New York State fisheries biologists are willing to take on the challenge of healing a sick lake or stream, and theyâ€™ve accomplished that feat many times over the years, by traditional fish stockings, the introduction of unfamiliar game fish to suitable habitats and the drafting of special angling regulations. Yet as often as not, the best thing a fish scientist can do is nothing at all. A recent case in point was the DECâ€™s response to angler complaints about declining fishing in Arnold Lake, a small but popular body of water in Otsego County which holds smallmouth bass and a variety of panfish. The grumblers blamed ice fishermen, who allegedly were depleting the 64-acre lake.
DEC Region 4 Fisheries Manager Norm McBride dispatched a survey crew to take the pulse of the lake. The investigators found good numbers of smallmouth bass and chain pickerel as well as abundant bluegills, pumpkinseeds and rock bass. About half of the panfish were so large that many anglers would be inclined to put them on their stringers. McBride decided Arnold Lake was not being depleted by ice fishermen or anything else and therefore did not need a new management plan. As the adage goes, â€śIf it ainâ€™t broke, donâ€™t fix it.â€ť
Of course, fisheries biologists have some bigger issues than local complaints on their plates. Theyâ€™re wrestling with foreign invaders, including zebra mussels and round gobies, which so far have been a mixed bag for New York bass waters. They also spend considerable effort on controlling cormorants, the water birds that consume tons of smallmouths annually in the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Oneida Lake, among other feeding grounds. And state workers dot the proverbial â€śiâ€™sâ€ť and cross the â€śtâ€™sâ€ť by making exceptions to standard creel limits when such changes are deemed beneficial for certain lakes or streams.
Combine sound management practices with rich natural resources and you just might wind up with some of the best bass fishing in the nation. Read on for a statewide preview of the 2012 season, with a word here and there from the professionals who deserve part of the credit when the fishing is good.
WESTERN NEW YORK
Mike Clancy, the DECâ€™s Region 9 fisheries manager, said Chautauqua Lake is a great smallmouth bass fishery that seems to be getting even better. His staff conducts an annual survey of the lake and always collects plenty of jumbo bronzebacks.
â€śItâ€™s just phenomenal,â€ť he declared. Five-pound smallmouths turn up regularly in the stateâ€™s sampling nets, and are apt to latch onto anglerâ€™s lures, too, especially in the autumn months, when lower temperatures concentrate bait and during the first half of June, when bass are on or near their spawning beds and must be turned loose after landing.
Chautauqua is one of Western New Yorkâ€™s best-known bass fisheries, along with Lake Erie and the Niagara River, but Clancy also touts the potential of two of his regionâ€™s smaller waters. Netters who visited Cuba Lake last summer captured many nice smallmouths, and biologists were thrilled by their capture of a 22-incher in little Findley Lake, a honey hole located southwest of Sherman, near the Pennsylvania border.
And keep in mind that Silver Lake in Wyoming County has robust populations of both largemouths and smallmouths, Clancy added.
In neighboring Region 8, last fall the DECâ€™s goal was to expand opportunities when the agency eased access for anglers at Honeoye Lake, an underrated gem in western Ontario County. After consulting with the public, as well as regional fisheries personnel, the state agencyâ€™s operations division temporarily closed the boat launch off East Lake Road in order to revamp the facility. Biologist Pete Austerman said he expected contractors to finish the work by early January. A wider launch area and expanded parking highlighted the DECâ€™s â€śto doâ€ť list for Honeoye, which has a dense population of largemouths that occasionally grow to weigh 5 or even 6 pounds.
In truth, most of the Finger Lakes which fall under the purview of Region 8 provide excellent bass fishing opportunities. Readers should resolve to try Seneca, Canandaigua, Conesus and Keuka lakes this year, if they havenâ€™t already made their acquaintance.