Lake Champlain’s Salmon

By Rick Redman
Rick Redman is Chapter President of the Champlain Trout Unlimited and a fly fishing guide

Pond and lake fishermen have been enjoying the bounty this year due to the drought. When the rivers run low, you must go with the alternatives. If you are a stream guy like me, you are considering buying a boat. Mother Nature has not been good to New York State this year. Rainfall is well below average and stream flows are almost nonexistent in many small tributaries. The larger rivers are running low with its gravel bars and shorelines exposed to the sun. As a result, they are now sprouting vegetation. Hidden gravel bars are now islands.

pg-20-img_0312The suns thermal powers have warmed the waters and sent what river life there was, deep into the recesses of the stream. Deep pools and spring fed thermal areas were holding the fish. Now that fall is upon us, the cooler nights have brought the water temps down, but the river flows remain low. The fish are still hunkered down. We need a good shot of rain to get the fish moving once again.

Salmon will be coming up Champlain’s main New York rivers, the Boquet, Ausable and Saranac any time now, but the low flows and water temps have delayed there departure times.

The Boquet River in Willsboro was damned up until the summer of 2015. A fish ladder was built in 1980 to allow fish passage, but with the leaks in the dam, the salmon were fooled by the water flows and very few actually used the ladder.  Now with the dam no longer stopping the migration, the fish may be able to reach the upper areas such as the North Branch. A good flow of water will enhance their ability to climb the rapids and falls where the dam once stood.

NYS DEC will be having a creel survey on the Boquet River in Willsboro this fall.  The creel survey is being conducted primarily by Zach Eisenhower of the USFWS. Biologists are trying to get an idea of the amount of landlocked salmon fishing effort and the catch and harvest of LLS. The creel survey will be done on virtually all weekend days and two weekdays each week now thru into November. The survey will consist of three separate counts of anglers, with interviews of anglers between the counts according to DEC fisheries biologist, Lance Durfey.
The Ausable River allows salmon to spawn as far as the Ausable Chasm, which is the natural barrier. Private property and posted signs limit access. Fishing near the Route 9 Bridge and the mouth of the river by the Ausable Point State campground with a boat, may be your only choices on this lower reach of river.

The last of New York’s main Lake Champlain tributaries is the Saranac River in Plattsburgh. The water temperatures on the Saranac, the first week of October were hovering around 62 degrees during mid-day. The majority of fishermen seem to pod and stack up along the mouth of the river, downstream of the railroad bridge when the run is on. Here the river is wider and there is room to move. Access along the river farther upstream is limited by Plattsburgh State University. The river is not posted, but parking on campus is for students with parking stickers. If you park on campus, you will get a ticket. Remember, the State is always looking for income money! You need to park off campus and hoof it to the river.

Above the college there is access by the old Imperial Mill Dam, the unnatural barrier that prohibits Salmon from advancing their natal migratory pattern. Trout Unlimited’s Lake Champlain Chapter has been working to get the dam removed, but it has been a monumental and timely fight. The dam is no longer used for power and has been deemed unsafe. Like a bad tooth, it should go! We need a united stand of trout and salmon fishermen to stand up and fight for the dam’s removal, so get involved! As the saying goes, “Those who attend the meetings, make the rules that those who do not attend must follow”.

Speaking of rules, as a word of caution, check the NYS DEC fishing guide on these rivers. There are special regulations! Snagging, lifting and even added weight on flies are not allowed. Read the guide! Two fellows from the Plattsburgh area found out the hard way last year. They got blown in by a fellow fisherman with a cell phone’s camera. They paid the price! Good sportsman’s conduct and ethics are encouraged and stressed by fellow Lake Champlain rivers fishermen. If you can’t pay the fine, don’t do the snagging crime!

The flows of the Boquet, Ausable and Saranac Rivers, along with their tribs are extremely low at the time I write this; early October. Both trout and salmon are affected by higher than average water temps and low flows. The cooler nights have finally lowered the stream temperatures so trout are in deep pools and nearby pockets.

Normally I wouldn’t be excited about a hurricane forecast coming up the coast. Lately though,  I have been hoping a storm would come in and drop four or five inches of rain on our area over a weeks’ time.  We don’t need a gully washer, just a steady week long rain to get the rivers back up to bank full levels. Wells are drying up, tributaries are moist and river flows are reducing the natural migration of Salmon to spawn when they normally would.  I have heard of one salmon being caught so far, and there probably are more, but the Salmon Run, is more of a crawl right now. You may need to delay your stream fishing trip just a bit this year. The migratory urge will make the fish come up the river, but they won’t stay long. When the rains come, things will change overnight. We will be back into fishing the streams bounty. But for now, think lakes and ponds.

Anybody have a good boat for sale?