DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the West Branch Ausable River in New York

Fly fishing is a huge pastime in Western New York and Pennsylvania, as the many creeks, streams, and rivers running off of Lake Erie create great conditions for trout, steelhead, and salmon fishing almost all year. If you’re looking for a great getaway, a fly fishing trip could be a good choice.

Fly fishing is relaxing and enjoyable for people from all walks of life. It doesn’t have to be competitive or stressful-- you can simply wade out into the water and cast a line and enjoy being one with nature. Plus, you can plan your own trip with this DIY guide to fly fishing the West Branch Ausable River in New York.

Fly fishing the West Branch Ausable River in New York

The West Branch Ausable River is a must for any angler who wants an authentic Adirondack experience when it comes to fly fishing. This river is a premier destination and perhaps one of the most popular for fly fishing, in particular, in the eastern U.S. Upper parts of the river pass through private lands and the Adirondack Forest Preserve, which offers plenty of public fishing access for anglers. 

The Ausable River comprises three sections in total: East Branch, West Branch, and Main Branch. This guide focuses on the West Branch Ausable River fly fishing opportunities. This branch is known for large trout and has become one of the best trout streams east of the Mississippi. 

There are sections of West Branch that are designated for catch-and-release only, artificial lures only, and other regulations. Many are open year-round. The Ausable River Association encourages conservation and has provided wader wash stations along the river during the summer months to allow anglers to clean their waders before entering the water. 

West Branch Ausable River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the West Branch Ausable River in New York

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

The Ausable River Association is also involved in conservation efforts of wild brook trout throughout the region, in partnership with several local authorities and organizations. This is, in part, what makes the West Branch such a great choice for fly fishing. There are trout ranging from 10-17 inches on average, and it’s one of the most beautiful streams in the region. 

This is a freestone and tailwater stream, offering a selection of brown trout and brook trout that are part-wild and part-stocked to ensure maximum catch potential for anglers. This is a complex stream consisting of slow-flowing sections, pool/riffle configurations, and even a technical “lake” at the lower end of the river by the dam at Wilmington. Fishing in this section isn’t favorable due to the deep waters, but the rest of the river has plenty of potential.

Best Places to Fish the West Branch Ausable River

The West Branch Ausable River begins where South Meadow and March brooks merge as they flow from Mount March. It crosses Route 86 early on, and agave the bridge is great for slow to moderate waters that coast through the meadows. Below the bridge, it gets a little quicker and you’ll see more of the pool, run, riffle stream style that you expect in this region with a five-mile catch-and-release section that’s popular. 

Below the Wilmington Notch, you will come to the 100-foot high waterfall known as High Falls. Then, the river settles again with some pools and small waters before hitting Flume Falls, which has another pocket of fast action before settling down closer to the Wilmington Dam. You can generally find good fish anywhere that the water is flowing slower, but the actual “lake” area might prove too deep for good fishing.

Those who want the ideal fly fishing conditions will head to the tailwaters below the dam, which often looks more like a freestone stream in some places. With plenty of pocket water and large boulders, this is a good area if you can get to it. There’s also a good section near the Ausable Forks dam right before the river merges with the East Branch.

Best Time to Fish the West Branch Ausable River

During the fall months, the water gets a bit cold but fish are still biting. There are midges and BWOs hatching that attract plenty of catches and people fare well when using leeches and sculpin during these seasons. The best time to fish West Branch Ausable River is during May and June, but the summer months will offer great fishing for most of the season, as well. 

The Green Drake hatch, along with sulphurs and tricos, come in the summer and those are what attract the best catches. The winter is usually too cold in the large river for good catches, but you may be able to find larger trout with imitation midge larvae and pupae. If you go during the warmer months, the deeper areas will be best for fishing. 

In the fall and winter months, many opt for the shallower waters that may have warmer temps and attract the trout coming from the cold pockets on their search for a better spot. Usually, access won’t be impeded by weather or seasons, although the river can get a bit high in the spring and fall months.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the West Branch Ausable River. The USGS stream gauge near Au Sable Forks, 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.

AUSABLE RIVER NEAR AU SABLE FORKS NY

  • Flow: 343 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 1.70 ft
.
USGS

Fly Box - What You'll Need

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the West Branch Ausable 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)

Nymphs

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

Streamers

  • 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 on the West Branch Ausable River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

West Branch Ausable River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a West Branch Ausable 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

This river runs across Route 86 and down through Wilmington, which offers plenty of dining and accommodations for those from out of town. You’ll also find little towns along the way to visit. Those flying into or out of the area are about 2.5 hours from Albany and Burlington airports, and the smaller Saranac Lake airport is a short drive. This river sits in the Lake Placid region, just west of I-87, and is directly north of Albany.

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

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