Walleye and Northern Pike Season

The first Saturday in May every year marks the opening for Walleye and Northern Pike season here in the Adirondacks. This opening encompasses one of the largest and most astounding spectacles every spring here in the Adirondacks – the annual spawning run of the Rainbow Smelt. These small 3-5" baitfish reside in the deep, cool waters for 9-10 months out of the year. But when the spring thaw starts these little guys move into the shallower waters and a feeding frenzy ensues.

Bobby Helms

Walleye Season In The Adirondacks

The first Saturday in May every year marks the opening for Walleye and Northern Pike season here in the Adirondacks. This opening encompasses one of the largest and most astounding spectacles every spring here in the Adirondacks – the annual spawning run of the Rainbow Smelt. These small 3-5" baitfish reside in the deep, cool waters for 9-10 months out of the year. But when the spring thaw starts these little guys move into the shallower waters and a feeding frenzy ensues.

One such lake famous for this is Tupper Lake in the Adirondack Lakes region. At the southern end of the lake, the smelt meet with a massive, impassable barrier – Bog River Falls. The smelt try their hardest for 2-3 weeks to swim up the falls to safer waters for spawning, usually at the end of April through the first week in May, however their attempts to find safer waters usually end in futility. Often, the smelt become food for larger fish species, and without a doubt, this is the best time to land trophy catch in Tupper Lake.

One year, in one seven hour day alone, I put 27 walleyes (none under 6lbs and two over 12lbs) and two above average Lake Trout in the boat. The end of April through the beginning of May is the time of year that Walleye chasers dream of!

Northern Pike Fishing In The Adirondacks | photo: David Conlan
Northern Pike Fishing In The Adirondacks | photo: David Conlan

Tools of the Trade

During the spring, my go-to lures for Walleye are jigs. Generally I use 1/4-3/8oz jig heads with a 3" swim bait body, and the only issue I've encountered when with using jigs at the falls in the spring is that I lose many in a short period of time. My advice – be prepared and bring 2-4 dozen jig heads and a few packs of swim baits.

My personal favorite swim baits are Mister Twister Sassy Shads in a natural color. For rods, a 6-7ft medium action rod is all you need, along with a good spinning reel that has a decent drag system. The reason for this: you have a good chance of hooking a 10lb+ Landlocked Salmon, and if you do they are capable of making a few runs of 50 yards or more during a battle.

For fishing line, I use and prefer Berkley Trilene XL in 6lb because even if I snag it in the rocks, I can break off my jig and tie on as quick as possible. Eight-pound line is also a good line to use during this time of year, but I wouldn't go any heavier.

In the spring, fishermen of all skill levels, from novice to a guide such as myself have an amazing opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime, be it a 10lb Walleye, 20lb Pike, 8-10lb Landlocked Salmon or a 15lb+ Lake Trout!

Thermocline, Oh Thermocline

Spring isn't the only time when fish are plentiful in the lakes of the Adirondacks. Once the water warms up, typically around mid-May, the smelt begin to migrate to the deeper, cooler waters of the larger lakes. From June through mid-September, the smelt spend their time in what's known as the "thermocline," where the water temperature and water pressure are optimal for the smelt to live.

In June the thermocline is usually 25-35ft down in the water column. As the summer continues the thermocline slowly reaches deeper depths, and by July and August, the thermocline is generally 35-50ft down.

I specialize in summertime deep water fishing for Lake Trout and Landlocked Salmon, aided by the use of some pretty high-tech electronics. But the casual weekend fisherman doesn't need to spend thousands of dollars to have success fishing for cold water species in the summer.

8lb Walleye Caught In Tupper Lake, Adirondacks, NY | Photo: Bobby Helms
8lb Walleye Caught In Tupper Lake, Adirondacks, NY | Photo: Bobby Helms

Tips and Tricks

"Old school" tactics such as lead core line works surprisingly well for trout and salmon, and the new styles of lead core line come in different colors that change every 10 yards to keep track of your lure.
If you let out "three colors" off of your reel while trolling your line should be down 25-30ft depending of trolling speed.

The majority of the trout and salmon I catch during the summer months are caught while I'm trolling 1.9-2.3mph, faster than many other people fishing this time of year, but I've found that I catch more fish this way.

My lures of choice for this style of fishing are "spoons," pieces of metal that flutter and shine in the water and imitate a baitfish. They are a crucial part of your arsenal! If you don't have lures that imitate baitfish, you're going to end up having a pretty dismal day on the water. The spoons that produced the best for me last summer were Dreamweaver WD spoons in blue melon with copper backs and my old go-to, Luhr Jensen Needlefish in blue/nickel. These spoons are small, 2 3/4 inches long and about 3/4in wide, but man do they have the profile of a smelt!

Take a quick break and come fishing with us on Tupper Lake, NY ... only in the Adirondacks!
About the Author …
Bobby Helms
Bobby is NYS Licensed Guide who grew up in the northern Adirondacks. When not chasing trophy fish here in the 'Dacks, he can be found guiding the remote waters of Alaska. Follow his fishing adventures on Instagram @adkfishing22.
Bobby Helms
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