MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals    Copyright 2002

Chapter 11 - The River

Delta Lake
The Most Productive Fishery in the Mohawk Valley

    The glaciers that covered what is now upstate New York turned solid rock to stones, gravel, sand, silt and clay. When the glaciers melted some 10,000 years ago, huge lakes were formed. The outlets---mighty rivers---from these lakes carved gorges and canyons through solid rock and gravel, and washed sediments downstream. As the rivers slowed down or ran into other glacial lakes, their sediments settled to the bottom, sometimes creating deltas of ground up rock.

In 1912 Delta Dam (right) flooded 4 1/2 square miles of the Mohawk River Delta, including the
Village of Delta and hundreds of acres of rich farmland to provide water for the Barge Canal.

     Boonville Gorge and the Mohawk River Canyon were glacial lake outlets that poured into an arm of Glacial Lake Iroquois. Just downstream from where the Lansing Kill flows out of Boonville Gorge and into the Mohawk River a delta was formed. For thousands of years forests covered these deposits. The duff beneath the trees combined with glacial and stream deposits to create a soil rich in nutrients. When the area was settled after the Revolutionary War, this delta was quickly turned to productive farmland.
    A grist mill and sawmill were built on the river, and by the early 1800s a village had grown up around them. It was named, quite appropriately, Delta. In the early 1900s when the State of New York was looking for sources of water for its soon-to-be-built Barge Canal, it chose the Mohawk River north of Rome as one of those sources. A dam was built downstream from the Village of Delta that flooded 4 1/2 square miles. When the Canal was completed in 1915, the village was no more. Today the reservoir that covers the village and much of the ancient delta is called Delta Lake.
    Farmlands still border the lake and the river just above it. Today all that nutrient-rich soil plus clean cool water make Delta Lake the most productive fishery in the Mohawk Valley. Smallmouth bass, northern pike and pickerel are abundant, as are such panfish as yellow perch, rock bass, crappie and bullheads. But, it's walleye pike that attract most fishermen. Consequently, New York State stocks five million walleye fry in the lake each year. Most of these fish become fish food, but enough survive to maintain a healthy population of adult fish.
    Some anglers drift bait or troll plugs over bars and ledges, or along shorelines, weedlines and channels. Others prefer to cast plugs, spinners, spoons and jigs to points, bays, bars, banks, logs, weeds, and flooded brush and trees. Some anglers fish for walleyes at night near lighted docks and buildings.
    Back in the 1970s Delta Lake was known far and wide as the place to catch monster northern pike. These pike were "stocked" in the lake when the dam at West Leyden---some 20 miles upstream---washed out. Although most of the 30 pounders were caught or died of old age, there are still some 20-pound plus fish caught each year. Many of these big fish fall for a big minnow or sucker suspended off the bottom by a large bobber. When the bait is picked up, the most successful trophy pike fishermen wait, wait and wait some more before setting the hook.
    When the lake freezes over---3-inch ice is considered safe to walk on---fishermen move onto the lake. The back bays off Route 46 and north of the Delta Lake State Park freeze first, so that's where you'll see a few shanties and groups of fishermen. These shallow bays produce some big northerns plus pickerel, perch, crappies and a few walleyes. But it's the points, bars and dropoffs in deeper parts of the lake that produce the best catches of walleye and perch. While minnow-baited tipups seem to be the preferred method for taking fish through the ice, some anglers do well by jigging ice fishing spoons like the Sweedish pimple. Shanties and groups of fishermen mark the most productive areas.  See also: Ice Fishing Delta Lake
    After ice out, long before walleye, bass or pike season opens, local anglers fish the shallow bays for perch and bullheads. Bullheads prefer worms. Perch will take worms, minnows and small jigs.
    Delta Lake State Park is located just off Route 46, north of Rome. There is a boat launch at the south end of the park and winter access at the north end. The Park is also a popular camping, swimming and picnic area during the warmer months, and features cross-country ski trails in the winter. There are a number of other access points off Route 46 for shore fishing and where a canoe or cartop boat can be launched. Another popular and sometimes productive place to fish is below Delta Dam.
    Delta Lake is also an excellent place to see wildlife. It's the seasonal home to an amazing  variety of birds including ducks, geese, crows, ravens, herons, red-tailed hawks, osprey, owls, bald eagles and song birds.
    Boating and canoeing have been popular on Delta for many years, but in recent years rowing has captured headlines. Each spring teams from throughout New York State come to Delta Lake State Park to compete in races sponsored by the State Collegiate Rowing Association. 

(For information on Delta Village see:

Discovery: Walleyes Don't Always Come That Easy

May 7, 2001, 50 degrees, Sunny

    Denny and I hopped aboard Mark's pontoon boat at 7:30 a.m. We had been looking forward to this Delta Lake outing ever since iceout. Before we even got out of the bay where Mark moors his boat, he caught a fat smallmouth. But smallmouth season was a long way off, so he motored up to the steep-gravel banks on the north side of the lake and we cast plugs and jigs for two hours.
    Fishing off a pontoon boat is like fishing off a moving dock. Mark worked the trolling motor and fished off the bow. I fished beside him and Denny fished off the side. My big-lipped plug dove deep and came up with a 20-inch walleye and a few minutes later repeated success with an 18incher. Mark caught a 2 1/2-pound smallmouth and a 17-inch walleye. Denny couldn't connect from the side of the boat, so he and I changed positions. He caught a 22-inch walleye and Mark caught two 17-inchers.

Denny and I don't usually keep fish, but walleyes are an exception to the rule.

When the action stopped around 10 o'clock Mark crossed the lake and pulled the boat into some flooded timber where he let me off on a mass of tree roots to take some photographs. The view of the north shore of the lake was breathtaking. Hardwoods were just starting to leaf out, so the shoreline was colored in infinite shades of green, topped by a clouded blue sky, all reflecting in the rippled lake. Unfortunately, the sun was too high to capture all that beauty on film, but it remains in my mind's eye.

Fishing from Mark's pontoon boat was like fishing off a moving dock.

    On the way back to "Mark's Bay" we  stopped to fish the flooded brush across from the State Park
campgrounds.  Denny caught a 21 1/2-inch and a 15-inch walleye. A great way to end a morning on Lake Delta. Walleyes don't always come that easy.

Discovery:  Nesting Osprey and a Few Fish Made Our Day

May 18, 2001, 55 degrees, Misty, Overcast

    Delta Lake is approximately six miles long. We decided to canoe it in two outings, so we parked a vehicle at about the halfway point along Route 46 just north of the State Park. With the wind up, it was too rough to fish or canoe safely on the north side of the lake, so we opted to paddle along the south shore where it's protected from the wind by peninsulas and a large island.

There was no mistaking the dark-on-top, light-on-bottom osprey.

      We had ended the on-foot exploration of the upper Mohawk at the bridge at Westernville, so that's where we launched the canoe. It was 9:30 a.m. and there was still a mist on the water when we paddled under the bridge and down the channel towards the lake. Willows, boxelder and soft maple trees lined both sides of the river. Several forked sticks stood sentinel along a muddy shoreline; a productive spot for bullheads no doubt.
    Halfway down the channel was a wooded island. We chose the deepwater, right branch. As we rounded the point at the lower end of the island, a large hawk took flight from a dead tree. We watched it circle overhead. There was no mistaking the dark-on-top, light-on-bottom osprey. Another tree revealed another osprey . . . and a nest. We had been on the water only a half-hour and discovered a pair of breeding osprey. Damn!
Although the air looked and smelled fishy, we couldn't entice a single fish from the river. But, when we passed a marshy point of land where the river enters the lake, Denny's wobbling plug hooked a 16-inch smallmouth bass.
    At 11:15 we beached the canoe to eat lunch and stretch our legs. The sky was still overcast and threatening rain. After lunch we paddled to the break between the peninsula and a large island. When Denny dropped his Rapala in the channel and started cranking, an 18-inch walleye grabbed it. A few minutes later a 14-inch walleye took my gold spinner. We released both fish.

Bass season wasn't open, but bass take walleye and pike lures.

     There was plenty of activity in the weedy shallows: carp jumping, and swallows swooping low over the water. While we fished the weedbed in a bay off the island, a fish rippled the water. When Denny cast ahead of the wake, his lure took a hit and disappeared . . . forever. A northern pike or pickerel no doubt.
    Around 12:30 raindrops dimpled the surface of the lake. Fifteen minutes later when we beached the canoe at the takeout it was really coming down.
    We didn't see a duck, goose or heron all morning, and it rained on our parade, but a pair of nesting osprey and a few fish more than made up for it.

Osprey photo was not taken by the author. It's an Internet file photo. 

Discovery: Rough Water Makes it More Exciting

June 5, 2001, 56 degrees, Cloudy, Breezy

The wind was up and we couldn't avoid the main part of the lake.

    At times Delta Lake is as smooth as glass, but a strong west wind can create waves that make canoeing in the main part of the lake difficult if not down right dangerous. We didn't expect any trouble for the first mile or so because we'd be paddling along the north side of Delta Lake State Park. However, when we rounded the hooked-tip of the peninsula, we'd be in rough water.

This northern pike was taken from a sheltered bay near Delta Lake State Park.

     While Denny and I were launching the canoe, where we had taken out on our previous trip, another canoe was coming to shore. I recognized an old friend, Ernie Weismuller. For many years he and his wife operated a bait & tackle, and canoe sales shop near their home within sight of the lake. Although retired from "the business," Ernie still maintains an interest in canoe racing. He and a friend had just returned from an early morning practice run.
 It was 9 a.m. when we paddled clear of the log and weed-choked shallows and started casting. Denny's crankbait produced a yellow perch.
A stretch of marshy shoreline on this side of the Park is lined with a few large spreading willows, cottonwoods and silver maple. Further along, where the bank rises several feet above the lake, hardwoods such as white birch, paper birch, sugar maple and beech dominate. A couple of the trees in front of waterfront campsites were decorated with fishing line.

The Palisades have been a thrill-seeker
attraction for many  years, and recently
claimed a young man's life.


    As we moved slowly along the shoreline casting plugs and spinners, a pair of grey squirrels scurried across branches and a woodpecker sounded "taps" on a hollow tree. When we got too close for comfort, a hawk left the area and crows complained.
    Around 10 o'clock we rounded the end of the peninsula, paddled out into the windblown lake and then angled back through the waves to the point of the hook where we entered the mouth of a long bay. While I positioned the canoe in relatively calm water, Denny cast a Rainbow Rapala. In 15 minutes he hooked and lost a northern pike, caught a "hammer handle" and landed a 3-pounder.
After a snack & stretch break on the shoreline of a small cove, we returned to the lake. For 20 minutes we paddled a zigzag course through the waves, past the Beach and into the Boat Launch bay. Denny hooked and lost a fish in the bay but we didn't see what it was.
    With less than a mile to go to the dam, we paddled down the east side of the lake, to the Palisades. Trees and brush clung to the rougher portions of this shale cliff, but some sections looked like they had been shaved smooth. Jumping off the Palisades has been a thrill-seeker attraction for years. One young man was killed recently when he jumped off the cliff and landed on a boat instead of in the water.
    The lake was too rough to fish below the Palisades, so we paddled off shore until we came to a break in the cliff where there's a small cove. After exploring the cove, we paddled towards the dam, crossing over to the other side.
    From time to time powerboats get hung up on the dam's spillway, but one of the most unusual incidents occurred when a jet-skier hit the spillway, parted company with his craft and both went over the dam. Fortunately, there was enough water on the concrete spillway to provide a "lubricated" slide to the bottom. He survived.

Can you imagine sliding down the face of Delta Dam . . . and surviving?

     When we landed on the beach near the west side of the spillway it was 12 noon. The road to the beach was blocked, so we carried the canoe to the main road where we had parked the takeout vehicle.
    Rough water prevented us from fishing some of the most productive waters, but paddling through the waves to keep the canoe from tipping over made it one of our more exciting discovery trips.

Delta Lake (a.k.a. Reservoir) Underwater MAP
 provided by Underwater Technologies.

Follow the path of these discovery trip by clicking on Mohawk Valley Maps: by Maptech.
Type Westernville select New York, press GO!   Use margin arrows to follow the Mohawk River.

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