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Fishing the St. Lawrence River

The St. Lawrence River Area

Originating at the northeastern end of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River flows 700 miles to the Atlantic Ocean - draining well over 30,000 square miles of the Great Lakes Basin. With an average width of two miles and a maximum depth of over 200 feet, this sole natural outlet for the Great Lakes System is the largest east-west river in North America. The first 114 miles of this waterway forms the border between southeastern Ontario (Canada) and northern New York (U.S.A.) The river provides a power source, an ocean-inland shipping channel, and a variety of tourist attractions as well-including a vast recreational fishery.

With the diversity of aquatic habitats, the St. Lawrence is home to a wide variety of warm water fish species and offers exciting fishing adventures. From plentiful panfish to elusive musky, the river provides fishing opportunities for the inexperienced and professional angler alike. Smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, bullheads and various types of panfish are all common to the river, and it doesn't require a well equipped yacht to fish here. Protected bays provide good fishing for the small boat angler, while area docks and piers offer action for shore fishermen.

Geographically, the New York portion of the St. Lawrence River can be divided into three distinct, easily defined areas. From Tibbetts Point near Cape Vincent to approximately Morristown is the most popular area known as the Thousand Islands Region. The lower section of the river, from the Iroquois Dam to the Moses-Saunders Power Dam near Massena, is referred to as Lake St. Lawrence, created with the construction of the Seaway in 1959. The area which lies between these two sections is appropriately known a the Middle Corridor. Though unique in some respects, all three areas share a highly productive fishery.

What fish can I catch?

Bass

Although largemouth bass are taken on the St. Lawrence, smallmouth bass is the most commonly caught species. Good catches of smallmouths are taken around islands (such as Carleton, Round and Linda); off points (Bartlett, Chippewa and Grass), in bays (Goose, Chippewa and bays of Grindstone and Wellesley Islands) below the Moses-Saunders Power Dam and off shoals. Small spinners, jigs, and rubber worms work well in the late summer, while live bait including minnows, worms and crayfish are good early season baits.

Largemouth bass can be found in shallow weedy bays and along edges of shoals. Lake of the Isles on Wellesley Island is known as the largemouth hot spot for the St. Lawrence River. Rubber worms, spinnerbaits, surface lures, plugs and worms are common baits.

Northern Pike/Walleye

Northern pike fishing can be enjoyed almost year-round. In winter, ice fishermen take good catches from bays near Cape Vincent, Clayton, Wellesley Island, Alexandria Bay, Wheathouse Bay (downstream from Ogdensburg) and Coles Creek using tip-ups with large minnows. During spring, shallow weedy bays and shoals are places where northern pike anglers do well. As a rule, bays that provided action for ice fishermen will do the same for open water anglers. In addition to those areas already mentioned, the Bays of Grindstone Island, Grasse Point, Goose Bay and off Oak Point are also good spots during spring and summer. Trolling or casting with live bait (especially minnows and shiners), large spoons and large plugs as well as jigging with black or yellow jigs will bring in good catches.

Walleye fishing is more localized than northern pike fishing along the river. In May, walleye hot spots are generally where major tributaries enter the St. Lawrence. The mouths of the Oswegatchie and Grasse Rivers, below the Moses-Saunders Power Dam at Massena and off shoals and points are all good bets. Worms on spinners or jigs are the most popular lures.

In summer and early fall, walleye fishing changes somewhat. At this time, points and shoals along the river provide only limited action while the areas below the Moses Saunders Power Dam and around Carleton Island become the hot spots. Fish with minnows or jigs (especially black) and a worm.

Panfish

Fishing for panfish should not be ignored. Panfish are widespread in the river and offer action for both boat and shore fishermen. Often overlooked, these fish provide year-round fun for all anglers - novices and experts alike. Rock bass, black crappies, bluegills and pumpkinseeds are all good tasting and relatively easy to catch. Use worms, minnows, jigs, spinners and small lures.

Bullhead/Yellow Perch

Bullhead fishing becomes popular in early spring when the water warms up soon after ice-out. Tributaries such as French, Cranberry, Crooked, Chippewa and Coles creeks are all hot spots. Traditional baits like nightcrawlers and leeches work well here. Later in the spring bullhead fishing moves into the bays such as those of Grindstone and Wellesley Islands.

Late spring through early summer is also a good time for yellow perch fishing. Using minnows and worms off docks at Cape Vincent, Clayton and Ogdensburg will produce good catches of perch.

Muskellunge

In late summer and through fall, great effort is put into bringing home one of the most challenging warm water game fish; the muskellunge. In 1957, a New York State record 69 pound 15 ounce muskellunge was taken near Clayton and this record still stands today. Catching a musky is so demanding and specialized that using a guide service if often recommended especially for the inexperienced angler. For those fishermen who prefer to fish for this monster on their own, try tolling along the edge of shoals from Cape Vincent to Ogdensburg. Use large spoons and plugs and be prepared for a fight.

Best Methods/locations

As any angler can tell you, fishing success always varies from day to day. A spot where an angler had terrific catches one day can yield very little the next. Areas mentioned above are good starting points, but there is no guarantee you will catch your limit there. The same can be said for fishing methods. Try to move around and use various baits and lures and remember that the depth at which you fish will change from season to season. A general rule is to fish deeper in the summer than you would during the spring and fall.

For the most up-to-date information on best techniques, locations and lures, check in at local bait shops and ask other fishermen.

Eating Your Fish

Some fish species from the St. Lawrence River contain levels of chemical contaminants above the limits established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While the effects on humans caused by eating these contaminated fish are not certain, as a safeguard, the NYS Department of Health has issued an advisory with recommendations for limiting fish consumption. This advisory is found in the regulations guide issued with your fishing license. We suggest you read the advisory and plan your fish consumption accordingly.

Ice Fishing

During the winter months, protected bays provide great ice fishing opportunities for yellow perch, northern pike and a variety of panfish. While most bays are productive, the popular areas include Cape Vincent, Clayton, Wellesley Island (i.e. Eel Bay, Lake of the Isles), Alexandria Bay, Chippewa Bay, Ogdensburg, Wheathouse Bay and Coles Creek, A tip-up with a large minnow is an effective combination for catching northern pike. For yellow perch, try jigging with small minnows, small lures, perch eyes and grubs in addition to using tip-ups.

Where to access the river?

State Parks (listed from up river to down river)
Name Launch
ramp
Camp
sites
Cabins Swimming Shore
fishing
Marina Location
Burnham Point X X X Off Route 12E, east of Cape Vincent
Cedar Point X X X X X Off Route 12E, west of Clayton
Canoe-Picnic Point* X X X On Grindstone Island
Wellesley Island X X X X X X Off Route I81, west of Alexandria Bay
Waterson Point* X X On northeastern end of Wellesley Island
Grass Point X X X X Off Route 12, one mile west of Route I81
DeWolf Point X X X X Off Route I81 on Wellesley Island
Keewaydin X X X X Off Route 12, one mile west of Alex Bay
Mary Island* X X Off northeastern end of Wellesley Island
Kring Point X X X X X Off Route 12, 6 miles east of Alex Bay
Cedar Island* X X In Chippewa Bay downstream of Alex Bay
Jacques Cartier X X X X Off Route 12, 3 mi west of Morristown
Coles Creek X X X X X X Off Route 37, four mi east of Waddington
Robert Moses X X X X X X Off Route 37, three miles north of
Massena-Barnhart Island

* Access by boat only

Public Boat Launch Sites (listed from up river to down river)
Site Maintenance Parking Docking Marina Fishing? Location
Cape Vincent Municipal X X Nearby Off Route 12E, in village
Clayton Municipal X X Off Route 12 in village
Alexandria Bay Municipal X Off Route 12 in village
Goose Bay Municipal X Off Route 12, east of Alexandria Bay
Chippewa Bay Municipal X Nearby Off Route 12, midway between Alex Bay and Morristown
Oak Point Municipal Off Route 12, west of Morristown
Morristown Municipal X X Off Routes 12 and 37, in village
Ogdensburg Municipal X X Shore Morrisette Park in city
Lisbon Town Beach Municipal X Off Route 37, across from Galop Island
Waddington Municipal X Off Route 37, east side of village
Brandy Brook State X Shore Off Route 37, three miles east of Waddington
Wilson Hill State X Shore Off Route 131 near Massena

Note: There are also various private marinas along the river.

Boating Safety

Boat anglers should keep in mind that this river is a part of the Seaway where large vessels frequent the shipping channel. Small boats should be alert to the potential hazards from these vessels and their wakes.

Since it is a large river, it is a good idea to carry a set of navigational charts of the area you will be fishing and to have a marine radio or cell phone on board in case of emergencies.

Regulations/License Information

Remember, the St. Lawrence River spans two countries with great fishing available on both sides. Know where you are fishing at all times and obey the rules and regulations of the country under whose jurisdiction you are fishing. You can find these regulations listed in the appropriate Regulations Guide available from license issuing agents. An Ontario license is required when fishing in Canadian waters and a New York license is needed in American waters. New York fishing licenses can be obtained from many bait shops and sport shops. Ontario licenses are available from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and various Ontario sport shops.

New York License and Fishing Information:

NYS DEC, State Office Building
317 Washington Street, Watertown NY 13501
(315) 785-2263

NYSDEC, License Sales Office, Room 151
625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4790
(518) 402-8985

Canadian License and Fishing Information:

Natural Resources Information Centre:
1-800-667-1940

Area Information

Local Communities

Numerous bait shops, fishing guides, and accommodation packages are available to fishermen in the various communities along the St. Lawrence River. For information on local events, derbies, and businesses that cater to fisherman, contact the appropriate Chamber of Commerce.

Sources of related information

Navigational Charts:
US Department of Commerce
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Distribution Branch, N/CG33
National Ocean Survey
Riverdale, MD 20737
(301) 436-6990
Note: Ask for Catalog 4

New York State Parks - St. Lawrence River Area
NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Thousand Islands Park Region
Keewaydin State Park
Alexandria Bay, NY 13607
(315) 482-2593

Topographical Maps:
USGS Map Distribution
Federal Center, Building 41
Box 25286, Denver, CO 80225
Note: USGS maps also available from some bookstores

General Information
1000 Islands International Council
Box 428, Collins Landing
Alexandria Bay, NY 13607
(315) 482-2501

For additional information not covered in this brochure, you can direct your questions to DEC's Region 6 Fisheries at NYSDEC, Bureau of Fisheries, 317 Washington St., Watertown, New York 13601. (315) 785-2263.
Good Luck!