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Salmon Fishing on Lake Champlain Tributaries

Emptying into Lake Champlain, New York's Boquet, Saranac and Ausable rivers have their sources in the Adirondack Mountains. These rivers are among the ten New York and Vermont tributaries to Lake Champlain which historically had native runs of Atlantic salmon. Salmon were extirpated from Champlain by the mid- 1800's and, until the 1950's, periodic restoration attempts were unsuccessful. Encouraging results from some of these early 1950's stream stockings of young salmon led to full scale salmon restoration work in the Boquet during 1973. Work included a modest stocking of fingerlings and extensive surveys to locate nursery stream habitat within the Boquet watershed. These efforts paid off when the first significant run of adult salmon in over a decade appeared on the Boquet at Willsboro in the spring of 1976. Lamprey control efforts begun in 1990 further enabled the abundance of returning salmon to increase.

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon Biology

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon
Landlocked Atlantic Salmon (adult male)

Although the same species as the sea-run Atlantic salmon, landlocks remain in freshwater their entire lives. Young salmon look very much like their close relative the brown trout until they reach about six inches in length. At this time, the salmon turn silver and move downstream into Lake Champlain. It can take up to three years for young salmon to grow large enough to move into the lake.

Once in the lake, smelt soon become the salmon's main food. Growth is rapid and a year later some salmon are 18 inches long. Unlike coho, chinook and other Pacific salmon which spawn once before completing their life cycle and dying, mature landlocked and sea-run Atlantic salmon may survive several spawning runs.

It is not known whether the original Champlain salmon were sea-run, landlocked or perhaps a mixture of both types. Today, the rivers are stocked with landlocks descended from Sebago Lake, Maine stock.

When to Fish

There are two runs of landlock salmon in the Boquet, Saranac and Ausable rivers each year- in the spring and fall. During spring, salmon are attracted to the rivers by the warmer water temperatures and/or the increased stream flow resulting from spring run-off. The salmon remain in the rivers from mid-April to late May, offering about six weeks of fishing. Best fishing is often the two to three week period from late April to mid-May.

The main salmon run occurs in the fall when the salmon are returning to their home rivers to spawn. This offers the most opportunity for anglers to catch a large salmon and can provide up to two months of fishing for die-hard salmon anglers. The main run of salmon usually extends from early September into mid-November with the best action occurring from early October to early November.

How to Fish

During spring, actively feeding salmon prefer baits or artificial lures that closely imitate natural food items. As such, worms, spinning lures and streamers catch the majority of salmon at this time. In the fall, worms work best early in the season but seem less effective as the fall progresses. Another effective natural bait is the salmon egg cluster.

Many anglers prefer to use flies, following the tradition of landlocked salmon fishing in Maine. When the water is high or discolored, or when the salmon are active in the fast water at the head of pools, streamer patterns like the Gray Ghost, Black Ghost, Nine-three, Golden Witch or other smelt imitations are excellent. A low, clear river turns many fly fisherman to wet flies and nymphs. For fish that are holding in the tails of pools or shallow water, use smaller flies such as the Hendrickson wet fly, wooly worms or dark steelhead patterns.

Anglers are reminded that fall regulations restrict the use of weighted baits, lures, and flies. For details, consult the Lake Champlain - Additional Tributary Regulations section in the Fishing Regulations Guide.

Angling Ethics

Courtesy and ethics are increasingly important on popular sections of river, and particularly so where you may be on private property:

  • If other anglers are present, rotate the pool. Rotating the pool involves starting at the head of the pool, casting and retrieving, and then taking a step downstream before casting again. Each angler rotates downstream through the pool and returns to the head until it is his/her turn again. The process allows all anglers the opportunity to fish the whole pool.
  • Know and obey the fishing regulations. In particular, terminal tackle is carefully regulated during late summer and fall.
  • Respect private property or risk losing public access! Many of the best pools are on private property where continued access is absolutely dependent on the landowners' good will. One litterer could potentially eliminate access for everyone, so please consider picking up any trash you find.

River Flows

Boquet River pool
Boquet River below Willsboro Fishway

River flows affect the ability to wade and effectively fish for salmon. US Geological Survey (USGS) web sites provide near-real-time data on flows in the Boquet, Saranac and Ausable Rivers. See below for links to flow information.

Opinions on what flows are suitable for fishing vary greatly depending on individual wading abilities and fishing styles. Saranac River flow during the fall averages less than 700 cfs, while fall flows on the Ausable average less than 600 cfs. Flows of 1600 cfs and 1500 cfs on the Saranac and Ausable respectively can be considered extreme: flows greater than those values occur on average only 10 percent of the time.

The Boquet and Ausable tend to be flashy, that is, flows increase rapidly after a rain event and then decrease rapidly when the storm runoff ends. The Saranac River tends to respond more slowly. In some instances the differing response times mean that the Saranac may be fishable when the Boquet and Ausable are high, or conversely, the Boquet and Ausable may have receded to manageable levels while the Saranac remains high. Anglers wading in the rivers should watch for possible rapid fluctuations in water levels due to hydroelectric projects located upstream. Such fluctuations are rare on the Boquet and Ausable, and the Department continues to work with the power companies to minimize fluctuations in the Saranac River.