New York's Top Early-Season Bass Lakes

These proven public fishing hotspots are the places to be when New York's bass season opens this summer.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Although the rules may soon change, current regulations prohibit New Yorkers from taking a crack at their favorite game fish before the third Saturday in June -- the opening day of bass season.

Approximately 30.4 percent of anglers interviewed during a 1996 survey commissioned by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation identified bass, either largemouths or smallmouths, as their preferred target species. Ranking next in popularity were the various trout (brown, rainbow, brook and lake) at a combined 26.5 percent, followed by walleyes at 11.1 percent.

Most waters in the Empire State historically have been closed to bass angling more than six months a year. Fishing for bass is prohibited from Dec. 1 through mid-June, with a few local exceptions, such as the spring trophy season in Lake Erie and the early catch-and-release season in the western Finger Lakes.

As a result, while first trout fishermen and then walleye specialists are turned loose to ply their trades in April and May, respectively; bass devotees can only sort through their tackle boxes and gaze wistfully at their secret fishing holes.

No wonder our lakes are so crowded in late June!

At this writing, DEC officials were reviewing a proposal to allow springtime bass fishing in the future. While we wait for their decision, here's a report on some of the state's top bass waters, to help New York Game & Fish readers get the 2005 season off to a fast start.

LAKE GEORGE

For tactical purposes, Lake George can be considered two fishing holes rolled into one. The deep, steep north basin seems to have been made with trout and salmon anglers in mind, while the shallower, weedier south basin is ideally suited for bassin' fanatics.

"Smallmouth fishing in the south basin is outstanding," said Rich Preall, the Department of Environmental Conservation Region 9 fisheries biologist who oversees management of Lake George. "Smallmouths of 2 to 3 pounds are common, and catches of 4- to 5-pounders aren't unusual."

Sometimes even bigger bronzebacks are hooked in the lake. During the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the standings in the bass category of the now-defunct Genesee Fishing Contest occasionally featured 6-pound-plus smallmouths from Lake George.

Such fish swim off Long Island, Diamond Island or Point Comfort, among many other likely spots.

Fishing for largemouths is also very good in the back bays of the south basin. Dunham's Bay, which is about four miles up the east shore from Lake George Beach State Park, is especially productive.

Lake George is in Warren County, north of Albany via Route 87 (the Northway) and Route 9N.

Anglers visiting Lake George must purchase a local boating permit before launching. Permits may be obtained at any of the private marinas around the lakeshore.

Public access is available at the DEC's Northwest Bay Brook launch ramp off Route 9N north of Bolton Landing.

THOUSAND ISLANDS

If you have fished in the upper St. Lawrence River for many years and still do things the way you always did, you're probably pining for the old days. But if you have adapted to changing environmental conditions, you'll agree that bass catching in the Thousand Islands is as good as ever. The river has changed dramatically in the last decade due to the powerful influence of invasive species -- zebra and quagga mussels, cormorants and round gobies.

The mussels, brought to the river in the bilge tanks of oceangoing freighters in the late 1980s or early '90s, filter vast quantities of phytoplankton out of the river, leaving its currents clearer than at any time in recent history.

While mussels were proliferating, so were cormorants. Tens of thousands of the diving birds nest on islands in eastern Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence, and they love the mussel-made water clarity because it makes it easier for them to catch up with smallmouth bass and other fish.

River smallmouths have responded to the changing ecosystem by going deeper than they used to. It's not unusual to find Thousand Islands bronzebacks 60 feet down by mid-July.

What about gobies? Those 3- to 5-inch-long, perch-like fish came to the river the same way mussels did. Actually, they made their first big splash in Lake Erie a couple of years back and then worked their way east through Lake Ontario in 2003 and 2004. Smallmouth bass relish gobies, which get even by eating eggs laid by bass, perch, lake trout and other fish.

LONG LAKE

In the last few seasons, Long Lake in Hamilton County has evolved into one of northern New York's better bass waters. Region 5 biologist Preall, who has documented the transformation, says smallmouths of between 1 and 2 pounds and largemouths up to 5 pounds are now abundant in the lake. In fact, bass appear to have supplanted northern pike as Long Lake's dominant predators.

Although Long Lake stretches over 4,000 surface acres, its bass aren't difficult to pinpoint. Preall cites the Camp Islands, about six miles north of the DEC boat launch on Big Bay, as a great place to cast for smallmouths. For largemouths, he suggests trying any inshore cover.

"Weedbeds, docks, boathouses or fallen trees are apt to hold largemouths," he said.

Long Lake is in the heart of the central Adirondacks tourist corridor. To find it, take the state Thruway to Utica, and then go north on Route 28. At the village of Blue Mountain Lake, bear left onto routes 28N and 30. The village of Long Lake is at the south end of its namesake fishing hole.

CANDARAGO LAKE

One of New York's underrated bass waters, Canadarago Lake in Otsego County offers dependable action for largemouth and smallmouth bass that average about 1 1/2 pounds but which occasionally grow into 18- or 19-inch trophies.

Located about three miles south of the village of Richfield Springs, Canadarago Lake has a boat launch on its west shore that's operated by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation.

Canadarago is a deep lake for its size, bottoming out at 45 feet in a couple of spots. It also has plenty of shallow-water structure, including extensive weedbeds at its north and south ends, a lar

ge sunken island-type shoal, numerous small points and one island (Deowango Island) off its east shore.

The weedbeds are definitely among the best places in the lake to look for largemouths, while early-season smallmouths tend to stack up around the sunken island and also off Hyder Creek, south of the boat launch.

If you cast buzzbaits for Canadarago largemouths, don't be too shocked if a nice tiger muskellunge beats the bass to your bait. Walleyes are abundant, too.

To find Canadarago Lake, take U.S. Route 20 east from Cazenovia or west from Albany to Richfield Springs. From there, take Route 28 south to the boat launch.

ONEIDA LAKE

It's not unusual for a skilled angler to take a limit of 3- to 4-pound smallmouths in Oneida Lake, and the lake's weedy coves also harbor largemouths weighing up to 7 pounds. Not surprisingly, Oneida's 51,000-acre surface plays host to local and regional bass tournaments more weekends than not.

Like most large lakes in the eastern United States, zebra mussels have profoundly impacted Oneida Lake. The filter-feeding mollusks have rendered the lake starkly clear in recent seasons. One notable side effect is expanding weedbeds. The greater weed cover has been a boon to both largemouths and smallmouths, and that gives anglers a greater choice of productive fishing spots.

Some of the fishiest weed lines are those in Big Bay east of the Interstate 81 bridge on the lake's north shore, and around the perimeter of Lakeport Shoal, which is due north of the hamlet of Lakeport.

Oneida Lake is north of Syracuse. To get there, take Interstate 81 north from the city to exits 30 (Cicero), 31 (Brewerton) or 32 (Central Square). The first two provide easy access to the south shore, while the third leads to Route 49 on the north shore. Oneida is serviced by a quartet of public fishing accesses, including the Onondaga County-owned Oneida Shores Park on Bartell Road and the state-operated Oneida South Shore, Threemile Bay and Godfrey Point launches.

The DEC Region 7 fishing hotline, (607) 753-1551, usually references Oneida Lake conditions in its weekly update.

OTISCO LAKE

All of the Finger Lakes offer good bass fishing, but Otisco Lake seems to have come into its own in recent seasons. Smallmouths and largemouths averaging about 15 inches in length are par for the course in Otisco, but the annual fishing derby conducted by the Otisco Lake Rod and Gun Club on the opening day of the statewide bass season usually draws several entrants in the 18- to 20-inch range.

Otisco, the easternmost of the 11 Finger Lakes, is the third smallest body of water in the picturesque chain at a bit over 2,200 acres. It has a maximum depth of 76 feet and a mean depth of 34 feet.

Like Lake George, Otisco Lake can be dissected into two separate basins for angling purposes. The six-mile-long lake is girdled about a mile from its south end by an old roadbed known as "the causeway." South of that riprapped, tree-lined structure, the water is less than 6 feet deep in most spots and as muddy as any Southern bayou. It's a good place to cast for largemouths with buzzbaits, surface chuggers or slow-sinking jerkbaits.


Most waters in the Empire State historically have been closed to bass angling more than six months a year.
 

North of the causeway, Otisco is much clearer and deeper, with several notable points and sharp dropoffs along both shores. Here, smallmouths dominate.

Located off state Route 174 south of U.S. Route 20 in southern Onondaga County, Otisco Lake has no public boat launch on its shores except for a small parcel on the west end of the causeway where cartop craft may be carried to the water. However, private ramps at the Otisco Lake Marina and Ryfun's restaurant, both on the east shore via Otisco Valley Road, are reasonably priced.

SODUS BAY

Smile and wave a lot as your bass boat skims past the summer camps that line the shore of Sodus Bay, for being on friendly terms with the natives is one of the keys to consistent success in that Wayne County hotspot. Some of the biggest bucketmouths in the bay like to hide out beneath shady docks and tethered swimming rafts. You won't regret being polite, for most Sodus residents are aware of the treasures the bay holds, and get a charge out of watching visitors catch and release local lunkers.

Sodus Bay is a 3,000-acre cut in the south shore of Lake Ontario. To get there, take the Thruway east from Rochester or west from Syracuse to the Geneva exit. Go north on Route 14. At Alton, turn right onto county Route 143, which leads to the Bay Bridge at the south end of the bay, or continue north on Route 14 to the village of Sodus Point. Free launching is available at the town of Sodus and Sodus Point Park ramps, and there are also several private marinas around the rim of the bay.

Although the bay has a maximum depth of 44 feet, it is dominated by shallow, weedy habitat, and one can't go wrong by working the inside edge of weeds early in the season.

One very productive strategy on the bay calls for "dead-sticking" soft plastic jerkbaits into weedy pockets. Let the bait sink, keep a tight line and set the hook hard when you feel a tap.

HONEOYE LAKE

Lush weedbeds line the entire shoreline of 1,772-acre Honeoye Lake in western Ontario County. Largemouths lurk everywhere in the hydrilla and coontail. To find them, anglers need only embark from the boat launch on the lower east shore and start casting. Any nook or cranny in the jungle will hold at least one fish.

Honeoye Lake is the second smallest of the 11 Finger Lakes, topping only tiny Canadice Lake in surface acreage.

Local guide Frank Tennity, who has a cabin on the west shore, recommends focusing on areas where weeds converge with points. The major points are California Point, about 2 1/2 miles south of the village of Honeoye on the west shore and Burns Point, about 1 1/2 miles down East Lake Road. However, Tennity said the small breaks in the 10.8-mile shoreline are just as fishy as the more obvious outcroppings.

A 14- or 15-inch largemouth is about average, but Honeoye Lake is capable of giving up much bigger bass. During an Avon Anglers tourney there in June 2003, one contestant entered a tubby 7-pounder.

To find Honeoye Lake, follow the Thruway east from Rochester or west from Syracuse to the Canandaigua exit. Head south on Route 322 to U.S. Route 20 and turn right (west). About five miles west of Canandaigua, turn left onto Route 20A, which leads to the village of Honeoye.

ALLEGANY STATE PARK LAKES

Paul McKeown, who oversees the management of fish in DEC Region 9, said that Quaker and Red House lakes in Allegany State Park aren't getting their just

due from western New York bass aficionados.

"There are 5- and 6-pound largemouths in those lakes," McKeown said. "And plenty of them, too."

Quaker Lake spans 270 surface acres with a maximum depth of 42 feet. It's accessible from State Park Route 3. There's a ramp where park visitors may launch cartop boats or canoes. Motors aren't permitted.

At 90 acres, Red House Lake is one-third the size of Quaker Lake, but may hold even more bass. It has a maximum depth of 20 feet, a mean depth of 7 feet and a muck and gravel bottom. There's a park boat rental concession in addition to a small ramp where cartop vessels and canoes may be launched. The lake is adjacent to State Park Route 1.

Allegany State Park is off U.S. Route 86 near Salamanca in Cattaraugus County. A free park fishing permit is available at the park police office.

CHAUTAUQUA LAKE

As a destination for lunker lovers, Chautauqua Lake rivals Lake George, Lake Erie and other major smallmouth waters. Year after year, DEC netting crews haul at least a couple of 6- or 7-pound bronzebacks aboard their research vessels.

"Smallmouth reproduction has been good there for the last several years," McKeown said.

Although it's famous for its big smallmouths, Chautauqua holds even more largemouths than smallies.

Chautauqua's weedy south basin, from the mouth of the Chadakoin River at Fluvanna north to Bemus Point, is particularly good for largemouths in the first week or two of the season. Try Burtis, Sherman's, Ashville and Hadley bays on the west shore and Arnold Bay on the east.

For June smallmouths, likely spots include the various points and drop-offs in the north basin, especially Point Chautauqua, Prendergast Point and the Big Bar, which is north of Long Point State Park on the deep edge of Warner Bay.

Chautauqua Lake covers 20,000 acres and has maximum depths of 77 feet in the north basin and 20 feet in the south basin. It can be reached by taking U.S. Route 86 to Jamestown in Chautauqua County. Boats may be launched at Long Point State Park or one of the private marinas clustered at the north and south ends of the lake.

For more information on bass fishing in New York, readers may contact the DEC Bureau of Fisheries at (518) 402-8920.

Brochures on travel and lodging alternatives are available from the I LOVE NY Tourism office at (800)-CALL-NYS.

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