisions. What to fish, where to fish? Essex County is a great place to begin your Adirondack fishing adventure, and there are plenty of fish and fishing holes.
Fishing season. It’s a season that starts early, with some fantastic ice-out trout fishing in late April or early May, and ends late, with outstanding fall fishing for bass, trout and walleye. You can catch a different species each day of the week. You can fish a different water every day of the season. And the next. And the next.
Here are several of the best fishing spots Essex County has to offer:
¯West Branch of the Ausable River: This water is so beautiful and the surrounding mountains so spectacular it would be a great place to fish even if it wasn’t loaded with trout. But it is, and that’s why hordes of hard-core flyfishers make their annual pilgrimage to the Ausable each season. There are 35 miles of water, ranging from classic pools to faster pockets and riffles holding browns, brookies and rainbows. The browns attract the most attention, likely because it’s entirely possible to catch one — or more — topping the 20-inch mark. You can cast into pools with historic names like Frustration Pool, Fox Farm Stretch, Pump House Hole and Betters Pool. And five miles of water is dedicated as a special “No Kill” area where artificials only are to be used. Hatches start in early May with the Hendricksons and run well into October with Caddis and Isonychia.
¯Lake Champlain: This 120-mile waterway never did get a “Great Lake” designation, but the fishing sure is. Champlain’s reputation rocketed into the national spotlight when professional bass fishermen landed both largemouths and smallmouths in record numbers during a pair of tournaments, and vowed to return. In fact, they will again this year. But Champlain is about more than just bass: it’s a unique “two-story” fishery, with bass, pike and panfish among the warmwater species available, and lake trout, browns, steelhead and landlocked salmon fishing equally noteworthy. It’s difficult to not catch fish when you’re on Champlain.
¯Schroon Lake: Smaller and not as well known as Lake Champlain, serious anglers — particularly the locals — know all about the quality of Schroon’s fishery. Landlocked salmon and lake trout attract most of the anglers, and if you locate schools of smelt the salmon and lakers won’t be far away. Trolling smelt imitations is the most effective pattern. Warmwater species such as bass (both largemouth and smallmouth) and northern pike are also popular, and some huge northerns are taken every season. Public access is good, with a village-owned boat launch at the north end of the lake.
¯Boquet River: While trout fishing is excellent all along the Boquet, the river is best known for its landlocked salmon runs in both the spring and fall, with most of the action coming from its outlet in Lake Champlain up to Willsboro. There are several public access points for the Boquet; check your DEC regulations for the locations.
¯Lake Colby: Yes, Lake Colby actually lies in Franklin County, but the fishing is too good to ignore. While there is good bass fishing in Colby, it’s the trout and landlocked salmon that attract scores of anglers each season, many of whom fish at night when the trout and salmon seem to be most active. Colby gets heavy stockings of rainbows and browns, as well as salmon weighing 5-to-14 pounds.
¯Franklin Falls/Union Falls: These waters, straddling the Essex/Clinton county line, offer your best chance to catch walleyes, thanks to a superb DEC stocking program over the years. Franklin Falls has good smallmouth bass fishing as well, while Union Falls has jumbo perch. Both also offer good northern pike fishing.
¯Eagle Lake: Smallmouths and northerns are available, but brown trout are the main target here in this scenic lake off Route 74. The DEC stocks about 5,000 browns annually; look for them in the larger, deeper basin of the lake.
¯Paradox Lake: A state campground and launch make for easy angler access, and rainbow trout action keeps them coming back each season. While Paradox also has lakers, smallmouths and largemouths, the generous state stocking of ’bows provides excellent fishing, particularly in the western basin.
¯Lincoln Pond: Another water with a state campground and boat launch, Lincoln Pond has good bass fishing, as well as tiger muskies, which are stocked each year and grow rapidly as they feed on perch and other panfish.
¯Pharaoh Lakes Wilderness: For a true backwoods fishing experience, the Pharaoh Lakes area is tough to top. It’s not easy, and the quality of the fishing is usually related to the amount of sweat and pain involved in reaching the pond. But there are about two dozen waters holding wild brook trout and stocked brookies.
¯St. Regis Canoe Area: Although it also lies in Franklin County, the St. Regis Canoe Area is well worth a mention, offering 58 bodies of water, 18,000 acres and no motorized access. Fishing is superb, particularly in spring when the ice goes out and the brook trout and lakers are hungry. You can plunge as deep into the wilderness as you’d like. In addition to lake and brook trout, some waters hold splake, landlocked salmon and rainbows.
¯Saranac Chain of Lakes: Another Franklin County hotspot, the Saranac Chain vaulted into national prominence as host of the ESPN Great Outdoor Games bass fishing competition for three straight years. Obviously, the bass fishery is top shelf in the Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac and on Oseetah. But there’s also quality pike fishing, great panfish angling and good opportunities to catch lakers, rainbows and browns. There are numerous access points for boaters.
In addition to the waters mentioned by name, Essex County boasts countless fishing opportunities in smaller streams and ponds, with excellent brook trout fishing — as well as pike, perch, bass and crappie in some waters — on waters with varying degrees of access.
Ponds in the North Hudson, North Elba, Schroon and Keene areas can bring the kind of backwoods trout fishing most anglers just dream about. And a hike into a remote mountain stream will almost assuredly bring both solitude and action.