Where to go and what to see at what could be the greatest smallmouth fishery in existence. -Joe Sills
In July of 2022, jaws dropped across the bass fishing world as Jay Przekurat stepped to the Bassmaster Elite Series podium at the culmination of a four day event. Przekurat’s mind-bending four-day total for the event tipped the scales at 102 pounds, 9 ounces earning him a coveted blue trophy. Perhaps more impressive, though, were the totals behind him in the Top 5. The biggest bass of the bunch weighed 6-12.
All of the Top 5 anglers at that event weighed in more than 98 pounds of brown bass; and second place finisher Cory Johnston also topped the century mark with 100 pounds and 9 ounces.
The tournament cemented what was already a highly regarded St. Lawrence River fishery as one of the best on the planet. Indeed, the fishery took home top honors as last year’s Best Bass Lake. And it nearly repeated the feat in 2023.
Suffice to say, a trip to Bassmaster’s number 2 best bass in the country, The St. Lawrence River with a basecamp at Thousand Islands is near the top of any smallmouth angler’s bucket list—and we’ve got the scoop on where to go, where to stay and what to see when you’re not on the water.
Campgrounds abound at Thousand Islands
Thousand Islands is home to an embarrassment of stunning campgrounds. Simply put, there are few finer places to call your home away from home in the summer than Upstate New York and Ontario.
1,000 Islands Campground just outside of Alexandria Bay is the go-to favorite for many Elite Series pros that opt to live life out of RVs or camper tops during tournament season. The park’s 54 full hook-up sites are complimented by a trio of cabins and even a pair of glamping tents. Kids flock to the pirate ship playground and just about everyone can find a place to watch the waves of the St. Lawrence glide by along the nearby shore. In nearby Clayton, New York, Merry Knoll Campground has carved out its own loyal following thanks to a wooded, riverside setting with fire rings, sun decks, a swimming pool and its own quiver of cabins.
An even more unique experience awaits, though. In the middle of the river, at far-flung Canoe-Picnic Point State Park. The five cabins perched on the northeast end of Grindstone Island are only accessible by boat; but reservations can be made in advance via Reserve America.
On the Canadian side, 1,000 Island/Ivy Lea KOA serves up the reliable confines of a Holiday KOA within close proximity of the games and slots at Shorelines Thousand Island Casino.
Live the life of luxury or spend the night in Schitt’s Creek
Camp life isn’t for everyone. Fortunately for those seeking the finer side of life, Thousand Islands is flush with hotels and resorts build around a day on the water. At four-star 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, guests can leave their boat at the dock while sprawling out in a spacious suite with views of the village of Clayton.
A more down-to-home option sits nearby at The McKinley House, a historic bed and breakfast built in 1890 where travelers can check in to the Basswood Suite, or Grenell Room before plotting their next day’s waypoints from a cozy, wicker chair on the veranda.
Our pick for the funkiest digs? The Wooden Boat Inn. This historic Clayton hotel may have opened in 1899, but a recent refresh has renovated The Wooden Boat Inn into one of the most memorable lodges in Upstate New York. Here, anglers can book an entire three bedroom house, where the electric pulse of pink neon bounces off of bed sheets tucked neatly beneath jungle-themed wallpaper. Elsewhere, The Schitty Room meticulously recreates the set of acclaimed t.v. series Schitt’s Creek. According to owner Pia Hogue, the Schitty Room now comes with the official endorsement of show actor Robin Duke, who got wind of the decor via a family connection.
Soak in Clayton’s boats and brews
Clayton’s Antique Boat Museum is a can’t-miss for any lake lover. It’s collection houses more than 300 vintage boats ranging from canoes to sailing vessels and Gar Wood to Chris-Craft. Some 150 years of recreational boating history is housed within the halls of the museum, which even hosts a boat builder in residence.
Next door, Wood Boat Brewery serves up delicious wood-fired pizza alongside Thousand Islands exclusive microbrews like the Hook, Line and Sinker Double IPA, River Rye, Pardon Me Pale Ale and the White Cap Milk Stout.
Cruise to a castle
Fishing fans don’t have to fly to Europe to take a castle cruise. At Thousand Islands, travelers can book a cruise to the resplendent, 120-room Boldt Castle from the Canadian town of Rockport. The four hour cruise includes a tour of the castle as well as the bewildering homes of Millionaire’s Row.
Nearby Singer Castle on Dark Island is also open for tours. This castle, whose island features excellent fishing, was designed by the architect of the U.S. Naval Academy. Private boaters are welcome to tie up and hop off at their leisure for a 45-minute, guided tour.
Fuel up on riverside eats
Thousand Islands features no shortage of tables with a view. Alexandria Bay’s Top of the Bay Tex Mex may be located on the wrong border for spicy table faire, but panoramic views and a delectable brisket make it a perfect spot to share fish tales over chips and salsa. Nearby, Riley’s by the River serves up pub favorites like poutine, steak and mushroom flatbread and pot stickers and serves up a St. Lawrence River-themed burger with cheese curds and gravy—no word on whether that combo will be the next color palette from Z-Man.
In Clayton, boaters can slide up to the dock at DiPrinzio’s Kitchen & Cocktails for brunch, lunch, dinner or a nightcap featuring artfully-cooked Italian favorites like lobster ravioli, spaghetti with hand rolled meatballs and a classic, 14-16 ounce ribeye.
Stretch your legs on Wellesley Island
Fishing and boating may be the main draw at Thousand Islands, but the area has no shortage of trails for those seeking a change of pace. Wellesley Island State Park’s Minna Anthony Common Nature Center offers a network of trails winding through a landscape steep cliffs, meadows and forests perfect for land-based exploration of the Thousand Islands.