The water level is up, the fish are biting and space to tie up a boat is getting scarce.
In short, these and other factors are suggesting a strong start to the summer season on the Great Sacandaga Lake, observers said. The season officially kicks off Memorial Day weekend, but unusually mild spring weather has prompted many businesses along the 125 miles of lake shoreline to open earlier and many boaters to hit the water sooner.
“It looks all right and that it will be a good season,” said Peter Byron, president of the Great Sacandaga Lake Association. “The water level is approaching where it should be. We do not want shallow water,” he said.
A good lake level “is important for the recreational season and the businesses around the lake,” Byron said.
Robert Foltan, chief engineer for the Hudson River Black River Regulating District, which administers the Great Sacandaga Lake, said the lake level as of Monday was at 765.6 feet above sea level, which is near the target level for this time of year.
Come Memorial Day weekend, “we will probably be letting out some water so we do not exceed 768 feet, which is the target elevation at the end of the month,” Foltan said. The lake is considered “full” at 771 feet.
A month ago, the lake level stood at 759 feet above sea level, slightly lower than its historic average for April. A year earlier, the lake was overflowing from heavy rains and hit an all-time high of 774.4 feet.
Caroline Mianecki, manager of Northampton Marina, said last year business was tight, but the marina this year is seeing strong sales and has rented out all but a few of its 110 boat slips. “We are at a record high for dockage sales. In terms of rentals, we are 6 to 7 percent ahead of last year,” she said. “It is looking really good.”
The marina has upgraded services for the season, in anticipation of an increase in business, she said. “We installed a shore power cable that doubles the amount of amperage out to the docks and we added six boats to our rental fleet, which we are turning over for sale at the end of the season as a new feature,” she said.
High fuel costs do not appear to be hindering boaters’ desires to get out on the water, Mianecki said. “Gasoline prices are high, but we are finding people want to float downstream rather than Jet Ski,” she said.
There was some concern a month ago about the lake level and its impact on business, but the marina had a plan, she said. “We prayed for rain and we told people to bring a bucket of water up with them each time they came up to the marina,” she said with a laugh.
Jim Johnson, owner of Jim’s Bait Shop in Mayfield, said he is seeing an increase in business this year as well. “We are staying really busy. It is busier this year than last year; there are more people up and around,” he said. He said he is seeing mostly regulars but also new faces from outside of the area.
People are on the lake trying to catch northern pike, a popular sport fish that puts up a good fight. The season opened May 6. Pike vary in size and can exceed 25 pounds. The North American record catch was a 46-pound, 2-ounce trophy taken from the Great Sacandaga Lake in 1940 by Peter Dubuc.
Johnson said after Memorial Day, the fish of choice is the walleye, which can grow up to 42 inches and weigh 25 pounds.
People are also coming to the area to camp, eat and stay overnight, but business appears to be mixed in this area.
Ray Popp, owner of the Old Trail Inn in Northville, said rentals are about the same as last year, which was a slow year. “I don’t know how the season will be; it all depends on the weather,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Sacandaga Campground, which is operated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said activity has been high with frequent turnover in campsites.