Rewind: June 3, 2021 – “Uncle Judd Smith, Brant Lake Guide”

Uncle Judd Smith, Brant Lake’s

Old Time Guide

by David Waite


          One hundred years ago anyone fishing Brant Lake would undoubtedly know the name, Uncle Judd Smith. If they were fortunate, he would have been their guide for a day out on the lake fishing for bass. His knowledge of these fish was as firsthand as you can, as it was in the 1870s that he brought the first black bass to the lake.


Judd Smith in his boat

          Uncle Jud was a live bait man when it came to fishing, his favorite what he called “nice, juicy minners.” Even to talk to him about artificial bait gave you an earful: “Them things are no good at all, you might jes’ as well throw a tin can in the Lake and expect to catch fish. What fish wants, is something they can eat, not tin cans.” He even had his own name for plug casters; “squirrel fishermen,” why? ‘because “They’re nuts.”

          Besides his prowess as a fisherman, Uncle Jud was a storyteller. It was not uncommon for a day at the Palisade’s Hotel to end with him sitting with a cigar, surrounded by an audience waiting to hear his latest tale. When guidebook editor Arthur S. Knight caught up with him while preparing the 1926 edition of The Adirondacks: Guide and History, he came away with this example from a time that Uncle Judd was guiding a group of city folk to Pharaoh Lake:

          Uncle Judd allowed that this was the most healthy county in the world and went on to state that in fact, it was so healthy that a colony of settlers, a short distance north of the lake were so healthy that finally in desperation they killed one of their numbers in order to start a burying ground. He told his party that the man’s name was Warren Essex and when he got up in the woods a piece, he would show them the boulder marking the slain man’s grave with the name inscribed thereon. Shortly the party came to a little clearing and were startled to see the boulder to which Uncle Judd referred. On the south side was the word “Warren” and on the north side “Essex.” (The boundary between Warren and Essex Counties.) [2]

          The thirteenth of fourteen children of Joseph and Olive Smith, and named Judson Barton Smith by his parents, he and his siblings were often left to fend for themselves as their parents struggled to provide for their abundant family. It is likely that the hunting and fishing necessary for keeping the family larder full gave Judson the background which helped him become a successful guide. Once into adulthood, it seemed that any job that came his way he was willing to take on. At times he was the area’s dentist, sought out for removing a resident’s aching tooth, a knowledgeable beekeeper, and the town’s telephone repairman. In 1908 the Brant Lake Association hired Judson as the caretaker for the upper and lower dams on the lake. His title “Uncle Judd,” was as much a result of the numerous nieces and nephews provided to him by his siblings as well as his ability to quickly become a friend to any new acquaintance. [3] [4]

          Of course, he was best known as a bass fisherman and guide, with stories of his skill with boat and rod published in both The American Angler and Forest & Stream Magazines. One of the best stories, much of it in Uncle Judd’s colorful language, was told in June 1920 American Angler, was about one that got away. Under the title “Pulling the Bone,” the story went that our fisherman had just caught a bass, one he estimated at three pounds, when the line was hit again, stuck as if he had hooked the bottom, then going slack. I will let Judd’s own words tell the rest of the tale:

          I was pullin’ so derned hard at that time that when the collapse come, and the strain got off, I went back’ards into the boat. That’s as hones’ as anything I was all upset about it. I held onto th’ line, though, and when I collected myself together, I pulled in the line-an’ I was thinkin’ things I tell you. The idea of a three-pound bass comin’ to life and getting away after I had him all but ketched! I couldn’t understand it, either. And then my line come alongside, and I pulled in the hook, there wuz somethin’ else I couldn’t understand, either. The hook wasn’t empty. Attached to it wuz the head of the bass that I had and hanging on to that was his skeleton.”

          Just as he was examining the remains of his bass, a large splash broke the silence on the lake, the noise reminding him of “the bang a big boulder makes when it falls into th’ water.” The noise was his attacker, a gigantic pickerel that he estimated to weigh “a ton, more or less, principally less.” Uncle Judd never did catch this thief, though he tried every trick he knew to entice him to grab his hook. The reason for his failure being “he had taken a look at me when he jumped, and he didn’t like my face or sumthin’ and didn’t want to ‘sociate with me.” While it was a loss for Uncle Judd, the real winners were those who had gathered in the back room that afternoon for a chance to hear this old school fisherman once more spin his tales of the Adirondacks and Brant Lake. [5]



Forest and Stream Magazine, Volume LXXI, July-December 1908, Judson Smith’s Brant Lake Boat, p 781

[1] The American Angler, May 1920, p 88

[2] Arthur S. Knight, The Adirondacks: Guide and History (Lake George, NY: A. S. Knight 1926) p 55



[5] John M. Francis, Pulling a Bone, The American Angler, June 1920, p 501