Our Finest June Bass Lakes

Here's where to go for some great June bass fishing in New York in 2007. There proven lakes come highly recommended by anglers and biologists alike. (June 2007)

Photo by Keith Benoist.

This year, the opening day of New York's bass season won't be nearly as important as it used to be.

Since last Oct. 1, it has been legal in most waters of the state to fish between seasons for largemouths and smallmouths on a catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only basis. Formerly, anyone who repeatedly reeled in springtime bass "while fishing for northern pike," or under some other pretense, ran the risk of a ticket from the local conservation officer and a fine from the local magistrate.

The rationale for the ban on out-of-season bass fishing was the belief, shared by many biologists, that bass needed to be protected during their late-spring, early-summer spawning period -- and to a lesser degree, while they were schooled in deep-water wintering areas.

Recent research dispelling these concerns, as well as a demand by avid bass anglers for catch-and-release opportunities, led to adoption of new regulations in 2006.

Now, between the end of one regular season on Nov. 30 and the start of the next season on the third Saturday in June, anglers in most waters can pull bass in and toss them back with impunity.

There are some notable exceptions, however.

In Oneida Lake, catch-and-release bass fishing will only be allowed from the first Saturday in May until the regular bass season starts. There will be no off-season bassin' in the Hudson River from the Troy dam downstream.

Lake Erie will have a one-bass limit and a minimum creel length of 20 inches during a revamped "trophy bass" season that starts on the first Saturday in May and runs until the statewide bass fest starts up.

Following the regular bass season, from Dec. 1 through the Friday before the first Saturday in May, catch-and-release bass fishing will be permitted in Erie.

In all inland waters of Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties, as well as the St. Lawrence River, no off-season bass fishing will be tolerated.

Double-check the 2006-08 state fishing regulations guide for fishing opportunities prior to the third Saturday in June --June 19, this year.

Then consider a trip to one of the following bass waters, among the state's very best early-season spots:

LAKE ERIE

When anglers read about a minimum creel length of 20 inches for Lake Erie's "one a day" early bass season, their reaction is a chuckle or a sneer. Why would state bureaucrats bother with a 20-inch minimum, when so few bass get to be 20-inchers?

Well, it so happens that Lake Erie harbors plenty of 20-inch bass, most of them smallmouths. In fact, most spring tournaments on the lake produce at least a few bass in the 20-inch range. A spring-season bass from Lake Erie that weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces has held the state smallmouth record since 1995.

But don't be surprised if an even bigger one is caught in the lake soon. Since round gobies became common in Lake Erie a couple of years ago, its smallmouths are adding ounces and inches at an unprecedented rate.

Don Einhouse, the biologist who monitors Erie's fish populations for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Great Lakes unit at Dunkirk, said smallmouth bass in the lake generally spawn later in the year and in deeper water than do the bass in many other New York waters.

In the last week of June, Lake Erie bass specialists often find hen bronzebacks with full egg skeins in depths of 20 to 25 feet and hundreds of yards offshore.

Erie's pre-spawn bass, like their cousins everywhere, go for a variety of presentations in June. But tube jigs and weighted spinnerbaits retrieved at a moderate pace can usually be counted on for a few hookups.

Hit the lake on a reasonably calm day, and you stand an excellent chance of catching a lunker smallmouth or two. But if you arrive in the middle of a strong westerly wind, you may resolve never to return. Locals figure on rough water about one day in two, or even two days out of three.

Lake Erie is accessible at many pay-launch ramps along the New York shore. And there are good publicly owned facilities, too, such as the Westfield municipal ramp in Barcelona and the pier at the village of Dunkirk, both off Route 5 in Chautauqua County.

Farther north in Erie County, the same highway will take you to the Sturgeon Point livery in Derby. Several marinas in Buffalo harbor also charge a small fee for put-ins.

For information on accommodations along the Chautauqua County coast, call the county's visitor bureau, at (716) 753-4304. The DEC's Region 9 fisheries office in Olean at (716) 372-0645 can provide an update on local fishing conditions or refer anglers to someone who is knowledgeable.

HONEOYE LAKE

My good friends Frank and Melody Tennity of Byron have been New York-to-Florida snowbirds for two years now. They rave about Deep South fishing for bass and crappies. But the Tennitys, who are licensed fishing guides and frequent bass tournament competitors, wouldn't think of selling their camp on Honeoye Lake to live in Florida year 'round.

"For hooking lots of nice, medium-sized largemouths, I don't know of any place that's much better than Honeoye," said Frank.

On several occasions, he and Melody have shown me what their backyard lake has to offer, and I've gone home happy every time. Honeoye Lake -- a 4 1/2-mile-long, mile-wide body of water that's part of the famous Finger Lakes chain -- is simply loaded with largemouths in the 1- to 3-pound range.

Bigger fish are present, but not easy to catch, probably because the small- and medium-sized bass get to your lure before the others have a chance to open their maws. Anglers who know how to work weedy cover can readily catch 30 to 40 bass that are legal-sized or better in a day on Honeoye Lake.

Perhaps the nicest thing about Honeoye is its near-shore weed cover. After putting in your boat at the state launch on East Lake Road, at the lake's south end, you can immediately start casting into weedbed openings, no matter whether you decide to work your way up the east shore or cut across to the opposite side.

Virtually every one of those little openings will harbor a bass or two. I love to use motor oil- and pumpkin-color plastic jerkbaits in Honeoye. But the Tennitys often catch their biggest Honeoye largemouth of the day on a jig-and-pig, or a surface popper.

Anglers who lack confidence in their fish-finding ability should feel a lot better about themselves after their first Honeoye outing, since the entire shore of the lake is "fishy"-looking. Like most lakes, however, this one has some local favorite fish magnets.

The best of these, I'm told by Team Tennity, are California Point, which is about halfway down the west shore via West Lake Road, and Log Cabin Point, the one about two-thirds of the way up the east shore from the boat launch.

To get a free contour map from the DEC's office in Avon, call (585) 226-2466, or simply download a copy from the DEC's Web site at www.dec.state.ny.us.

Honeoye Lake lies in western Ontario County. To get there, take U.S. Route 20 west from Canandaigua to Route 20A. Turn left and follow Route 20A south to the village of Honeoye at the north end of the lake.

Ontario County's tourism office, at 1-800-654-9798, is a good source of information on local lodging, restaurants and other needs.

SODUS BAY

If Honeoye Lake has a significant shortcoming, it would be its diminutive size, especially when a weekend tournament is in progress.

There's no such lack of elbowroom in Sodus Bay. At 3,000 acres, it's nearly twice the size of Honeoye, but can be fished in much the same way with great success. Like Honeoye, Sodus has extensive weed cover around its shoreline and out to a depth of about 15 to 20 feet. The Wayne County embayment on Lake Ontario has a similar surplus of 1- to 3-pound largemouths.

Unlike the little Finger Lake, however, Sodus Bay has several islands and some expansive coves in addition to an endless number of weedbed openings. One more thing Sodus has in abundance is northern pike. If you're fishing for largemouths in June, be prepared to hook a toothy pike every now and then.

The northerns in the bay often top the 30-inch mark, and can slice through a light monofilament line as if it were cobweb.

To deter bite-offs, I like to fish Sodus Bay with one of the tough, braided "super lines" rather than monofilaments. In addition to being abrasion-resistant, these lines have less "memory" than monofilament, which means they're less likely to coil and snarl when in use.

They also have less stretch in the water, which means they're better for detecting subtle strikes on plastic worms and grubs. And finally, they tend to have smaller diameters than monofilament of equal rating.

On Sodus Bay, use a minimum of 10-pound-test line and don't be afraid to go twice as heavy as that when you're probing its underwater jungle. You won't be able to extract a pot-bellied largemouth from the thickest vegetation unless you clamp down and pull hard, using stout line and a sturdy spinning or bait-casting rod with a medium-to-stiff action.

Despite its endless weedbeds, Sodus Bay has a mean depth of 20 feet, owing mainly to the extensive 30- to 44-foot-deep hole west of Newark Island near the north end of the bay.

Sodus Bay is roughly equidistant between Rochester and Syracuse and therefore, receives a heap of attention from bass tournament clubs in the area. It's also a gateway to Lake Ontario for many salmon charter boats and pleasure boats.

On weekends, boat traffic is constant. But if you hug the shoreline and focus mainly on weedbed dwellers, the buzz of big inboards will be as unobtrusive as the elevator music at your dentist's office.

To reach the bay, take the Thruway to the Geneva exit and head north on Route 14. At Alton, turn right onto county Route 143, which leads to the Bay Bridge marina at the south end of the bay. Or you can continue north on Route 14 to the village of Sodus Point and its municipal launch.

ONEIDA LAKE

How good is the bass fishing is on Oneida Lake? Last July, when many of the world's best tournament anglers competed on Oneida in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Empire Chase, 2- to 2 1/2-pound smallmouths were biting so readily on tube jigs, drop-shot rigs and other offerings that several of the contending pros were reluctant to move around in search of one or two bigger fish that might have moved them up in the standings.

From a competitive point of view, in other words, they were actually having too much fun, catching 50 or more chunky bronzebacks a day. The tourney winner, Tommy Biffle of Oklahoma, caught nothing but largemouths in the four-day event!

Naturally, the bass pros decided to return to the Syracuse area's favorite fishing hole as soon as possible. The Memorial, one of the major events on the B.A.S.S. tournament calendar, will begin on July 26 at Oneida Shores Park. And you can bet that Biffle and the rest of the gang are counting the days!

Meanwhile, now that Oneida's bass are fair game for catch-and-release angling from the first Saturday in May until the regular-season opener, New York residents many have even hotter action than the pros enjoyed during their 2006 stopover on the lake.

At 51,000-plus acres, Oneida is one big body of water. But in June, visiting anglers can quickly cut it down to size by focusing on the 3- to 10-foot depths where most local bass court, spawn and guard their newly hatched fry.

Since last Oct. 1, it has been legal in most waters of the state to fish between seasons for largemouths and smallmouths on a catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only basis.

In shallow, weedy water such as found around the fringes of Big Bay at the west end of the lake, it may be possible to sight-fish for lunkers with surface chuggers, plastic worms and other slow-motion baits. In contrast, fan-casting with spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits and other lures with extra flash and wiggle will let you cover lots of water and pinpoint fish concentrations in slightly deeper areas, such as the dropoffs and humps of Shackelton Shoals off Bridgeport.

Contour maps showing these and other likely early-season spots are available at many of the bait shops and marinas around the lake, or from the Department of Environmental Conservation Region 7 office in Cortland. Call them at (607) 753-3095.

Oneida Lake is about a 10-minute drive north of Syracuse, off Interstate Route 81. Exit 31, at Brewerton, leads directly to Bartell Road and the Oneida Shores (Onondaga) county park as well as the state-owned Oneida South Shore launch between Bridgeport and Lakeport.

Exit 32, at Central Square, connects to Route 49 and the north-shore public boat launches at Toad Harbor and Godfrey Point.

For information on local lodging alternatives, contact the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce at (315) 470-1800. Or try the Oswego County Tourism office at (315) 349-8322.

MEACHAM LAKE

There are so many great bass waters in the Adirondacks that it's hard to pick just one. But Meacham Lake in central Franklin County is certainly one of the region's up-and-comers.

This 1,185-acre honeyhole is just a flash in the driver's-side window for the legions of tourists who hurry past it or stop short of it in their eagerness to wet lines in such better-known destinations as Blue Mountain Lake or the Saranac chain of lakes.

Rich Preall, the DEC's Region 5 biologist who monitors Meacham Lake's fishery for the state, has had a close personal rapport with its dominant smallmouths.

He referred to Meacham Lake's bronzebacks as "colossal." And no wonder! Several years back, he caught a pair of 22-inch smallmouths in Meacham Lake while trolling for landlocked salmon (a species that's no longer present in the lake).

Smallmouth bass measuring longer than 20 inches are uncommon just about everywhere, but 3-pounders are routine. And 5-pounders are definitely possible in Meacham Lake, which also holds northern pike (including a few over 20 pounds, according to Preall) and some stocked splake, the sterile offspring of brook trout mated with lake trout.

Meacham's bass are found most commonly off the rocky east shore between Winnebago Creek and Roaring Brook. That's true not only in June, but throughout the season.

To find Meacham Lake on your map, start at the city of Malone on U.S. Route 20 in northern Franklin County and trace Route 30 south from there. From Utica, anglers may reach the lake by taking Route 28 north to Blue Mountain Lake and continuing on Route 30 through Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Paul Smiths. About 10 miles north of Paul Smiths is the right turn onto Meacham Road, which will leads to the 223-unit state campground on the lake's north shore.

One warning is in order. The launch on the lake is shallow and sand-bottomed and therefore, much better suited to carry-in, cartop boats than to big, heavy tournament-type vessels. For more information on the state's June bass-fishing prospects, log on to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation at www.dec.state.ny.us.

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