Of course, it’s still too early to tell but Great Sacandaga’s water level might be OK for the May 5 opener of the statewide pike and walleye season. As of last week the lake level was at about 759.40, up some 10 feet from its low point but still well below the agreed upon level.
With no snowmelt and little rain to boost the feeder streams it may be slow in rising to its desired level but will still be high enough to provide good fishing when the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation contest kicks off on May 5, the opening day of the seasons.
Last year, the parking lot at the Sand Bar Restaurant, the contest’s headquarters, was pretty much flooded several days before the event but receded nicely in time for the contest. Unless we get some horrendous amounts of rain between now and May 5, quite the opposite will be true, though launching at the Sand Bar’s ramp - and other lake ramps - should be quite good.
During May of 2011 the contest attracted a total of 109 participants, 98 adults and 11 youngsters. That’s a lot less than the record 184 that participated in the 2010 edition but that reduction was understandable when one considers the lake level and cold water temperatures in 2011.
Last year, fishing was a tad slow for most of the anglers, and a moderate bit of rain fell that morning - just enough to make you wish you had a rain jacket with you - but it didn’t last very long and the sun eventually made a welcome appearance. Despite the less than ideal conditions, some nice fish were brought in. The top northern measured in at 41 1/4 inches, the top walleye at 18 inches, and the top trout at 20 inches.
Daily periods of rain or showers are predicted for the next week or so, but what will transpire on the opening weekend is anyone’s guess. Long-range predictions are notoriously inaccurate so we’ll just have to wait and hope for the best.
There’s an informative article in a recent (April 20) edition of New York Outdoor News regarding the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation’s successful efforts to gain Department of Environmental Conservation permission to resume stocking walleyes in the lake, something that hasn’t been done since about 1974. The organization has been requesting such permission for over 15 years but finally received a permit to do so and late this year, in October or November, the organization will pay for and release some 3,500 4 - 6 inch walleyes in the lake. There’s plenty of natural walleye reproduction in the lake but growth rates have been less than desired so the agency decided to give this stocking effort the go-ahead to see if it helps.
Being a reservoir with a widely fluctuating seasonal water level, the lake’s fish populations have a few strikes against them but it will be interesting to see if this effort makes a positive difference.
The annual drawdown doesn’t help, nor does the less than ideal nutrient levels in the lake, but Randy Gardinier president of the GSLFF hopes this effort will benefit the walleye population and if it does, the organization’s stocking effort may be expanded a few years down the road.
Walleyes of six or seven pounds are taken annually but not many of them grow that large and it’s hoped this effort will help with not only the overall population of walleyes but the average size as well.
At one time catching a trout in the lake was a newsworthy event but since the GSLFF began its ambitious annual trout stocking program in 1988, the lake has been transformed into a first-class trout fishery, with both rainbows and browns present, as well as some landlocked salmon.
Many anglers now head for the lake just for the excellent trout fishing. Prior to those trout releases, the organization also conducted a smelt stocking program from 1984 to 1988 but that effort resulted in only limited success.
Back a dozen or more years ago DEC visited Great Sacandaga Lake and netted a goodly number of walleyes for release in Lower Saranac Lake, where it was hoped they’d increase that fishery there. The reason the agency picked Great Sacandaga was due to a similarity in the water chemistry between that lake and the Lower Saranac.
At the time I good-naturedly accused them in this column of “piscatorial piracy” and that term haunted me for quite a few years since then. At a conference in Saranac Lake several years later I was introduced as “Mr. Piscatorial Piracy.” It was done in jest and I took it that way but of all the titles they might have bestowed upon me that was certainly the most charitable .