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Fishing and Canoeing the Indian River

in Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties

Map shows location of Indian River

A mostly slow-moving river flowing from Indian River Village to Black Lake, the Indian River offers more than 75 miles of excellent fishing and canoeing opportunities. Its channel varies greatly in width, from 25 to 200 feet and water depths are generally shallow (less than 10 feet) with numerous deeper holes. Considerable fluctuation occurs during the spring when the Indian often floods over its banks, especially in the lower sections. The river's corridor is mostly flat with some low rolling hills and occasional steep slopes resulting in rapids and waterfalls. In its upper reaches, the Indian makes a series of turns, alternately flowing north and southwest. At Evans mills, it turns back on itself once more and flows north to where it enters the Oswegatchie River at Black Lake. Extensive areas of both marsh and pasture land flank much of the river. Sections of rocky ledges and wooded banks are frequently encountered.

Fishing and Canoeing Sections of the Indian River

Fishing is good throughout the Indian River, and while some spots may be better than others, the patient angler is often rewarded with decent catches of a wide variety of warmwater fish. Panfish are especially plentiful and provide good action throughout most of the river.

Indian River Village-Natural Bridge

From Indian River Village downstream to Natural Bridge, the river is nothing more than a stream. Its banks are overgrown in spots and its channel is shallow and narrow, making this stretch unnavigable. DEC stocks this section with both brown and brook trout, and good fishing is available for those willing to work for it.

Natural Bridge-Theresa

From Natural Bridge to Theresa, the Indian is scenic, peaceful and largely underutilized. Here one can find peace and solitude of the the outdoors in very picturesque settings. The canoeist will pass through areas of wooded banks and rocky ledges, as well as open pasture and farm land. Numerous beaver dams are encountered near Natural Bridge, adding a different quality to that river portion. Below Anstead Bridge, the channel widens and aquatic vegetation becomes more prevalent. Fishing is generally good in this stretch, and casting or jigging while floating down the river is a pleasant and often productive way to spend time.

With the exception of a 25 mile segment that skirts along a restricted area of Fort Drum Military Reservation, this entire stretch is canoeable and accessible to the public. Anglers and canoeist wishing to enjoy portions of the river located on Fort Drum property should be aware that a permit is required. See additional information on Fort Drum and how to get an access permit.

Theresa-Black Lake

From Theresa to Black Lake, the channel is wide, the banks are marshy and the river meanders quite a bit. Here you enter a more popular stretch of the river, and while you may no longer have the river to yourself, it is still a relatively uncrowded and very enjoyable stretch. The landscape is quite variable during this river portion and ranges from open meadow to wooded banks with rocky ledges.

The quality of fishing improves in this stretch, making up for the loss of solitude. The base of Rossie Falls is a known hot spot to fish for black crappie. Catfish is another species found in this section and can provide an uncommon catch. Fishing at night with stink baits often produces some large (15-20 lbs,) fish.

Access along the Indian River

Boat Launch Sites

For information on boat launches, including Google Maps driving directions, visit the Boat Launch Sites for Jefferson County, Lewis County, and St. Lawrence County pages


The following definitions are provided to help clarify the meaning of various access sites:

  • Undeveloped Access: no formal access or ramp. Access off the side of the road or river bank (parking on road shoulder, small pull-off or clearing)
  • Undeveloped State Access: state land adjacent to river; access off river bank.
  • Developed State Access: formal access area with paved or dirt ramp. Access for canoe or small motorboat.
  • Private Access: privately owned launch area, (paved or dirt) open to the general public. may or may not be a usage fee. (Note: some sites require landowner permission. These sites are noted in the table below).

Safety in Rapid Waters

River conditions fluctuate with seasonal and environmental changes and, although a set of rapids may be listed in the table below as runnable or as a portage, it may be different for each individual. It is recommended for canoeists to scout out the route, checking all rapids and other noted portage areas for safety before setting out, and remember to let someone know your expected route and arrival time.

Key to Fish Species: LMB= largemouth bass, SMB= smallmouth bass, WE= walleye, NP= northern pike, BH= brown bullhead, YP= yellow perch, RB= rock bass, PS= pumpkin seed, CR= crappie, BG= bluegill, Pk= pickerel, SU= sucker, CC= channel catfish, BkT= brook trout, BT= brown trout, Pf= panfish
Area Miles Fish Camping Canoeing and Access Fishing and Access
Indian River Village to Natural Bridge 14.5 BkT, BT,BH KOA, Rt #3 Natural Bridge, Oasis Campground Rt #3 Natural Bridge Dam/falls: at Slye Road crossing, just above Natural Bridge Village Section not navigable. Narrow, overgrown channel. DEC stocks section immediately above Natural Bridge with brown trout and at Indian River Village with brook trout. Surrounding land mostly posted. access at road crossings. Anglers would have to walk stream bank to fish.
Natural Bridge to Indian Lake 8.2 SMB, LMB, BH, YP,PS, RB, NP, WE, SU, BkT near Natural Bridge Same as above Access off River Road Bridge: 1.4 miles downstream of Natural Bridge.
Rapid/ Falls: downtown Natural Bridge, at old Rt #3 road crossing
Beaver Dams: numerous dams throughout section. All easily run or portaged over
Road crossing: Fusa Blvd- 1 mile above Indian Lake. River goes through culverts under road- need to carry over.

Generally under utilized area with good fishing. Very picturesque secluded river section. Numerous fallen logs and stumps in the channel. Bottom very rocky near Natural Bridge. Extensive area of marsh throughout stretch, so bring plenty of bug dope. Likely to encounter lots of wildlife: deer, otter and mink are frequently sighted. Parcel of State Forest located on east bank, 2 miles downstream of Natural Bridge. Good spot for primitive campsite or to have lunch. Possible side trip: Natural Bridge Caverns, in the Village of Natural Bridge: formed by the Indian River.

FORT DRUM PERMIT ACCESS: Heading downstream from Natural Bridge, the Indian River forms the boundary to Fort Drum lands, and then enters the reservation, 1 mile south of Indian Lake. Since Fort Drum is a military reservation, there are ongoing military exercises occurring in the area. Anyone wishing to use portions of the river located on Fort Drum Property must obtain a permit from the Provost Marshal's Office on Fort Drum. The permit is free of charge. While not required, it is recommended that recreationalists check in with the Provost Marshal's Office prior to accessing any portions of the river along the boundary of Fort Drum lands. See additional information on Fort Drum and how to get an access permit.

Indian Lake 1.3 SMB, LMB, WE, NP, BH, PS, SU, Pf Same as above Access via river, or off Albina Road on Fort Drum property (8.5 miles unimproved dirt road) Small secluded lake on Fort Drum property. Wooded banks, rocky bottom. Some days you can hear military maneuvers. Good fishing. Bring some worms for fishing. See NOTE under NATURAL BRIDGE to INDIAN LAKE.
Indian Lake to Carr Road 23.9 SMB, LMB, NP, BH, RB, YP, Pf Bulk of area off limits. This section is located in "Major Impact Area" of Fort Drum and for safety is not available for general public use. There may be some portions of the river open to public use. Any interested persons should check with the Provost Marshall's Office on Fort Drum for up-to-date Information. See NOTE under NATURAL BRIDGE to INDIAN LAKE.
Carr Road to Antwerp 1 SMB, LMB, NP, BH, RB, YP, Pf Access: small grass landing on SE corner of Main Street Bridge in Antwerp.
Falls: below dam at Carr Road
Dams: (1) at Carr Road
(2) in village of Antwerp
Scenic impoundment sandwiched between two dams. Area recommended as a short day trip. Good bullhead fishing in back bay areas.
Antwerp to Philadelphia 7.5 SMB, LMB, BH, WE, NP, RB, YP, PS, SU, Pf Access off at DOT parking area, Rt. 11. Takeout on left bank above falls in Philadelphia. (See portages listed below).
Dams (2): (1) Village of Antwerp; (2) Village of Philadelphia: dam sits on top of falls- definite portage. Two possible portage routes: (a) (1 mile long) as approach village, paddle ¾ mi. up tributary on left (Black Creek).
At road crossing pull out and go right. Follow road to Rt. 11: turn right. Take first left (Garden Street). Bear right a Y in road and continue a short distance to driveway of village treatment plant ( on left). Follow driveway down to plant and put canoe in on downstream side of the old power plant foundation: (b) (¼ mile long) immediately after passing under the Rte. 11 bridge, take out on the back side of small split of land located on left bank. Follow path to old RR track and turn right. Continue until intersect street. Cross street and follow driveway down to village treatment plant. Put in on downstream side of old power plant foundation. CAUTION: due to close proximity to falls, portage (b) not recommended, unless low water conditions. Rapids (2): (1) just below Antwerp- line through on west bank: (2) below DOT parking area: shallow, rocky area easily lined through.
River slow moving with sections of wooded banks, as well as, pasture and meadow. Several weedy back bay areas to fish. Good fishing. Painted and snapping turtles are abundant. Rte. 11 parallels river, but banks act as a buffer, and the road is undetected. Development is minimal and mostly in the villages. Can paddle upstream from access site to Antwerp (2 mi.). Channel becomes shallow and rocky approaching dam. Additional access can be found at the bridge, immediately upstream of the DOT parking area.
Philadelphia to Kelsey Bridge 12.6 NP, SMB, PH, WE, LMB, RP, YP, PS, SU, Pf Big T Campground, off County Rt. 46,Santway Park, Theresa Access by old power plant near village treatment plant in Philadelphia or off Sandy Hollow Road Bridge below Philadelphia. Take out on west bank at Kelsey Bridge (land privately owned- must seek landowner's permission). Dam/Falls: at Sandy Hollow Road (1.2 mi. downstream of Philadelphia). Definite portage (¼ mi. long): take out at large willow on left bank above dam. Take straight path out to road along meadow edge. Walk right on road, down to bridge and put in on left (SE) corner. Banks are a bit steep but useable.
Rapids (3): (10 .5 mi. upstream Anstead Bridge. Is rocky: can run or line through on left; (2) under Anstead Bridge - can run or line through on left; (3) where river splits above Joachim Bridge. (.4 mi. upstream of bridge) are 2 sets of rapids: can run or line through both on left.
Philadelphia to Anstead Bridge- 5.4 mi. Anstead Bridge to Joachim Bridge- 3.6 mi. Scenic relaxing, mostly slow moving stretch. River winds through farmland with some intermittent cliffs and wooded area. Good fishing for northern pike, especially downstream from Anstead Bridge during lower water levels, can paddle upstream from access site and view the falls in Philadelphia. Above Joachim Bridge- river braids around islands. Take left channel at first split. Additional access is located at Anstead Bridge, but is difficult due to very steep banks.
Kelsey Bridge to Theresa 4 SMB, LMB, NP, WE, BH, RB, YP, SU, Pf Big T Campground, off County Rt. 46,Santway Park, Theresa Access on west bank at Kelsey Bridge (access site privately owned- must seek landowners permission). Take out in Theresa on left bank above Rte. 26 bridge: dirt road/path down to river,Dams (2): (1) 1.4 mi. above Theresa: portage located on right bank. Take out on bank, follow path over small split of land and put canoe back in river below dam; (2) Downtown Theresa; portage is 0.6 mi. long. Take out on left bank above County Rte.26 bridge. Go left and follow road to downtown. Take right on Main Street and first right on first small side street next to brick building. Follow road down and take path to left. Put in next to island. To avoid tailrace from dam, paddle around backside of island. (Note: side road is access for dam site. Dam site is operated by Hydro Development Group, Inc. No activities are allowed in vicinity of powerhouse and please be sure not to block roadway). Kelsey Bridge to Coon Bridge 1.6 mi. Short but quite scenic section. Once below Coon Bridge, farmland changes to wooded banks and rocky ledges. Poison ivy can be found on banks throughout this stretch- so watch out! Some development (camps and cottages) located along river. Good fishing, especially for panfish. Lots of action. Additional access can be found:(1) on west bank, ½ mile below Kelsey Bridge; (2) at Coon Bridge: off SE corner of second bridge (on island).
Theresa to Red Lake Outlet 6.3 YP, WE, BH, NP, SMB, LMB, Cr, Pk, PS, RB, SU, CC Same as above Access off small side road adjacent to brick building on Main Street in Theresa. (Note: side road is access for dam site. Dam site is operated by Hydro Development Group, Inc. please be sure not to block roadway, and no activities are permitted in the vicinity of powerhouse.) Take out: (1) at DEC site, 2 mi. above Red Lake Outlet, or (2) at another DEC site on Red Lake ( a .6 mi. paddle down the outlet from the river). Quite pretty and serene. River generally shallow and slow moving with weedy areas. Some rocky ledges encountered near Red Lake. Great blue heron and turkey vultures frequently sighted. Marshy areas support good populations of fish and fishing is good. Below the dam in Theresa is a hot spot for walleye. Several camps and cottages located near Red lake, and boating traffic increases. access for small motorboats via two DEC launch sites: (1) on river near Red lake; (2) on Red Lake. Bluff located just above Red Lake offers beautiful view of Indian river. Portions of the bluff and surrounding land is state owned (Wildlife Management Area*) Red Lake makes a nice side trip. Lake is pretty, has limited development and good fishing. For more information on Red Lake, refer to the Fishing the Indian River Lakes page. Additional access is located below the dam in Theresa: dirt side road off Red Lake road takes you down to the river at old steamboat landing. A lean-to is also located here. Access and lean-to are located on private land- seek landowner's permission. *NOTE: Camping is prohibited on Wildlife Management Area lands except by written permission of DEC
Red Lake Outlet to Hansen Bridge 7 YP, BH, WE, LMB, NP, SMP, RB, PS, Pk, Cr, SU, CC Santway Park, Theresa Access at DEC site on Red Lake - paddle .6 mi. out to Indian River through outlet. Taken out on east bank near Hansen Bridge (land privately owned - seek landowner's permission). Scenic and tranquil stretch, all flat water. River banks are generally open with some wooded banks. Extensive marshy areas. Channel meanders quite a bit and there are numerous stumps and fallen tree to paddle around. Great blue heron and turtles are frequently sighted. Good fishing. Hanson Bridge area is a hot spot for catfish. Some beautiful sand dunes are located on the east bank on private land above Hanson Bridge and are visible from the river. These dunes are known to contain remnant pottery pieces and arrowheads. Access is also available from a parcel of state land (Wildlife Management Area*) located on the west bank at Carpenter road (3.3 mi. upstream of Hanson Bridge) *See NOTE under Theresa to Red Lake Outlet.
Hansen Bridge to Hall Road 7 NP, BH, LMB, SMB, WE, YP, RB, PS, SU, CC, Pf Indian River Camp ground, County Route 30, near Rossie. Access at Hansen Bridge (access site privately owned- must seek landowners permission). Take out on left bank above rapids at Hall Road. Rapids (2): (1) 1.4 mi. below County Rte. 30 near some camps. Rocky, but can be run or carried around on right bank: (2) at Hall Road: definite portage! Take out on left bank above rapids, at one of the several sort paths leading up to the road. Follow road to bridge. Just before bridge, turn left and carry past cottage down to the river (cottage owner allows portage across property) CAUTION: be sure to land canoe on left bank, well above the rapids especially in higher water. Generally flat, open stretch with little current. Lots of vegetation along river edge and along river edge and several back bay areas to fish. Good fishing here. One of the few good catfishing spots in the region is near Hanson Bridge. Fish at night and use stink baits. Great blue heron and beaver can be seen here. some cottages scattered along the river's edge.Additional access sites: (1) on left bank just below County Rte. 30, in a grassy field. Farmer allows access here; (2) path on left bank just above the first set of rapids. privately owned - may be a usage fee.
Hall Road to Rossie 1.6 BH, NP, LMP, SMB, RB, PS, YP, SU, WE, Pf Indian River Camp ground, County Route 30, near Rossie.Anchorage Travel Trailer Park, Rossie. Access in Rossie: off bank on County Rte. 2 across from softwoods Road- small path down to river.Falls: In Rossie. Portage (½ mi.) pull at access site listed above. Go left on county Rte. 2. Carry across bridge and put in across from Rossie Hotel. Access across from hotel is privately owned- may be a usage feeRapids: approximately 50 feet below Hall Road Bridge. Is very rocky- can line through on either bank. Area best explored as a day trip. Can be paddle upstream and then float back down. Short, quite scenic section with rocky ledges, wooded banks and large boulders in the river channel. Good fishing-especially for panfish.
Rossie to Black Lake 2.3 Cr, BH, LMB, NP, YP, SMB, BG, CC, WE, Pf See "comments" above Access across from Rossie Hotel (privately owned- may be a user fee) Short but scenic paddle. Wide river channel with wooded banks and rock ledges. some development - mostly in Rossie. Good fishing, especially for large panfish. Base of Rossie Falls is known hot spot for black crappie. Use worms, minnows or jigs. Can do a round trip, or paddle on Black Lake to the DEC boat launch site on the west bank (approximately 10 miles from Rossie).Several additional camping areas can be found on Black Lake and nearby at Eel Weir State Park. for more information on camping on Black lake, contact Black lake Chamber of Commerce, Rd 1, Hammond, New York 13646
Black Lake 19.2 YP,Cr, BH, NP, LMB, SMB, CC, WE, Pf See "comments" above. Can take a canoe the whole length of black Lake to the Oswegatchie River. For further information on these areas, refer to DEC brochures or webpages entitled; "Fishing and Canoeing the Oswegatchie River".

Fishing Regulations

Special Fishing Regulations Apply. Anglers should be familiar with the fishing regulations that apply in this river before venturing out to catch fish.

Fish Consumption Advisories

Some fish 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 (DOH) issues advisories with recommendations for limiting fish consumption. View the fish consumption advisories on the DOH website (leaves DEC website) to learn which fish are safe to eat.

Topographic Maps

Anglers and canoeists may find topographical maps for the following locations useful: Belfort, Croghan, Natural Bridge, North Wilna, Lake Bonaparte, Antwerp, Philadelphia, Black River, Theresa, Redwood, Muskellunge Lake, Hammond, Pope Mills, Edwardsville, and Heuvelton.

Topographical maps can be obtained at local sporting goods stores or through the USGS Topographic Map website (leaves DEC website).

Additional Information

Anglers may find it helpful to obtain up-to-date fishing information from local sporting goods stores, bait shops, marina and other anglers.

Any other specific questions about fishing /canoeing information can be addressed to:

  • Regional Fisheries Manager- NYSDEC 317 Washington St. Watertown N.Y. 13601-3787
  • Indian River Lakes Chamber of Commerce- Town Clerks Office, Commercial and Main Streets, Theresa, N.Y. 13691 (315) 628-5064
  • St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce- Drawer A, Canton N.Y. 13617
  • Fort Drum Military Installation- Located in Jefferson and Lewis counties, 6 miles northeast of Watertown between US Hwy 11 and NYS Rte 3. Fort Drum provides one of the largest tracts of land in the northeastern U.S. available to the general public for recreational use with approximately 69,000 acres available for hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor recreational activities, dependent upon current military training operations. Fort Drum requires special permits to access the installation. Visit the Fort Drum website (leaves DEC website) to learn more accessing and recreating on Fort Drum or call the Fish & Wildlife Management Program at 315-772-9636 or 772-4999.