Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Small boats, big rewards on Adirondack bass waters

By Dan Ladd

New York Outdoor News Editor


Let’s face it, not everyone who tosses a wacky worm or top-water plug in hopes of hauling in a lunker bass does so from the deck of a bass boat, or any motorboat for that matter. Many anglers rely on much simpler means for getting on the water. 


It’s no secret that kayaking continues to be an increasingly popular outdoor activity. As more people take up paddling a kayak, they quickly discover how easy it is to fish from them, especially for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Same for a canoe, or even a small rowboat for that matter. 


For some anglers, the fishing boat and style is a matter of choice. For others, it’s what we can afford, or what fits on top of the vehicle or in the back of a truck. 


I discovered kayaking two decades ago and have never looked back. Living in the Adirondacks is part of the reason for that as there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a paddling or fishing destination. 


The beauty of fishing from a smaller boat is that you can get to places bigger boats sometimes can’t. And if you want to set out on some of the larger lakes, you have that option too, albeit with a few words of caution. 


The angler/paddler is drawn to the Adirondacks during the warm-weather months. With that, here’s a few waters to consider plopping your small boat onto for a little summer bass fishing. 

Balfour Lake

For many years this lake with nearly three miles of shoreline in Minerva, in Essex County, flew under the radar. Then the state created a parking area near a footpath that leads a short distance down to the water. 


There are only a few dwellings on Balfour Lake, including two summer youth camps, which can make for some racket in the middle of the summer. Still, there’s plenty of room to move around and lots of fishing structure along the shoreline. 


This lake usually delivers a solid smallmouth bite, which is often more about quantity than quality, with some largemouths mixed in. Even better, the state also stocks it with rainbow and brown trout should you wish to switch gears. 


Balfour Lake is located on Route 28N between Minerva and Newcomb. 

Pack Forest Lake

Pack Forest, in Warren County, is mostly known as the location of the popular summer youth camp, as well for being part of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. But the lake itself provides some excellent bass and pickerel fishing, often along with the company of a pair of loons. 


At 85 acres, there’s ample room to paddle and fish the lake’s jagged shoreline, which provides lots action and the occasional lunker bass. 


Getting here is what’s interesting, as the access points are on the east side along the old Route 9 (parallel to the current Route 9) just north of the Village of Warrensburg. The road has deteriorated greatly over the years and only vehicles with good clearance should be driven in here. 

Nicks Lake

You’ll have to pay a day-use fee to get into Nicks Lake through the state campground just outside of Old forge, in Herkimer County, but it’s worth it. A shallow lake with a maximum depth of less than 20 feet, this water is loaded with structure and has several points and bays to chase smallmouth and largemouth bass. 


Like any campground lake, most of the action can be found away from the campsites, which here is at the northern end. Weeds prevail in the shallows, especially as summer progresses, so going weedless is an obvious choice. There’s also plenty of submerged timber to work with using any type of lure. 


The state also stocks brown trout here, and on one camping trip I came away with an unexpected 17-inch brown that took a minnow-imitation Rapala. That was icing on the cake after a fun weekend of camping and bass fishing. 

South Inlet

Raquette Lake, in Hamilton County, is a big, windy and busy Adirondack lake during the summer months. But paddlers, and bass anglers alike find refuge in South Inlet; a long fen that extends a few miles upstream on Sagamore Creek until you get to a pool at Sagamore Falls. 


The fen is a largemouth haven, with plenty of vegetation, submerged timber and open pools that all provide seemingly endless opportunities to toss a variety of presentations. This is just a beautiful place to paddle, and fish. It’s also easy to get to as there is a put-in at a bridge on Route 28 where the fen joins Raquette Lake. 


Bring a small trout rod too, and make a few casts around the falls, if you get that far. You might find yourself having fun with some little, and not-so-little, brook trout. 

Cranberry Lake

Another campground lake, and a big one at that, is Cranberry Lake in St. Lawrence County. The beauty of fishing this lake in a small boat is that there are so many places to explore, and fish, away from the main body of water. Just look at a map of this lake and you’ll get the idea. You may have to paddle to get to some of these nooks, but once you’re there, you can concentrate of fishing for largemouths and smallmouths alike.


Brandy Brook Flow, Dead Creek Flow and the inlet of the Oswegatchie River above Wanakeena are all good bass fishing locations, as are the areas around the lake’s numerous islands and bays. 


Along with the campground, there is a state boat launch off Route 3 at the outlet of the Oswegatchie and also access in Wanakeena. 

Big waters

The larger bodies of water in the Adirondacks are not just for the larger boats. But paddling big waters, for whatever purpose, comes with a few words of caution. 


The weather can change quickly, especially at higher elevations and any winds in excess of 10 mph have the potential to stir up sizable waves. This not only makes fishing from a small boat difficult, but dangerous. 


Small boaters should not only watch the weather closely when eying bigger lakes, but plan on fishing early in the morning or later in the day when the waters are calmer and recreational boat traffic is lighter. Of course, don’t forget the PFD. 


This is just a sample of the fine bass fishing to be had in the Adirondacks. There are many other waters worth visiting in this 6-million-acre mosaic of private and public lands. 

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