I finally had the opportunity to fish for wild brook trout in New York’s Adirondack Park a few weeks ago, and I wanted to share some photos and thoughts about the trip. The scenery in this part of NY is breathtaking! I had a business meeting in Hackensack, NJ, and drove straight up 87 right after my meeting. Along the way, I found myself stunned by the landscapes and can understand why the area was the subject of many classical landscape paintings.
Rather than get a hotel the first night on my drive up through the area, I decided I would hike into a pond that wasn’t terribly far off the highway. I did some research and found that this pond had been reclaimed by the NY DEC many years ago and was listed as a brook trout pond. I arrived at the trailhead at 5:45PM and with the sunset at around 8PM, quickly changed out of my business attire to hiking/camping clothes in the parking lot. Thankfully nobody was around.
It’s always difficult fishing new waters, and especially difficult fishing a pond for brook trout from the bank. Prior to my trip, I had collected as many contour maps of the ponds I planned to fish as I could find, but there was no map for this particular pond. I used a spinning rod and some small spoons I’ve used here in PA on beaver ponds. The first night I spent most of little bit of daylight I had on setting up camp for the night and gathering some firewood. I knew the temperatures were supposed to drop into the mid 20s that night and wanted to have firewood ready in case I got cold in the middle of the night.
I did fish for a little bit right before dark and managed to hook and lose a nice brook trout right at the bank. I chose to leave the net in my car that night to reduce the amount of weight I would carry in. This pond was about 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead and I had to carry all my camping gear and fishing gear in. I have a lightweight Kelty backpack, but the rest of this trip would have me carrying my gear in my canoe, so I had everything in a heavier drybag.
The next morning I woke up at sunrise (around 5am) and quickly ate some oatmeal by boiling water on my tiny fuel stove and set to fishing. The prior evening I surveyed the pond, trying to understand what the underwater contours might look like. On the side of the pond, I camped on the terrain sloped gradually to the water’s edge, and I could see far enough out into the lake to see that the gradual slope continued out into the pond. On the other side of the pond, however, there is a large cliff that drops straight into the water. I suspected that the water on that side would be much deeper and would have a lot of rock structure for the fish. So my plan the next morning was to target that area.
This plan paid off at around 10am that day. I worked my way around the corner fan casting as I went. When I got to the rocks on the far side of the pond (in the photo above) I could see a large submerged boulder at about the end of my casting range out in the lake. My first cast toward that large boulder resulted in an immediate take of the spoon. This brook trout is one of the nicest wild brookies I’ve ever seen and is effectively the entire reason I made the trek north.
I was over the moon to catch what I had driven all this way for on the second day of my trip (really the first full day in the area). I released the fish and made another cast to the same boulder and another large brook trout took the spoon. I missed the hookset on this fish as it caught me off guard. On my next cast I ended up with mono problems (I really don’t like spinning rods for this reason) as the line kept jumping over the casting line and coming off the spool in a big knotted mess.
I needed to be at Hornbeck Boats by 2PM this day so I decided to break camp a little early and see if Hornbeck could fit my appointment in early. Thankfully the good folks at Hornbeck were accommodating! My trip plans had me staying at this pond because it was somewhat close to Hornbecks and I had arranged to pickup the new boat I ordered the day after my meeting in NJ. For those interested in canoes, I bought a Hornbeck Classic 12 in the Carbon Matrix skin with the fishing package.
I highly recommend Hornbeck Boats to anyone looking for an ultralight canoe for backcountry pond hopping! The purchase/order process and everyone I spoke with at Hornbeck were great. They delivered my boat to me two hours early on my pickup day without any trouble. After Josh from Hornbeck loaded my boat, I was off for an hour-and-a-half drive to meet my buddy in the northern part of the park.
My buddy John rented a boat from Mac’s Canoe Livery on Little Clear Pond in the Saint Regis Canoe Area and met me at the boat launch. We unloaded our trucks and loaded our canoes, and set off for 5 days in the area fishing for brookies.
Carrying the Hornbeck between ponds is where this boat really shines. In the configuration I have, the boat weighs around 19lbs. I opted for the removable portage yoke (seen in the photo above), which turned out to be a really good decision. The yoke made carrying the canoe on my shoulders a breeze! I still had a lot of gear and ended up double carrying on all of the portages. As I mentioned earlier, we were there for five days, and the amount of food and gear required for five days is difficult to fit in a small pack. Again, the weight of the dry bag also compounded the weight issue. I could shave a pound or so off my total weight, but I’m not sure I could get it all down to a weight that would allow single carries on all the portages. I tried to single-carry on the last day, and the geometry of my drybag caused problems with centering the canoe.
Given the weather forecast and our unfamiliarity with the area, we opted to establish a basecamp on one of the larger lakes and make day trips out to smaller ponds from our camp. In hindsight, this was the right call as the wind kept us off the water during the middle of the day and we would have expended a lot of time and energy moving camp to different ponds. Our decision to maintain a basecamp for the entire stay likely increased the amount of fishing we got in rather than tearning down/moving/setting up camp.
To conserve on weight as much as possible, I’ve collected as much ultralight camping gear as I could without taking out a second mortgage for the lightest gear on the market. I’m using the REI Quarter Dome tent here which is a great single person tent. There is enough room in the “vestibule” of the tent to keep your pack and other items you need to keep dry but don’t need inside the tent with you. This tent is great, but it’s simply a place to sleep. I setup a tarp (in the background of the photo above) to keep firewood and other items dry and to have a place to hang out by the fire while staying dry. It was a great base camp!
One of the ponds we fished is stocked with rainbow trout and splake (a hybrid between a lake trout and a brook trout). I’m really not sure how I feel about the rainbow trout and splake stocking. I suspect (can’t confirm) that this particular pond might not be able to support brook trout or brook trout reproduction. However, I would imagine that if splake can survive then brook trout should be able to survive too. I lost a massive splake (they can reach sizes over 26 inches!) and ended up landing the one below along with a lot of 10-12in rainbows.
The splake are slightly less offensive to me than the rainbow trout. At least they look the part. The rainbow trout are perplexing though. I didn’t drive all that way, spend all that money, and expend all that energy to get into a remote pond to catch stocked rainbow trout. I really don’t understand the point of NY DEC doing that. On this same pond, ironically enough, is a small feeder stream that comes out of a small remote pond that has a manmade dam on it designed to prevent invasive species from reaching the pond. There is a sign (I wish I took a photo of it) that explains that the dam exists to prevent nonnative fish from reaching the lower lake. Why go through all that trouble to build a barrier to keep unwanted species out and then deliberately stock nonnative trout?
While we caught a ton of fish on that pond, we were there to catch brook trout, and decided to avoid any stocked ponds for the remainder of the trip. I focused on a small pond one pond over from our base camp lake. This was another reclaimed pond that only holds brook trout. Based on some biological survey data I found online, during sampling it seemed that a 17 inch brook trout would be about the biggest this pond could support. Coming from Pennsylvania, the idea of catching a 17 inch brook trout is outrageous! Thankfully, I was able to catch a 16 inch brookie in this small pond. This fish made my trip. Between the colorful brook trout I caught on my first night and this “behemoth” from this small remote pond, I accomplished what I set out to do.
I caught this fish on the fly rod (I used a 9′-5″ 5wt Orvis Blackout with a Clearwater reel spooled with Scientific Angler intermediate line) on a size 12 golden retriever fly jigged around deadfall in the water. Jigging around structure seemed to be the trick. John and I both trolled a bit but I found it boring and unproductive. John caught a great brookie on our base camp lake right by our campsite! He caught this fish on a fly as well.
It’s astonishing to me that these brook trout seem so plentiful throughout these lakes and ponds. We were fishing like we were bass fishing in Pennsylvania, but instead of bass coming out of submerged trees, they were brook trout! Being able to catch these fish on fly rods in lakes and ponds was an experience I had dreamt about for months!
I fell in love with the Adirondacks on this trip! I’m already planning a fall run to a different area of the park. I can’t wait to explore more ponds and remote areas. Having the chance to catch large brook trout is addictive. I love all brook trout, but there’s something about catching a large specimen that just can’t be beat. Ironically, while any of the brook trout I caught on this trip would be a unicorn in Pennsylvania, these are average fish in NY!