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An Introduction to Fish and Fishing on the Saranacs - by Keith Gorgas

The following is an exerpt from a post on Keith's Facebook page. He kindly allowed me to repost it on this site.

Keith grew up spending his summers on Lower Saranac Lake, with most of his time spent fishing. He moved to Saranac Lake 19 years ago. He currently resides on the North Branch Saranac River in Goldsmith.

The village of Saranac Lake is a small town, situated at the end of a series of lakes that empty into the Saranac River. It lies on table land, about 1600 ft above sea level. Surrounded by mountains, in one of the last sections of America to be surveyed in the mid 1800’s , the town grew up around a sawmill, eventually became a cure center during the tuberculosis boom, and in its heyday became the “Little City in The Adirondacks.” It’s home to two colleges, is rich in history, natural beauty, and has a strong arts and music community. It also is one of the best fishing areas in North America. The diversity of available species, and relative lack of fishing pressure in an unspoiled environment present a unique opportunity for the freshwater angler. It is not virgin territory, like the remote lakes of Canada, but it may be the closest thing to it that can be found in the US.

Before the white man came to dwell in the region, the rivers ran free from their headwaters down to Lake Champlain. The Native Americans had no permanent settlements in the high peaks area of the Adirondacks, but came seasonally in search of fish, iron ore, and furs. Back then, there were a limited number of fish species in the Saranac river system. Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), both members of the Char Family, were abundant in the virgin waters. The primary quarry of the native fishers was the Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), which they smoked to preserve on their fishing expeditions. Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), migrated upstream from the Atlantic, through Lake Champlain to reproduce in the rivers and brooks of the Saranac River system. Other species living in the watershed included the White Sucker (Catostomus commersonii), the scavenger inhabitant of the slow back waters; the Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas), and a member of the sunfish family, the Pumkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus). Smelt (Hypomesus olidus) and Rainbow Dace were the primary forage fish. All these species existed in great numbers and were easily caught by the first settlers. With the advent of the first hotels, a commercial fishery existed. The fish were taken in large numbers by net and hook and line. The resource seemed inexhaustible and excess catches were shipped via train to Utica and beyond.

The Saranac River system starts In Lake Clear, fed by brooks and springs draining off St. Regis mountain. From there, it flows into Upper Saranac Lake, the largest body of water in the watershed. Upper Saranac Lake connects to the Fish Creek Pond, in relatively flat terrain. The Saranac River exits the Upper Lake at Bartlett Carry, over a dam and down through rapids, into Middle Saranac Lake, or Round Lake. Numerous brooks and streams off of Ampersand Mountain also feed into Middle Saranac. South Creek is the largest. Located to the north of Middle Saranac, and draining off of Boot Bay Mt, Weller Pond is over a mile long, and also feeds the Middle Lake, via a small narrow channel off of Hungry Bay. The Saranac River exits Bullrush Bay and meanders down to the Upper Locks, which allow boat traffic to circumnavigate a set of rappids. Several brooks off of Ampersand Mt. join the river. Below the locks, the channel follows the terrain down to Lower Saranac Lake, which is fed by springs all around it. Notable tributaries are Fish Creek; the outlet of Macaully Pond, a brook coming down in Boot Bay, and another brook descending from Lake Colby. Near Bluff Island and Picnic Pt., the Saranac River exits into First and Second Ponds. 

The channel resumes below Second Pond, and less than a mile downstream is joined by Cold Brook, once known for its abundance of 2 lb plus Brook Trout. Below Cold Brook, the river opens up into flooded timberlands caused by the dam at the Lower Locks. Below the locks is Oseetah Lake, formed by the damming of Lake Flower. In the center of Ossetah is the former Miller Pond. Oseetah and Lake Kiwassa are at the same level as Lake Flower and are connected by a canal like passageway. The river narrows leaving Oseetah, but is still wide and slow, rising about 12 ft above its former channel down to Lake Flower, site of the original settlement and sawmill. A power generating station sits at the dam. From Lake Flower, the Saranac River winds down towards Bloomingdale and the Permanent Rapids, and on into the Franklin Falls impoundment. Below Franklin Falls is the Union Falls impoundment, and from there the river cascades down towards Cadyville, where it is joined by the North Branch of the Saranac River. Rainbow Lake, Kushaqua Lake, and Loon Lake all flow into the North Branch, after which it meanders down through a mountain valley and runs unimpeded to the main river. From Saranac Lake down to Plattsburg and Lake Champlain, the Saranac River has 7 dams. Most are for electrical power plants, and only the lower three have fish ladders for the Salmon to circumvent the dams. Numerous other dams existed at one time to power mills along the river, and have been removed or destroyed.