Ice Out Fly Fishing Adirondack Trout Ponds
Most of the trail to the pond is steep right up until about one-quarter mile from the water’s edge. Once you break over the top and start down, the anticipation kicks in. Your steps get faster as you try and get a look at the water hoping that the information was right and the winter’s ice is finally gone. Round the last bend, and there it is - a dark bottomed pond that has lost all but the very last traces of ice.
Gear is quickly assembled -- rods strung, waders donned, and finally you can shove the float tube off from shore. This particular pond has a big sunken rock where the trout gather each spring. A couple of casts with a full-sinking fly line complete with a pair of dragonfly nymphs on a short tippet yields nothing until finally there’s a heavy tug of a trout. The foot-long fish fights well, and while it is no monster, it is wild and back home in a native habitat that was all but lost until recent years. Trout have returned to the Adirondack ponds so much so that now there’s a decent chance at breaking a state record! That which was lost in many places for decades is now back.
There are many trout ponds scattered throughout the Adirondacks, and like all fishing waters, some are vastly better than others. Most pond anglers are not going to give up their secrets either. These fisheries are delicate and can’t stand an overabundance of fishing pressure.
Fortunately, finding good places to fish requires but one search on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website at www.dec.ny.gov. There is a list of “reclaimed ponds” in the Adirondacks. Basically, reclaimed ponds have had all non-trout fish species removed and the trout populations have been restored. Good ponds are also always protected by special regulations forbidding the use of baitfish.
Once you have a list of prospective ponds in the county you want to fish, get a map out and check access points, the length of the hike to the pond, and the terrain. Narrow the list to the ponds that suit your physical abilities the best. Remember, it’s always fun to explore a new pond, and it won’t be long before there are some more favorites on your list as well.
Obviously, the degree of difficulty in getting to a pond has a lot to do with how good the fishing will be. Deep woods ponds with a long hike usually tend to fish better than ponds with roadside access.
Boating for Fly Fishing Spring Trout Ponds
Adirondack trout ponds typically have a soft bottom and are surrounded by vegetation near the water. Hiking in with a pair of waders won’t get you far. The easiest way to fish on most of them is with a float tube. The ponds are usually very cold and my favorite system is a pair of stocking foot neoprene waders, a set of swim fins, and an inflatable life vest. Float tubes are very safe, but there is always a possibility for the rubber inner tube or flotation cell failing, so having a lightweight inflatable life jacket is a must.
Tubes are easy to fish from. You can stalk and cast to rising fish or even troll along with a streamer if you prefer. Float tubes are easy to propel with swim fins and getting into position isn’t a problem.
There are some ponds where a canoe can be carried in relatively easily. You need to make that determination ahead of time. Drive around the Adirondacks and you’ll see plenty of Radisson canoes and other lightweight rigs that can be rowed or paddled for pond fishing. I’ve seen folks that prefer pack canoes and carry Kevlar models for pond fishing. If that is your preference and carrying it isn’t a problem, it is a great way to go.
Ice-out fishing is a prime time to be on the water for a couple of reasons. The warming of the water kick starts the trout’s metabolism and they get hungry. Pond fishing can be great all summer on many ponds, but early spring and early fall are usually the best time to fish. There is also springtime insect activity that starts as soon as the ice melts and the sunlight heats the water making it a great period to fish.
Insect life for trout ponds is much different than what stream trout encounter. Pond trout eat a lot of insects as well, but ponds do not have the variety of mayfly and caddis hatches that streams do. Important insects for a trout pond include: damselflies, dragonflies, midges, and some burrowing species of mayflies like Hexagenia or Callibaetis.
During the springtime, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs are important insects for trout and these are my go-to flies. The nymphal forms of these insects migrate from deeper water and head toward shore to hatch, and the trout pick them off all along the way. I carry nymphs for each of these species in olive, dark olive, and dark brown.
A lot of the surface activity on trout ponds comes during midge hatches. Having a few midge patterns, both larvae and surface patterns, is important. Carry some small (#18 - 22 or smaller) Griffith’s Gnats, simple adult midge imitations, and some larvae patterns in red, tan, brown, and black.
While the use of baitfish is forbidden on ponds, the trout can’t read. They do fall for streamers in some instances. Wooly Buggers in smaller sizes (#8 - 12) and even brighter streamers in attractor patterns like the Hornberg or the Black Nosed Dace are good (#6-#8).
When all else fails, brook trout are suckers for small, brightly colored wet flies. I always have some Royal Coachman, Coachman, Parmachene Belle, and other bright patterns along in sizes from #10 - 16. The tiny wet flies can be used as dropper flies either ahead of or behind a big nymph or streamer, or they can be set up with a couple of different colors on the tippet in series and fished that way. Wet flies are also a good rig on the rare ponds that have rainbows or other trout species present.
Dry fly selection should include Light and Dark Cahills, a big Hex imitation, and some Brown Drakes for ponds with a drake hatch. You can’t go wrong with an Adams as well. Mayfly hatches aren’t plentiful, but when they are on the fishing is awesome!
Rods and Rigging
Since you will be sitting at water level in a float tube, a longer rod is a plus. I use 4 - 6 weight rods that are between 8 - 9 feet long for pond fishing. The longer rod makes casting much easier than shorter versions.
Always carry two reel spools. One should be set up with a weight-forward or double-taper (I’m old school, double-taper is better for dry flies) floating line for fishing dry flies. Have a second spool rigged with a full sinking line that has a sink rate of 4 - 6 inches per second. The sinking line is needed for nymphs and streamers.
Putting it all Together
If you have never fished a trout pond, surely the logistics are harder than fishing a stream. Yet, fishing ponds has a lure of its own. It’s a nice way to combine a hike, some float tubing, and best of all, catching some beautiful wild brook trout in their native waters. Spend a morning on a pond, pull in for a shore lunch and you’ll be hooked!
Rob Streeter enjoys fly fishing for many species, especially in the Adirondacks. He is the outdoor columnist for the Albany Times Union and freelances for several publications, including Lake Ontario Outdoors and Adirondack Outdoors magazine. He is a member of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and the Outdoor Writers’ Association of America. He is the author of “Fly fishing for Panfish” and has produced a new DVD “Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass.”