Ausable River - New York - Fishing
The Ausable River is legendary in fly fishing lore. It is where some of the famed fly fishing authors got their start and where some of the famed fly tiers honed their craft. It is surrounded by natural beauty and is remarkably wild given its proximity to the population centers of New York City and Montreal. The fishing isn't too bad either. It certainly belongs on the list of every fisherman who wants to say he has fished the great trout waters of America.
The Ausable River is a stream few anglers will ever forget. The famous West Branch is a beautiful mountain stream, flowing through the rugged high peaks of Adirondack Park. The many deep pools and long stretches of rapid pocket water provide excellent fishing opportunities for all anglers, from the expert fly anglers to casual bait fisherman.
The West Branch gets it's start on the slopes of New York's highest peak, Mount Marcy. From this point until the river flows under the Highway 86 Bridge, it gradually picks up water from feeder streams. This upper portion of the stream can produce very well for native brook trout, with some brown and rainbow trout showing up just upstream from the bridge. This portion of stream isn't fished very heavily, and is a good bet for fisherman looking for a remote environment to fish in. Much of the land along the stream is public, although we caution you to watch for private property signs.
The portion of river between the Highway 86 Bridge and Wilmington Dam is the by far the most famous. Highway 86 and River Road closely follow the stream, offering excellent access. This part of the stream is heavily stocked with brown and rainbow trout. Most of this stream section is fast pocket water, with a few areas (High Falls Gorge, The Flume, and Wilmington Notch) descending into great waterfalls. The more gentle pocket water areas are the easiest and safest areas to fish in this portion. This is the area most people are thinking of when they talk about the West Branch. Just be aware of the regulations. There are several catch and release, artificial only areas spread throughout this prime stretch of the Ausable to insure the success of future anglers.
Finally, below Wilmington Notch the river slows down and becomes more gentle, and easy to fish. This slower water can produce some excellent catches of brown trout all season long, but the easiest fishing occurs in the spring, early summer, and fall. Finally, the river slows to a standstill at Lake Everest, a small mill-pond like impoundment with a maximum depth of 20 ft. Lake Everest is heavily stocked with brown trout, and good fish can be caught in the spring and again in the fall right off the bank. In the summer, it's often necessary to get down in the deeper water near the center of the lake. While fly fishing can be effective on Lake Everest at times, worm and spinner fisherman generally do best.
The fast, rocky West Branch is born anew below Wilmington Dam. Immediately below the dam, a long stretch of productive pocket water awaits the angler. Nearly all the eddies behind boulders produce trout, and this is some of the best dry fly water on the river. This is the perfect place for attractor dries, and the local favorite, the Ausable Wulff, seems to work better than anything else. There are many brown trout in this area, including some large fish. Brook and rainbow trout can also be found in respectable numbers. Anglers wanting to fish this productive area should use the parking area just above Wilmington Dam, and work their way downstream.
Easy access isn't available for several downstream to the mill dam at Ausable Forks. Anglers can park at the mill dam, and fish upstream in the mill pond for large trout. This pond produces best in spring and fall, but summer fishing can be good unless water temperatures are above 70 degrees. Anglers can also choose to fish the final mile of the West Branch below the dam. This fast, rocky portion of stream has a good fish population, and is overlooked by visiting anglers. The fish population is dominated by browns and rainbows, although some smallmouth bass start showing up this far downstream.
A few words should be said about the Ausable's two other branches, the East Branch and the Main Stem. While neither of these rivers can compare to the West Branch, both support solid trout populations throughout much of the year. The East Branch is probably the more attractive of the two. This quiet river winds it's way through a beautiful mountain valley. It looks like it belongs in Montana, not New York. The stream courses from slow, shallow pools to fast moving but still gentle pocket water. From April to mid-June each year, this stream can provide anglers with an excellent experience. The East Branch is an excellent dry fly river at this time, producing good hatches and good numbers of brown, rainbow, and brook trout to take the flies. As an added advantage, the East Branch is rarely if ever crowded, so you are likely to enjoy this wonderful fishing in solitude. And again in the fall, the river produces good dry fly fishing and good trout. The stream would indeed be perfect were it not for mid-summer. Those same shallow flats that provide excellent May dry fly fishing allow the stream to warm up quite quickly, to the point where fishing is unproductive and unethical. The trout move up into the cool tributaries as soon as the water temperatures rise into the 70s, and don't come back until they drop into the 60s. The few fish that remain in the river during the mid-summer are lethargic and extremely stressed, hardly a sporting quarry. But when the water temperatures do cool, usually in early to mid-September, and the fish do move back into the river, the wise dry fly fisherman will be down on the East Branch of the Ausable, around Keene Valley, waiting.
The main stem has similar characteristics to the East Branch. It also has good spring and early summer dry fly fishing, but the wide, shallow main river doesn't provide the same quality of habitat as the East Branch, and the hatches are not quite as spectacular. Also, the main stem doesn't have as many cold-water tributaries as the East Branch, so fewer trout survive the summer. However, a certain number do, and some fair fall fishing can be had when water temperatures drop back below 70. The best trout fishing on the main stem occurs above Keeseville, although good salmon fishing can be had downstream from the Ausable Chasm in Spring and Fall. The entire main stem of the Ausable produces good smallmouth bass fishing.
Something more needs to be said about water temperatures, because they have such a profound effect on the fishing. As stated before, the water temperatures completely define the fishing on the East Branch and the main stem, where trout are forced to retreat into cold tributaries almost every summer. That is far from the case on the West Branch. Many areas of the West Branch can stay cool enough through the dog days of summer to produce consistent fishing, provided that the weather isn't unseasonably hot or dry. As a matter of fact, some summers go by when the water temperatures on the West Branch never reach the 70 degree mark, and in that case, mid-summer can actually be one of the best times to fish. But other warmer, drier years will find the West Branch above the 70 degree mark on occasion. Usually these are just isolated events that have little effect on fishing success or fish populations, but if a year is extremely hot or dry, water temperatures can hover in the high 60s or low 70s for several days at a time. The trout of the West Branch usually react by restricting their feeding to morning and evening hours, and spend the mid days near the bottom in a near-dormant state. In extreme conditons, the fish may even be forced to search out spring-holes and small tributaries, although this does not happen often. One area of stream to try when water temperatures are on the high side is the area below Wilmington Dam. The dam aerates the water below, so that even when the water is a bit too warm, there is enough oxygen in the water for the fish to feed. Also, when the water temperatures are in the mid-60s or above, most trout will vacate the slow pools, and move to the fast water where there is more oxygen. If you happen to arrive at the West Branch during an unprecedented heat wave, and the water temperatures are staying consistently above 70 degrees (this is rare, but it can happen), we urge you to avoid fishing for the stressed trout. There are many cool flowing tributaries in the area that will provide good trout fishing on the few occasions that the West Branch is too warm.
Fishing Guides and Outfitters
Frank Pina, Jr., Owner and Guide 83 Cascade Ln
Jay NY 12941
Placid Bay Ventures
2733 Main Street
Lake Placid, NY