It’s called canoe camping, but it’s really all about the fishing. When we crawled out of our tents at dawn, we were just a rod’s length from the water. Paddling to a new lake or campsite, we would cast lures to every sunken log or promising cove that caught our eyes. When it got too dark to tie on another fly or plug, we’d go ashore and sit around a fire, grilling a few small brook trout and telling stories of the bigger ones that we had caught and released.
The nonstop action of backcountry canoe fishing is why three friends and I decided to kick off our trout season with a wilderness camping trip in New York’s 18,000-acre St. Regis Canoe Wilderness Area in the heart of Adirondack state park. The area has 58 trout-filled lakes and ponds connected by winding channels and muddy portage trails, and it would take a lifetime to fish it completely. We thought we’d give it our best shot in a week.
The St. Regis gets a fair amount of traffic in the spring, mostly from day-tripping fishermen. All motorized craft are prohibited, so we traded sweat for solitude and put some long paddles and portages between us and the easily accessible waters. Our first stop, one of the remotest lakes in the chain, was typical. We caught ridiculous numbers of brook trout in shallow, sunlit coves but never saw another fisherman.
After two days of catching and releasing more brilliantly colored wild fish than we bothered to count, we still had options. Rumor had it that a large lake a long portage west of us held lots of rainbows. A quick paddle south would bring us to a pond where big lakers fed over shallow reefs. Or we could continue to explore dozens more ponds loaded with brook trout. We faced a tough decision, but just the kind that makes canoe camping so special.
**Timing and Tactics **
Brook trout feed heavily the first few weeks after ice-out, often around the beginning of May, but fishing remains good through June. Cast small spinners along the shoreline, or troll a Lake Clear Wobbler (a local spoon) ahead of a worm or streamer. To catch large lakers feeding on the surface at dawn and dusk, go during the peak of the mayfly hatch in late May and early June. As the water warms, fish deeper and focus on the colder water around tributaries or spring holes.
The popular 111/2-mile Nine Carries route starts and ends at Little Clear and Hoel Ponds, respectively, and has great fishing but also a lot of pressure. Long Pond, in the western end of the St. Regis, is a great place to catch large lake trout, and it has routes to Fish Pond, Ledge Pond, and other remote waters where tough access keeps the day-trippers away. Long portages make renting lightweight Kevlar canoes worthwhile; they’re available from St. Regis Canoe Outfitters (518-891-1838; www.canoeoutfitters.com). Primitive campsites dot the shores of most of the ponds, and no permits are required for small groups (www.dec.state.ny.us).
My crew camped on only three different waters, but that was enough. Paddling, camping, and exploring are great, but you don’t want them to get in the way of fishing.