New York's 2009 Bass Forecast

Here's a look at what's in store for Empire State bass anglers in 2009. (May 2009)

There is no doubt about it. Angling for smallmouth and largemouth bass is popular in the Empire State. According to one study conducted by the U.S. Department of Interior, nearly 400,000 anglers fish for black bass. Bass anglers spent more than 5 million days on the water, 48 percent more than was spent trout fishing!

Those figures do not include the angling effort for bass in Lake Ontario or Lake Erie. For example, in the Great Lakes, bass angling effort totaled 1.8 million days, 71 percent more than for trout. All totaled, it was estimated that 28 percent of all angling effort in New York State is directed toward smallmouth and largemouth bass!

That was back in 1991. No more recent surveys have been taken, but there is little doubt the numbers have grown.

And why wouldn't angling for these species be popular? Take the smallmouth bass, for example. The smallmouth is not native to the Adirondack region and there was a time when the species was not widespread in New York. Today, along with the largemouth, smallmouth bass are found in practically every major lake and river system in the state, making them one of the most available game fish we have.

Add in the acrobatic antics of a hooked smallmouth and the tenacity of a largemouth, the fact we don't have to travel far to find prime angling opportunities no matter where you live and you have a combination that is difficult to beat.

In fact, New York bass populations are in such good shape that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) doesn't have to stock them. It's also why anglers saw the most dramatic regulations changes in decades take effect just a couple of years ago.

The DEC has always been against off-season angling even on a catch-and-release basis, and the traditional statewide opening date in June was in place primarily to protect adult bass, especially young fry, on the spawning beds, but a 10-year study showed that was not the case.

Among other things, the research showed the spawning ritual was actually still in progress on many waters throughout the state even by the time the traditional third Saturday in June opener rolled around, so there was really nothing to protect, and late season or year-round catch-and-release angling really had little effect on the resource.

As a consequence, after extensive public input and comment that supported a change, the DEC kept the traditional statewide bass season that opens the third Saturday in June and closes Nov. 30, but opened up most waters in the state to bass fishing on a catch-and-release basis with artificial lures only between Dec. 1 and the Friday preceding the third Saturday in June. The regulatory change took effect in October 2006 and has proven popular with bass enthusiasts throughout the state.

It should be noted that certain areas of the state were exempted from the new rule change, specifically the waters in Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin and Hamilton counties, all in DEC's regions 5 and 6. Heavy predation of young bass in the St. Lawrence region, especially in the popular Thousand Islands area and eastern end of Lake Ontario, potential threats to bass fry from the round goby, and fears of depleted bass stocks in the smaller Adirondack lakes are the primary reasons why waters in these areas were not included.

The round goby is an invasive, bottom-dwelling species from Eurasia that feeds aggressively on small juvenile fish, including bass. They were first reported in Lake Ontario in 1998 and New York waters of the big lake in 2001, and studies strongly suggest that wherever gobies have become abundant, native species have declined. The precise threat to bass populations in the eastern end of Lake Ontario and upper St. Lawrence is not yet known, but biologists simply didn't want to take a chance until studies are complete.

Others areas in the state are also exempt from the regulation change, including the Hudson River, from the dam in Troy downstream to the first barrier impassible by fish, due to limited spawning habitat and poor bass production. In this area, the season and regulations remain unchanged. The season starts the third Saturday in June and runs through Nov. 30.

Most waters on Long Island are exempt because nearly all waters there are already covered by special regulations.

In Nassau County, for example, catch-and-release angling for bass is legal starting the first Saturday in April through April 30. In Suffolk County, the bass season on most waters runs from the first Saturday in April to Nov. 30 with a five-fish daily bag limit and a 12-inch minimum length. The season reopens Dec. 1 and runs through March 15 for catch-and-release angling.

On Lake Ronkonkoma, Belmont Lake within Belmont Lake State Park near Wyandanch, Artist Lake in Brookhaven, Blydenburgh Lake in Smithtown and Fort Pond in Montauk, however, open season dates as well as daily bag limits vary, and some open later to catch-and-release angling while others do not.

Bass enthusiasts should check the latest freshwater fishing regulations for specific details and should not except any new regulatory changes in these areas in the near future.

Anglers should keep in mind that some waters in some counties are governed by special regulations. On those waters, bag limits and length limits may vary from the general statewide rules covering other waters in the same county, and on some waters the new catch-and-release season may not apply, so a careful check of the latest fishing regulations is advised.

For example, on rivers and streams in Westchester County, the minimum length limit on bass is 10 inches, but it is 15 inches in some sections of the Hudson River. In Warren County, the minimum length limit on bass in some waters is 10 inches, but in all of the Finger Lakes except Cayuga, Otisco, Owasco and Skaneateles lakes, the minimum length limit is 12 inches.

Some lakes may have slot limits in effect during certain times of the season. Such is the case of the Cassadaga Lakes in Chautauqua County. On those waters, possession of black bass between 12 and 15 inches is prohibited, but possession of bass less than 12 inches and greater than 15 inches is allowed from the third Saturday in June through Nov. 30.

AREAS OF CONCERN
All is not blissful when it comes to bass management in New York, and there are areas of concern the DEC is working hard to address.

Perhaps the biggest topic is the threat from invasive species and diseases now found and believed to be spreading in some New York waters, not the

least of which is viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS for short.

According to a DEC bulletin, available on the DEC's Web site for review, VHS is a virus that causes hemorrhaging of tissue, including internal organs and resulting in the death in all fish of all sizes and ages, including bass. While VHS poses no threat to human health and although not all infected fish actually develop the disease, once a fish is infected there is no known cure, and the disease may be transmitted to other fish.

In 2005, a large die-off of freshwater drum in Lake Ontario was attributed to VHS. In 2006, additional fish kills were linked to the disease in Lake Erie, parts of the St. Lawrence River and Conesus Lake. In addition to these waters, VHS is now known to be present in Skaneateles Lake, the Seneca-Cayuga Canal and a private pond in Ransomville in Niagara County.

In an effort to stop the spread of VHS, the DEC adopted and initiated a list of emergency fish health regulations that took effect in June 2007. Because of the lateness of the ruling, the regulations did not appear in the 2007-2008 New York State Freshwater Fishing Guide, but may be reviewed on the DEC's Web site at www.dec.ny.gov.

Additional information may also be obtained by telephoning (518) 402-8896, or by contacting the appropriate regional DEC office.

Among other things, the new health regulations stipulate personally harvested baitfish, live or dead, may only be used in the same water where they were harvested. Several regulations address the use and transport of commercially harvested baitfish as well. And a rule requiring all baitfish placed in New York waters be certified disease-free took effect in January 2009.

The DEC is asking fishermen to familiarize themselves with these regulations and with the symptoms of VHS, to inform their friends and to contact their regional DEC office should a large number of dead or dying fish be discovered.

All things considered, especially with the new catch-and-release and extended fishing opportunities across the state, angling for black bass in New York has never been better.

With so many topnotch bass waters available, it is difficult to recommend just a handful, but here are a few prime and proven locations to wet a line this year in different regions of the state:

THE FINGER LAKES
The 11 lakes that make up the Finger Lakes region offer some of the best freshwater angling in New York, and this is certainly true when it comes to smallmouth and largemouth bass. Bass are found in each lake, and it is generally agreed that Cayuga, Otisco and Conesus lakes offer some of the best opportunities for largemouths. These lakes also support nice populations of smallmouth bass.

Some of the best bass action on Cayuga Lake will be found on the shallow and weedy north end that extends south for about six miles and covers nearly 6,000 acres.

Public access and boat ramps will be found on the River Road off Route 90 about three miles north of the village of Cayuga and to the south at Frontenac Park, also off Route 90 in Union Springs. Access is also possible on the north end on the west side of the lake at Cayuga Lake State Park, on Route 89 about three miles east of Seneca Falls.

Otisco Lake is much smaller in size, but produces some lunker largemouths, especially on its northern end, where the greatest concentration of weed growth may be found. Cartop boat access will be found on West Valley Road, about two miles north of the Sawmill Road on the southwest side of the lake.

Conesus Lake is the most westerly of the Finger Lakes and is about 25 miles south of Rochester. Some of the best bass opportunities here will be found on the lake's north and south ends, but action is apt to be found in any of its bays and coves.

Public access will be found on East Lake Road near MacPherson Point, off West Lake Road (Route 256) on the south end, off Pebble Beach Road in Pebble Beach on the northwest corner of the lake and at Sand Beach off Route 20A on the north end.

Other top bets for bass, especially smallmouths, include Seneca, Canandaigua, Keuka, Skaneateles, Owasco and Hemlock lakes. Each of these lakes offers plenty of public access. For maps and additional information, log onto the DEC's Web site or call the DEC's Region 8 office by telephoning (585) 226-2466.

NORTHERN REGION
The northern region of the state is full of world-class bass fisheries, including Cranberry Lake in St. Lawrence County, Great Sacandaga Lake in Fulton and Saratoga counties and, of course, Lake George, but Black Lake near the village of Hammond in St. Lawrence County is ranked as one of the top spots for largemouth and smallmouth bass in the Northeast.

Black Lake covers over 10,900 acres and is the largest lake in St. Lawrence County. With a shoreline stretching more than 60 miles, anglers will find a combination of shallow sandbars, underwater shoals, large shallow bays and weedbeds, rocky points and rock-bound islands that produce some of the most consistent bass angling to be found anywhere.

While the average Black Lake largemouth runs between 2 and 3 pounds and the average smallmouth slightly smaller, specimens in the 4- and 5-pound class are not uncommon.

Black Lake is a popular angling destination and advance reservations at area lodges, cabins and campgrounds are highly recommended.

For more information and area services, interested fishermen should visit the Black Lake Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.blacklakeny.com

To reach Black Lake, take Interstate Route 81 north from Syracuse to Exit 49 at La Fargeville, and then Route 411 to Route 37. Turn right on Route 37 to the village of Hammond where Lake Street (county Route 6) leads to the lake.

WESTERN REGION
When it comes to fishing for smallmouth bass in western New York it is difficult to beat Lake Erie or Chautauqua Lake, but for anglers looking for something smaller, the three Cassadaga lakes, Upper, Middle and Lower in the towns of Pomfret and Stockton in Chautauqua County might be of interest.

Upper Cassadaga Lake is the biggest of the lot at 102 acres. Combined, all three cover just 217 acres, but each is home to both largemouth and smallmouth bass, offering an abundance of wetland and brush-covered shoreline providing excellent cover. Each is known for producing steady action, and some lunker specimens are possible.

Special slot limit regulations are in force here, requiring all fish between 12 and 15 inches to be released, but fish under 12 inches and greater than 15 inches may be retained. Those regulations went into effect in 1994, intended to reduce the number and density of young bass and increase overall growth rates. Recent surveys indicate the regulation is indeed working.

Public access is available on Middle Cassadag

a Lake, and because the lakes are interconnected, it is possible to fish all three from this access point.

For more information on the Cassadaga lakes, contact the DEC's Region 9 office at (716) 372-0645.

NEW YORK CITY RESERVOIRS
A total of 19 reservoirs are part of the New York City reservoir system, and all are open to public fishing. Varying in size from the 430-acre Middle Branch Reservoir in Putnam, one of the smallest, to the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster, covering more than 8,300 acres, all contain largemouth and smallmouth bass and provide about 33,000 acres of prime bass water.

In general, boats are allowed for the purpose of fishing, but a free New York City Public Access Permit is required to fish these hotspots. Permits are available online through the New York City Department of Environmental Protection Web site or by telephoning (718) 595-4820 or (212) 643-2215.

Fishermen must be in possession of a valid New York state fishing license to fish any of the New York City reservoirs. Other rules and regulations also apply and are listed in the freshwater fishing regulations guide.

Additional information is also available from the DEC's Region 3 office at (518) 402-8013.

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