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Guide to Brook Trout Fishing in Adirondack Ponds

Picture of an adirondack brook trout pond near a road.
The Adirondack Park is home to over 500 brook
ponds. Some ponds are close to roads, some
require a lengthy hike.

New York's State Fish

Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) were once widely distributed in New York State but are now most numerous in small streams and the headwaters of larger streams in mountainous areas. Fish in these waters are normally small but still have a dedicated following among anglers looking for a tasty meal who love to float a small worm down a mountain stream. Brook trout can grow much larger in ponds, and the Adirondack Park contains the majority of these, many in wilderness areas. Fish in these waters can reach 3 lbs. or more in weight.

Selecting a Pond

The first step in your Adirondack brook trout fishing adventure is selecting a pond to fish. Some ponds require a long hike to access; others can be found along roads. A good starting point would be the St. Regis Canoe Area, Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, West Canada Lake Wilderness or Lake George Wild Forest areas. These lands all contain numerous ponds and lakes and miles of marked hiking trails. A lightweight canoe, kayak or float tube can be a big help, as the shorelines of many of these ponds can be difficult to access.

Places to fish pages for Adirondack/Lake Champlain Fishing (DEC Region 5) and North Central New York Fishing (DEC Region 6) provide information on brook trout pond locations. DEC's website provides a list of waters managed for brook trout. Other useful information includes DEC's fish stocking and reclaimed ponds lists. These documents provide a list of waters where brook trout are stocked and waters that DEC has reclaimed (by eliminating competitive fish species) prior to stocking brook trout.

Where to Fish

Graphic of places where brook trout can be found in ponds.
Look for brook trout around inlets and shoreline cover

The physical features of a pond-including the amount of available cover, shape of the lake basin, and inlets and outlets-are important in angling for brook trout. Brook trout will closely associate themselves with cover in some lakes for at least part of the time. They tuck themselves under the edges of bogs or underneath logs where it is dark and they are protected from predators, yet still able to feed if the opportunity arises. At other times, they can be found cruising throughout the pond, far from cover.

Brook trout also use underwater features like dropoffs, particularly where there is an associated inlet. Inlets enable trout to remain fairly stationary as food is transported downstream to them. Inlets that add cold water to a lake can concentrate brook trout during warmer months. In some ponds, bottom waters may lack oxygen during summer months. In these situations, look for brook trout in the cool water immediately above this zone.

Float tube on the shore of an Adirondack Pond
Float tubes, kayaks or lightweight canoes will let
you fish more cover.

The position of brook trout in a given pond may also be determined by the type of prey available. Such is the case during insect hatches, when trout can be found just under the water's surface feeding on emerging insects.

When To Fish

Water temperature and light level are two important considerations when fishing for brook trout in ponds and lakes. In many ponds, particularly those with a limited amount of cover, brook trout are much more easily caught when light levels are low such as early or late in the day and during cloudy periods. Unsettled, even unpleasant, weather can produce excellent brook trout angling. The cool, sometimes cold weather of spring and fall very often produces the best angling of the year, when active hungry trout are found near the water's surface. As the season progresses and surface waters warm, brook trout seek deeper water to find acceptable temperature and oxygen levels.

Fishing Tackle and Techniques

Angling for brook trout in lakes and ponds can take many forms, and anglers use a wide variety of tackle and techniques to pursue them.

Father and daughter holding 4 nice brook trout.
The Lake Clear Wabbler is a popular and effective brook
trout fishing rig.

Spinning and Spin Casting

Trolling a spoon and a baited hook is one of the most effective and popular brook trout fishing techniques. The Lake Clear Wabbler was developed in the Adirondacks and has taken innumerable numbers of brook trout, including some large specimens. A fairly light fishing rod is used in this method, either with a spinning or spin-cast reel. To assemble this type of rig, connect the spoon to the end of the line, and add 12 to 18 inches of 4 - 6 lb. test leader, with a hook (commonly size #6) at the very end of the rig. Attach a worm to the hook, and troll the rig slowly so the spoon wobbles back and forth but doesn't spin. Split-shot can be added to the line, increasing the weight and sinking the rig deeper in the pond. This method works well when fishing deeper in the water column, which is quite useful as summer progresses and surface water warms. Many anglers also cast jigs or spinners for brook trout in ponds.

Flyfishing

Fly fisherman also catch many brook trout from lakes and ponds and these anglers use many varied tactics and fly patterns. A standard fly fishing outfit for brook trout in ponds is an eight or nine foot rod designed to cast a five or six weight floating, sinking tip or sinking fly-line and a 4X tippet.

 6 brook trout flies
Some popular brook trout flies:
Top row: Gray Ghost, Hornberg, Muddler Minnow
Bottom row: Mickey Finn, Wooly Bugger, Beadhead

Although a variety of fly patterns can catch brook trout, there are a few standard patterns that most anglers commonly carry. Black or olive wooly buggers, either un-weighted or tied with a weighted bead on the head of the fly ( they fish a little deeper) are responsible for the capture of untold numbers of brook trout. Other classic brook trout flies include: blacknose dace, mickey finn, hornberg, muddler minnow, baby brook trout, black ghost, and the grey ghost (mostly in sizes 6-12). These streamer flies cast along the edges of cover can produce many trout, as can trolling. While streamers are often the most popular flies, nymphs, both weighted and un-weighted, can also produce brook trout.

One of the most exciting ways to fish is to chase rising brook trout when an insect hatch is on. An early spring midge hatch on a good brook trout water is a sight to behold. Few angling experiences can rival catching a large rising brook trout with a well placed cast from your favorite fly rod.

The Plight of the Brook Trout

Brook trout are members of the Char genus and are more closely related to lake trout than they are to brown and rainbow trout. They evolved in isolated ponds with few other competitive fish species and continue to flourish in these types of waters. Unfortunately, over the years, non-native fish species-such as yellow perch, bass, golden shiner and various other baitfish-have been introduced into many of these waters. When this occurs, brook trout populations almost always decline. Brook trout primarily eat insects and other invertebrates and do not require a fish forage to survive or flourish. They are well adapted to the sterile Adirondack ponds they live in. These waters are not suitable for bass and other popular sportfish species. To protect waters from the introduction of non-native fish species, the use of baitfish is prohibited in most brook trout ponds. Ponds where the use of baitfish is prohibited can be found on the Special Regulations by County pages (leaving DEC website to official Fishing Regulations Guide vendor website). In addition, introducing any fish into waters they did not come from is illegal.

Brook trout also require excellent water quality and are particularly sensitive to increases in pond acidity caused by acid precipitation. Acid precipitation occurs when moisture in the air mixes with emissions from coal-burning power plants and falls as rain or snow. While more fertile areas can usually buffer the impacts of acid precipitation, the Adirondack region is naturally low in limestone and cannot offset its effects.

In the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest region of the Adirondack Park, only 3% of the waters that once held brook trout still do, due to both acid precipitation and illegal fish introduction.

a helicopter spreading lime on an ice covered pond.
Spreading lime on an ice covered pond.

What DEC is Doing

New York State has established the toughest acid rain control requirements in the nation and continues to lead the fight for increased reductions in power plant emissions outside the state. Although progress is being made to combat acid precipitation, the introduction of competitive fish species remains a major problem. Because anglers are introducing these fish, they are the only people who can correct the problem.

Taking brook trout eggs
Collecting heritage strain brook trout eggs.

To counteract the impacts of non-native fish introductions and acid precipitation, DEC has an active brook trout restoration program in the Adirondack Park. Ponds are selectively limed each winter to reduce acidity levels, and non-native fish populations that compete with brook trout are eliminated. Once acidity levels are suitable for fish survival and competing fish species have been eradicated, ponds are restocked with brook trout. Many waters are stocked with native "heritage strain" brook trout. Other waters are stocked with hybrid brook trout-a fish tolerant of more acidic conditions.

Print brochure

Download and print the I FISH NY Guide to Brook Trout Fishing in Adirondack Ponds brochure (PDF) (3.8 MB)


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