Our Finest Bass Lakes For July

Here's where to find some of New York's best July bass fishing. Access is easy. The bass are plentiful. Pack up your gear, and let's go!

Photo by Robert Sloan.

In the Empire State, July is almost invariably the hottest month of the year -- and that alone is enough to make fishing an interesting challenge for bass anglers.

In most lakes and ponds, bright skies and warming water temperatures compel smallmouths and largemouths to swim deeper or hide in the midnight shade of thick weedbeds. But the weather has an even more drastic effect on human behavior.

Anglers who, a few weeks before, were inclined to sleep in now set their alarms for well before dawn.

Rising at oh-dark-thirty is the only way you can be sure of getting in a few casts along lake shorelines before summer vacationers churn the water with their water-bikes and cigar boats.

In this annual grudge match, we anglers can't claim any moral superiority. True, we wish only to hook a few fish in peace, but the pleasure-boaters merely wish to cool off.

In our state, fortunately, there's room for everyone. To get away from the wave-running hordes, fishermen can tow their boats to remote bodies of water -- or better yet, search out secluded bays on large lakes that teem with bass, but receive tolerable volumes of traffic on weekends.

The following lakes and bays are full of bass and big enough for the both of us, figuratively speaking:

LAKE ERIE
Overall, Lake Erie is the likeliest place in New York to catch monster smallmouth bass. Erie's the home of the current state-record 8-pound, 4-ounce bronzeback, boated by Pennsylvania resident Andrew Kartesz in 1995. And before that one, it also produced the three most recent state-best smallies. It's a prohibitive favorite to produce the next record, too.

In 2006, New York Department of Environmental Conservation biologists who lowered nets in Lake Erie collected two- and three-year-old smallmouths averaging 11.4 and 13.6 inches long, respectively.

Both lengths are about an inch better than the long-term average.

Another bit of very good news for Lake Erie fanatics is the DEC's assessment that in 2005 and '06, smallmouth spawning runs in the lake produced solid year-classes of baby bass. In other words, reinforcements are on the way.

Lake Erie smallmouths are thriving in the lake -- despite the recent proliferation of round gobies and the presence of the fish disease known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS).

Biologists were worried that the goby, an invasive Asian species that seldom exceeds 5 or 6 inches in length and offers little angling value, could have a catastrophic impact on the food chains of Lake Erie and many other waters. One major concern is the gobies' habit of wolfing down the eggs of other species during their spawning runs.

To date, however, the newcomers' major role seems to be filling the bellies of game fish. In particular, Lake Erie smallmouths have made gobies a staple part of their diet.

Ultimately, the VHS outbreaks seen across the state in the last three years may be more problematic. One of the notable fish die-offs traced to the disease impacted Lake Erie sheepshead, or freshwater drum.

Anglers and biologists alike have their fingers crossed that the virus won't hit smallmouth bass next.

Although Lake Erie is famous for its spring bass fishery, the smallmouth action is also furious during most of the summer and fall.

A 2006 creel census conducted at ports along the lake's east shore of showed anglers caught an estimated 93,615 bronzebacks from May 1 through Oct. 31, but creeled only 5,708 of those fish.

According to the survey, one of the July hotspots was the sector of the lake near the Sturgeon Point launch ramp, where census participants reported catching 3,351 smallmouths during that month.

Other good areas to launch a smallmouth trip include the ports of Barcelona and Dunkirk. Look for July smallmouths in water 10 to 40 feet deep, especially where varied types of bottom structure -- rocks and sand, for example -- come together.

Rookies on the lake should be aware that prevailing west winds could make access difficult or at times, even impossible. If you intend to make a long run up or down the shore from your launch site, a seaworthy boat is essential.

Don't make a long trip to Lake Erie unless you're prepared to sleep over for a night or two until the waves subside. As a general rule during the summer, you should expect one day out of three to be "blow-off" days.

The Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, at (716) 753-4304, will provide information on lodging along the southern part of the lakeshore. The Erie Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau is ready to advise anyone interested in fishing the Erie County shoreline for bass.

CHAUTAUQUA LAKE
If the wind confines you to port on Lake Erie, you don't need to sit around your motel room watching TV until the weather changes.

Chautauqua Lake, just eight miles inland from Erie, is probably the best second-choice smallmouth hole in the state, and it also holds a robust population of largemouths.

Every year, Chautauqua Lake rewards at least a couple of its devotees with smallies weighing 6 pounds or better. You'll need a 5-pounder or better to elicit much beyond a forced smile from marina operators and local experts. Because the lake's bass have had several good reproductive seasons since the turn of the 21st century, anglers can expect quantity as well as quality for the next several fishing seasons -- at least.

Chautauqua, which spreads over 13,000 surface acres in the southwest corner of the state at Jamestown, is accessible via U.S. Route 86, the former Route 17 (now the Southern Tier Expressway).

It's a relatively short drive for Buffalo-area residents, but a half-day journey for anglers starting out from Syracuse, Binghamton and other central-state locations.

The Chautauqua County Tourism office mentioned above will point you toward suitable accommodations, tackle shops and boat launches on Chautauqua Lake.

Available boat ramps inc

lude the spacious Long Point State Park, which is on the east shore of the lake off Route 430.

A map of the lake is available on the DEC's Web site mentioned previously, or from the DEC's Region 9 office at Olean at (716) 372-0645.

With that map in hand, you'll notice the lake is split into two distinct basins. The northwest basin has a maximum depth of 77 feet, while the shallower southeast basin bottoms out at approximately 20 feet.

Not surprisingly, the smallmouth action is hot in both basins, while the largemouth fishery is much better in the southeast basin than at the opposite end of the lake.

Among the better spots to hook a whopper smallmouth in the northwest basin, try Prendergast Point on the west shore, Point Chautauqua and Upper DeWittville Bay on the east side. In the southeast basin, look for largemouths in the weedbeds at Maple Bay and Ashville Bay on the west shore or prospect for smallmouths near the bottleneck at Bemus Point.

HONEOYE LAKE
Bass tournament clubs in the central-western sector of the state aren't fond of Honeoye Lake. It doesn't produce as many 4- to 6-pound largemouths as some other fishing holes in the region.

Overall, Lake Erie is the likeliest place in New York to catch monster smallmouth bass.

That's good news for the rest of us, because if this Ontario County spot isn't exactly "hawg heaven," it does have a dense population of small- and medium-sized bass.

If you know how to fish weedy cover, you'll have no trouble catching two, three or even four dozen largemouths a day in this 1,772-acre bass factory. Most will run between 10 and 14 inches long, but as you get to know the place, you can figure on a satisfying number of 2- and 3-pounders. Now and then you'll tie into a bigger bucketmouth, too.

Frank Tennity runs a guiding business with his wife, Melody, out of the couple's home on the west shore of Honeoye. He says the lake is an ideal destination for beginning or intermediate-level bass anglers who want to practice a variety of techniques while reeling in a satisfying number of fish.

"You won't catch many giants in here," Tennity said. "But you can catch lots of nice fish."

He made that assurance one afternoon last summer after thoroughly out-fishing me from his boat. That day, Honeoye Lake rewarded me with 28 largemouths. But for every one of mine, Tennity probably caught two.

The beauty of Honeoye Lake -- from the vantage point of a rookie bass angler or even an experienced fisherman who's never tried it -- is its easily decipherable structure.

Shallow weedbeds rim virtually the entire shoreline of the lake. You can shove off from the state boat launch at the south end and start catching fish literally before firing up the outboard. You can be confident of finding a largemouth anywhere there's a break in the weeds, whether it's a bare spot, a toppled tree limb or a camp boat dock. On hot sunny days, the bigger fish may be a little farther out than usual, but holding tight to the same kinds of structure.

Of course, some sections of the lake produce more consistently than others. Two spots to include on your itinerary are California Point, about halfway down the western shore off West Lake Road, and Log Cabin Point, about a third of the way down the eastern shore.

Anglers may download a contour map of the lake on the DEC's Web site, www.dec.ny.gov. Go to "Fishing" and then look for "Lake contour maps" on the right side of the screen. The maps are listed by county.

You can reach Honeoye Lake by heading west on U.S. Route 20 from Canandaigua, and then turning left onto Route 20A, which leads to the village of Honeoye.

From there, take East Lake Road to the state launch, which has ample parking for cars and trailers.

The Ontario County Tourism office will provide a list of accommodations in the Canandaigua area. Call 1-800-654-9798.

SODUS BAY
You don't have to worry about finding fish when you visit Sodus Bay, the 3,000-acre gouge in the Wayne County shoreline of Lake Ontario. Just look for weedbeds and the holes and gaps in them.

Odds are, you'll find at least one bass in every other opening.

Almost all of those jungle denizens will be largemouths averaging about 1 1/2 pounds, but often tipping the scales at up to 6 pounds.

Frank and Melody Tennity like Sodus almost as much as their home water on Honeoye Lake.

They find the same strategies that work in Honeoye are effective in Sodus Bay, and after giving the latter spot an obligatory break-of-dawn tryout with surface baits, they reach for the lures that bring on the bites in their backyard.

Frank said a green-pumpkin Centipede, weighted with a 1-inch finishing nail and fished wacky style with a size 3/0 hook through its middle rings, seems irresistible to weed-loving bass in Sodus as well as most other New York lakes.

Melody seconded her husband's point by hooking a 5 1/2-pound bucketmouth on that lure during a July 2007 visit to the bay.

Sodus Bay is easily reached by taking the state Thruway to the Waterloo exit and heading north on Route 14. Take that road all the way to the state boat launch at the bay's north end. It comfortably accommodates large bass boats and has ample trailer parking across the street.

Be forewarned that those spaces, and parking lots at the several private marinas around the bay, may fill up quickly on weekends.

A simple contour map of the bay is found on the DEC's Web site. After clicking on "Fishing" and "Lake contour maps," check under the Seneca County heading. Take note of the northeast corner of the bay, where the close proximity of three sizable islands -- Leroy, Newark and Eagle --hints of some particularly good largemouth fishing.

The Wayne County Office of Tourism, at 1-800-527-6510, will provide visitors with information on lodging establishments in the area.

For an update on current fishing conditions, call the Bay Bridge Sports Shop at (315) 587-9508.

SKANEATELES LAKE
Seldom mentioned in the same league with warmer, more turbid bodies in the Finger Lakes chain, cold, clear Skaneateles Lake has nevertheless built up a loyal following of bass anglers in recent years.

While the 8,960-acre lake is famous for its rainbow trout, it also teems with smallmouth bass. In July, the Skaneateles bronzebacks line up nightly with the 'bows -- and yellow perch and rock bass, as well -- to gorge on hatching mayflies. A motley crew of fly-cast

ers greets the surface-feeders there each evening.

Hexagenia mayflies pour off the lake at dusk. On some evenings the swarms of mating spinners are so thick that fly-fishers have difficulty spotting their imitations among all those naturals. Even raw beginners can enjoy frequent hits during the peak of the hatch. But it's also possible for an experienced disciple of the long rod to get skunked when the big bugs -- adequately imitated by a bushy White Wulff tied on a size 8 dry-fly hook -- are on the water.

However, have you ever wondered what it's like to hook a 2- to 3-pound smallmouth on a dry fly? Skaneateles Lake is where you can find out for yourself.

In this lake, the average bass is about 9 or 10 inches long. But many rod-benders measuring between 13 and 17 inches chow down on hexes.

Before and after the hex break-out, Skaneateles bass are suckers for tube jigs and small crankbaits, worked deep and slow in the 5- to 20-foot depths off sloping points and near private boat docks and anchored buoys. It's not unusual to reel in two or three dozen smallmouths a day by using such tactics.

Be sure to give them a try off the Skaneateles golf and country club, which is about a mile down the west shore and at Five Mile Point and the Lourdes summer camp, both on the east side of the lake.

Skaneateles Lake's north end is visible from U.S. Route 20 in the village of Skaneateles, about six miles east of Auburn. A state boat launch is on the western shore off Route 41A. Anglers may download a lake map on the DEC website.

The DEC's Region 7 office in Cortland almost always includes a Skaneateles Lake update in its weekly fishing hotline report, which you can view on the state Web site under "Onondaga County," or hear over the telephone at (607) 753-1551.

For information on lodging in the Skaneateles area, contact the Finger Lakes Tourism folks at 1-800-530-7488. Bearwood Bait and Tackle, north of the village of Skaneateles in Mottville, keeps good track of fishing trends on Skaneateles Lake.

The phone number for Bearwood is (315) 685-7243.

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