New York Fly Fishing 5 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Saranac River in New York

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

January 4, 2021

Saranac River in New York

Fly fishing can be a lot of fun, especially when you head to the New York area. This state is notorious for fly fishing streams and rivers, and you will have no trouble finding plenty of guides and trips to explore the best fishing spots. What if you don’t want the hassle or expense of a guide, though?

With this DIY guide, you can skip the professional assistance and get right to the water. Plan your own fly fishing excursion to New York, including a trip to fish on the Saranac River. Below, you’ll find all the details you need to prepare. 

About Saranac River

Fly fishing for landlocked Salmon on the Saranac River in New York

Despite being in the supposed “shadow” of the Ausable River, the Saranac River is a much larger drainage stream with a variety of species. Some refer to it as a hidden jewel, and it can be an ideal destination for fly fishing. This river is home to a host of rainbow trout and brown trout, as well as brook trout and land-locked salmon.

What you’ll catch depends on which section you choose to fish, but we’ll discuss that more below. The Saranac River offers access from River Road in Essex County and runs all the way down to Plattsburgh, where public fishing rights are also available. Since this is a deeper river with more tumultuous waters, boats are often used in many areas.

Saranac River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the Saranac River in New York

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

There’s a special access section in this river, where anglers can only use artificial lures and flies and all catches are designated catch-and-release. The river is divided into four sections: Redford-Clayburg, Kent Falls-Morrisonville, County Airport, and Plattsburgh. Each has its own access, as well as its own collection of fish.

You’ll even find some landlocked salmon near the Plattsburgh part of the Saranac River, giving you the chance to truly catch one of everything with a single visit if you do it right. If you’re thinking about wading, make sure that you find areas where that’s possible, or where you can fish from the shore.

Boats, including canoes and small boats with trolling motors, will find access to the river in several locations. You can bring your own or find rentals available in some places throughout the area.

Be sure that when you’re planning your trip, you pay attention to private access areas, different regulations for different sections, and other regulatory considerations. Fortunately, the state goes a good job of offering helpful information

Best Places to Fish the Saranac River

If you want to catch salmon, you’ll find some great angling near Plattsburgh where the mouth meets Lake Champlain. This three-mile stretch has great fishing during the fall, but be careful of private portions of the river access. Lake Champlain Tributary Regulations regulations also apply, restricting the use of weighted flies, lures, and baits here.

In the Clayburg section, there are public fishing rights and parking available off of Silver Lake Road, and you’ll also find plenty of access along River Road in the Bloomingdale section of the river. The water flows slowly from Bloomingdale to the village of Saranac Lake, but this is best for bass and pike.

You’ll also find good trout fishing year-round at the Union Falls section of the river, but it’s harder to access. You’ll find access from the pool and will have to hike upstream to the dam. Water levels can be low at times, but generally, the spring offers good fishing.

This isn’t an area you’ll want to visit alone, just to be safe. You’ll find occasional decent catch-and-release throughout Morrisonville, but the water tends to get too warm during the summer months. 

Best Time to Fish the Saranac River

Fly fishing for trout on the Saranac River in New York

Spring is the best time for fly fishing the Saranac River, as this is when the best hatches occur. As mentioned, in Morrisonville and other areas of the river, it can get too warm to find much during the summer months.

Look for deeper areas and the faster-flowing waters by Lake Champlain if you’re here during the summer. Ideally, plan a trip for spring, or even fall. In fall, the waters start to cool again, and the holdover trout return, along with occasional salmon and warm water bass and pike.

Rainbows and browns are stocked in various areas of the river during the spring months. You can check the fishing reports before you go to get the exact details, but any of the locations above should provide a good experience.

If you choose to plan a trip in the fall, choose the later months as the water will be cooler and you’ll give the fish more time to return to the river so that you can improve your odds of a good catch. 

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Saranac River. The USGS stream gauge at Plattsburgh, NY provide a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.


  • Streamflow: 3150 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 6.14 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Flies for Saranac River

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Saranac River:

Dry Flies

  • Parachute Adams (#10 – 20)
  • BWO Sparkle Dun (#14 – 24)
  • PMD Sparkle Dun (#10 – 22)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#12 – 18)
  • Chernobyl Ant (#8 – 12)
  • Griffith’s Gnat (#14 – 22)


  • Pheasant Tail (#12 – 20)
  • Hare’s Ear (#8 – 18)
  • Brown Stonefly (#6 – 10)
  • Golden Stonefly (#6 – 10)
  • Zebra Midge (#16 – 22)
  • WD40 (#16-20)


  • Wooly Bugger (#6 -12)
  • Clouser Minnow (#6 – 8)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs for trout on the Saranac River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Salmon Fishing Gear

If you are salmon fishing you’ll want to size-up your gear to a 6- or 7-wt rod. A single-hand 10-foot, 6- or 7-wt fly rod with a weight-forward floating line is perfect for fishing nymphs and small streamers for landlocked salmon.  

Similar weight switch rods 10 and 11.5 feet in length are also popular. If you like to swing flies, a 12-foot-6, 6- or 7-weight rod is all you need. 

A 9- to 14-foot leader, tapered down to 10- or 8-pound-test is pretty standard.  In super clear water conditions you may need to taper down to 6-pound-test.

A standard leader configuration for use with a floating or intermediate line is:

  • 2 feet, 25-lb monofilament (mono)
  • 2 feet, 20-lb mono
  • 2 feet, 15-lb mono
  • 2 feet, 12-lb fluorocarbon (fluoro)
  • 2 feet, 10-lb fluoro
  • 2 feet, 8-lb fluoro

A standard heavy sink-tip leader is:

  • 2- to 5-feet straight 15-pound Maxima
  • 2-feet straight 12-pound Maxima

Saranac River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Saranac River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of New York requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a New York State fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Trip Planning Tips

If you’re coming to the region, you’ll find easy access from Burlington Airport. You can also fly into Albany, although it’ll be a few hours up the highway for you to reach the river area. Fortunately, when you’re fly fishing this river, you’re in the popular Ausable region, so you’ll find plenty of accommodations and dining.

Many attractions and destinations are even geared toward anglers since fishing is popular in this area. If the weather permits, you can consider camping, which is plentiful in the region. You’ll want to rent a car if you fly in, but you’ll be happy to know access from most main roads is easy to find.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in New York

Feature image CC by Onasil Bill