They may not love them, exactly, but bass fishermen at the very least must take notice of swimmers, pleasure boaters, water skiers and other folks who share their favorite lakes and rivers in July and August. Any fishing game plan that fails to account for the impact of other people recreating on the water — including our brother anglers — is likely to yield disappointing results. That’s especially true in New York, where many fishing holes are bustling with traffic on warm summer days.
Fortunately, a state blessed with thousands of lakes and ponds offers a couple of options for coping with crowds. The secret to getting more bass this time of the year can be as simple as setting your alarm clock half an hour ahead, or literally going the extra mile to be the first fisherman of the day at a remote cove or drop-off. Often as not, this simple strategy will put a couple of good ones in the live well before the jet skiers whip the water into a froth.
But if everyone seems to be rolling out of the sack sooner than usual, you might consider a more drastic move. Two types of fishing holes are worth trying when your personal favorite isn’t producing: a bigger one or a smaller one.
The bigger ones I’m thinking of have so much running room that an angler with a bass boat can hustle from one promising spot to another, and find plenty of casting room at nearly every stop. At the other end of the spectrum, I have in mind little lakes, covering no more than a few hundred surface acres, which are subject to horsepower restrictions, car topper-only launch sites or other special regulations appealing to anglers and cottage owners who place a premium on peace and quiet.
New York has plenty bass waters of each type. The following examples could be just the ones you’re looking for. They may also inspire you to re-visit some other waters that are equally good and closer to home.
To anglers who are used to put-putting around placid lakes or even dragging a boat over shallow riffles during a lazy-day float trip, the Niagara River is not merely “bigger.” No, “awesome” is more like it. Anybody taking his first look at the river downstream from the falls walks away with the same sort of facial expression — eyes glazed over and chin hanging down. The lower Niagara is so awe-inspiring that it makes the open water of Lake Ontario seem cozy in comparison. And that’s where I’d go when I needed a change of pace from other Western New York bass waters. Being between boats at present, I’d hire a guide or head out with a boat-owning pal and fish at the Niagara Bar, a constantly shifting mound of gravel just off the mouth of the river. We’d use goby-imitating swim-baits or live crayfish — preferably softshells — and grow arm-weary from cranking in 2- to 4-pound smallmouths.
The easiest places to get on the lower river and explore the Niagara Bar are at Lewiston and Fort Niagara State Park. Both are accessible via the Robert Moses Parkway, north of the city of Niagara Falls, and have first-class launch ramps and spacious parking for boat trailers.
Niagara County’s tourism office, (800) 338-7890, will provide you with brochures on lodging and angling-related services in advance of your trip to the river.
Everything related to Conesus Lake is large, except for the lake itself. At 3,420 surface acres, Conesus is one of the smaller bodies of water in the Finger Lakes chain, but electrofishing surveys by DEC personnal have verified that it holds northern pike and tiger muskellunge in the 20- to 30-pound range, walleyes up to 15 pounds and largemouth bass that top out around 8 pounds.
Rochester-area tournament angler Paul Lane showed me around the lake a couple of years ago. While the 8 pounders were in hiding that morning, Lane boated several bucketmouths that weighed between 3 1/2 and 4 pounds on tube jigs. He avowed that 5 pounders are commonly hooked during the one-day tournaments that are frequently held on the lake.
While Lane and I focused on the near-shore environment during the bright, sunny conditions we encountered, summer boat traffic is heavy enough to push lunker largemouths into water as deep as 30 feet. It’s sound strategy, under such circumstances, to pay close attention to your fish-finder unit while dragging heavy jigs across the bottom. Use a windsock to slow your drift if necessary.
Conesus Lake is near Livonia in central Livingston County. Take Route 20A about 1.5 miles west from the village and turn left onto east Lake Road. The state launch site is about three miles from there, on the right. It’s immediately south of McPherson Point, one of best spots on the lake.
For trip-planning assistance, readers can contact Finger Lakes Tourism, (800) 530-7488.
WAYNE COUNTY’S ONTARIO BAYS
Tennity Guide Service does most of its bookings on Honeoye Lake, where proprietors Frank and Melody Tennity live during the summer, but they also take quite a few clients to nearby Conesus Lake. When they both have a free day from guiding, however, they are apt to tow their boat east, via the Thruway and Route 14 to Sodus Bay in Wayne County. Sodus is the most productive of several fish-filled embayments along the county’s section of the Lake Ontario shoreline. Taking in approximately 3,000 surface acres, Sodus Bay has extensive weed beds and bass-attracting structure ranging from floating swim rafts to sunken and abandoned boat docks.
Because the cover is so diverse and abundant, the bay can support dozens of bass boats during a weekend tournament, and on weekdays the only ruckus of any concern is the one raised by charter boat captains in a hurry to exit the bay and troll for salmon in the open water of Lake Ontario itself.