Upper Saranac Lake Canoe Camping

Alex Martin

Upper Saranac Lake Canoe Camping

When I was a kid I was very fortunate that my father was well versed in camping and hiking and was eager to pass along what he had learned to me. Ever since I can remember, we have gone camping several times each summer in the Adirondacks.

Every year we would explore a different location and I would learn something new. We steadily progressed from camping at state campgrounds overnight to backpacking miles into the woods to spend several days at a remote lake or pond.

My favorite type of camping throughout the years has been canoe camping. Canoe camping is convenient, and for a fisherman like me it is the best way to get out and fish all areas of the lake or pond that you are camping on. Having a canoe also makes it very easy to reach bodies of water via creeks, small outlets, and inlets that would otherwise be inaccessible from a larger motor boat or backpacking in to a lake. The canoe also allows you to bring a greater amount of gear for longer camping trips than you would be able to comfortably carry if you were backpacking to a lake or pond.

Over many trips to different bodies of water I have become very fond of one that I make sure to hit every year. Upper Saranac Lake is a very large body of water, and it can seem very intimidating to fish the lake successfully from a canoe. The good news is that this lake has lots of fish and can be fished very effectively from a canoe. The major game species found here include largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, and rainbow trout. There are also bullhead, perch and sunfish found in this lake.

When we go camping, we make sure to always have the following items on hand:  a good up-to-date map, compass, good first aid kit, flashlights, rain jacket, and wool socks and sweater. A lot can happen out in the wild and the last thing you want is to be caught unprepared and exposed. Many times the forecast looked perfect and we got hit by a big storm out of nowhere.  Don’t take a trip lightly and be prepared for anything whenever you go camping.

For fishing equipment you can’t go wrong with a 6 foot 5 inch or 7 foot medium-action Ugly Stick spinning rod. Spool your reel with 8 lb. monofilament and tie on a barrel swivel connected to a good quality 5 foot long, 6 lb. test fluorocarbon leader. A simple bobber and worm setup should always be in your arsenal as well as dark colored Senko worms, dressed gold bladed Mepps spinners sizes 1- 4, and Rapala floating crankbaits in frog or perch colors.

During the summer months the lake trout and rainbow trout will head to deeper water in search of cooler temperatures and can be found in the deeper holes in the southern half of the lake. It can be difficult to target them with a canoe. The preferred method is using downriggers to troll cowbells ahead of small crankbaits or spoons to entice these fish to bite when they’re down deep.

They can be caught from a canoe, but you have to use a different approach. Trolling from a canoe can be difficult because it is hard to maintain a straight line as well as the proper steady speed. Bottom bouncing the deep holes is the easiest and most effective way to fish for lakers from a canoe.

The rig is very simple. All you need is a heavy 2 or 3 oz. bait walker style weight and good 10 lb. fluorocarbon leader. You tie the main line to the arm of the bait walker weight then from the bait walker tie a 4-foot leader of 10 lb. fluorocarbon. At the end of this leader attach either a white soft plastic swim bait, a ¼ oz. – ½ oz. silver or silver and blue Little Cleo spoon, or a size 8 to 10 hook with a live sucker. Drop the line down until you hit bottom, and then reel in just enough so the line stays relatively taut giving you a good connection to your lure. Then simply sit back and let the wind push you around and impart action to your lure or bait.

For bass and pike, head to shallower water and find structure. The shoreline is full of bays, coves, downed trees, and rock piles that hold tons of fish. The formula is simple for finding the warm water species--find structure and fish the structure.

Wacky-rigged Senkos or sinking worms in darker colors will catch lunker bass that hide underneath downed timber and lily pads. Large dressed spinners, bright spoons, and perch colored crankbaits will work great for pike and bass, particularly if you rip them right along the edge of a weed line or over rock piles. Fish Creek Bay, Saginaw Bay, and around Buck Island are great places to find bass and pike.

While the big game fishing in this lake is excellent, there is also a plentiful amount of panfish that can provide fast action and a tasty camp meal. Large schools of perch and big bullheads can be great for the kids who just want to catch their first fish. One of the more consistent areas to locate them is the aptly named Fish Creek Bay. This inlet connects Fish Creek Ponds, Follensby Clear Pond, and Square Pond to Upper Saranac Lake. There always seem to be large schools of panfish in the weeds here, and we have caught some very large perch and bullheads throughout the creek.

Large portions of the shoreline are privately owned, and camps dot most of the western shore down to the southern portion of the lake. The state has several primitive campsites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis on many of the islands and some of the shoreline. There are maps that can be purchased that show the location of all state campsites on Upper Saranac Lake. Buck Island, which is in the middle of the lake between Whitney Point and Saginaw Bay, is one of our preferred camping locations. The island has sites all over and you can usually find one with no trouble.

Access is obtained through a couple of different points. There is a single state launch on Upper Saranac Lake located off of Route 30 near the Saranac Inn. Heading south from the launch you will find Green Island which is state-owned with several campsites on it. We usually use the launch off Route 30 on Follensby Clear Pond from which we paddle under Route 30 and then through the inlet to Fish Creek Pond to get to Upper Saranac.

There is another boat launch located on Route 3 on South Creek which comes out of Middle Saranac Lake. From this launch paddle north into Middle Saranac then head west along the shore to the famous Bartlett Carry which connects to Upper Saranac. You can also have a drop-off at Fish Creek Ponds Campsite and paddle through Fish Creek Pond to get to Upper Saranac Lake.

The Adirondack Park is full of different bodies of water to camp and fish on. This is only one approach for one lake. The more you explore and the more time you spend the better you will become at fishing and camping. For your next summer camping trip head to Upper Saranac Lake and you will not be disappointed.

Alex Martin is an avid fisherman who spends most of his time angling in the Adirondacks.  He writes reports and stories about his fishing experiences on his blog  Contact him at


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