CENTRAL NEW YORK
Just 10 anglers turned in the logbooks they kept pertaining to their bass-fishing forays on Otisco Lake in 2010, but their reports could have a significant impact on the management of that fishery. Solid catch rates tell Region 7 Fisheries Manager Dave Lemon and his colleagues that bass in Otisco, the easternmost lake in the Finger Lakes chain, are in good health and do not need to be protected by special regulations.
The cohort of Otisco fishermen who jotted down data for the DEC’s Finger Lakes Angler Diary Program in 2010 reported landing a total of 207 smallmouths and 114 largemouths during the year. Roughly half of the bass caught were legal keepers — 12 inches or longer — but only three were actually creeled. The biggest largemouth and smallmouth caught by diary program participants were both 20 inches long.
By far the most controversial issue debated among Syracuse-area anglers is the management of bass in Oneida Lake. For several years, fishermen in most other areas of the state have been permitted to target bass on a catch-and-release basis between the end of the regular bass season (Nov. 30) and the start of the following regular season, on the third Saturday in June. However, Oneida Lake has been closed to all bass fishing, even the no-kill variation, between Nov. 30 and the Friday before the first Saturday in May. The state okayed the Oneida Lake exception largely at the behest of the politically powerful Oneida Lake Association, whose board of directors feels spring fishing for bass could provide cover for walleye poachers. The state’s only walleye hatchery, which provides millions of fry and fingerlings annually, is located on the north shore of the lake in Scriba, so the dispute is far from trivial.
DEC Region 7 fisheries manager Dave Lemon thinks it is time to deal with the issue by putting Oneida Lake under statewide rules for bass beginning in October, 2012. He said there is no valid scientific basis for the OLA’s concerns. Many fishermen pursue and fillet countless Oneida Lake yellow perch and black crappies in the weeks preceding walleye season, Lemon pointed out.
“Why aren’t people worried about pan fishermen poaching walleyes?” he said, and answered his own question. “They don’t threaten the fishery, that’s why, and neither will a few bass fishermen who have to let their catch go anyway.”
Regardless of the rules in effect on the lake, Oneida is undeniably one of the state’s top bass fisheries, and fertile enough in recent years to attract regular big-money tournaments staged by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.).
Otisco could be in the same class, if not for its small size and limited accessibility. Nor should Central-region lunker-lovers pass up any chance to target the other lakes at the east end of the Finger Lakes chain — namely Cayuga, Owasco and Skaneateles lakes.
Lemon said the DEC had to postpone the second round of an inquiry into the status of the smallmouth bass population in the Southern Tier stretch of the Susquehanna River in 2011. A devastating late-summer flood put much of Binghamton under water and forced biologists to “wait ‘til next year,” as Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say each October.