Now's the time to hit the shoreline for hard-hitting New York bass — both largemouths and smallmouths.
By Stephen D. Carpenteri
New York bass fishermen live and breathe for the month of June.
This is when feisty spawning smallmouths and largemouths congregate near shore to feed and spawn after a long, cold winter. Anglers know that these aggressive, hard-fighting fish will take just about any lure that crosses their path out of hunger, in defense of territory or to protect their young.
A basic, traditional assortment of proven June bass lures includes the gold Mepps spinner, a Mr. Twister Teeny in yellow, black or chartreuse, a 3-inch Rebel silver minnow plug and a Shad Rap diving plug in crawfish, frog or perch colors. Of course, there is a tremendous variation in bass lure configurations, more than enough to fill a dozen tackle boxes, but these standard offerings will get the season started on any New York bass water.
No matter how or why bass become so easy to catch in June, fishermen across the state know that this is the time to be on the water.
Basic June bass fishing is a simple equation:
Fish close to shore in shallow water using flashy, lively offerings that bass cannot ignore. In most cases one cast to any sort of structure — including rocks, logs, blow-down trees, overhanging brush or even the most insignificant stick-up — will produce an eager, violent strike. Most bass are taken on the first cast, but when a fish is missed it's a simple matter to return to the same spot 30 minutes later and try again. Few bass miss the mark on their second attempt.
Small craft including kayaks, canoes and car-top boats will suffice for most bass-fishing situations in New York, but boats with more powerful motors are the rule on the state's largest bodies of water, including the Great Lakes and major rivers. Bass are among the most abundant and productive game fish in New York and continue to gain in popularity thanks to their aggressive nature and strong fighting abilities. Many Empire State anglers focus only on bass and always come home with some great stories to tell.
Part of the reason New York's bass fishery is among the best in the world is that anglers voluntarily release most of the fish they catch, ensuring many years of great sport. As a result, fish over 5 pounds are commonplace and many bass approaching 10 pounds are taken annually on and small waters across the state. State fisheries biologists are not averse to anglers catching and keeping smaller fish, but recommend that the largest (breeding-sized) specimens be released unharmed after a quick photo.
With all this in mind, here is a sampling of "best bets" for New York bass anglers this month. There are more places to fish for bass in New York than can be attended in a single lifetime, but there's no better time to start than right now!
If you want to catch the most and biggest largemouth or smallmouth bass, it makes sense to head for the state's Great Lakes. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are huge waters best suited to large, seaworthy craft, but anglers fishing inshore or from jetties, docks and other structure can expect some great catches this month.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has declared that Lake Erie provides "the finest smallmouth bass fishing in New York State and arguably the entire United States."
Bass are found along the entire New York shoreline, with hotspots along rocky structure and drop-offs in 15 to 35 feet of water. However, smallmouth bass in Lake Erie are very widely distributed and are also available to anglers fishing inshore zones with waders, kayaks and other small craft. Most bass caught are between 2 and 4 pounds, but there is good opportunity to catch a hefty 5- or 6-pound bronzeback. The last five New York State record smallmouths have come from Lake Erie, with the current record standing at an impressive 8 pounds, 4 ounces.
Smallmouth bass are the most frequently caught game fish species in Lake Erie and fishing trips for smallmouths make up about 25 percent of all Lake Erie fishing trips for the entire year.
Anglers can enjoy an early bass season on Lake Erie to take advantage of the great fishing available for smallmouth bass during spring. From the first Saturday in May to the regular season opener of statewide black bass season on the third Saturday in June, anglers may take one bass over 20 inches per day in Lake Erie and its tributaries. The use of natural baits is permitted during Lake Erie's early bass season.
ST. LAWRENCE RIVER
Although largemouth bass are taken on the mighty St. Lawrence River, smallmouth bass is the most commonly caught species. Good catches of smallmouths are taken around the big river's many islands (such as Carleton, Round and Linda islands), off points (Bartlett, Chippewa and Grass points), in bays (Goose, Chippewa and the bays of Grindstone and Wellesley islands) below the Moses-Saunders Power Dam and off shoals. Small spinners, jigs, and rubber worms work well in late summer, while live bait, including minnows, worms and crayfish, are productive early-season baits.
Largemouth bass may be found in shallow, weedy bays and along edges of shoals. Lake of the Isles on Wellesley Island is known as the premier largemouth hotspot for the St. Lawrence River. Rubber worms, spinnerbaits, surface lures, plugs and worms are among the most productive June baits.
The 11 glacially formed Finger Lakes of central and western New York are some of the most beautiful and unique lakes found in the state. The group includes Otisco, Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice, Hemlock, and Conesus lakes. These waters range in size from Canadice Lake's 642 acres to gigantic Seneca Lake at 43,342 acres. The lakes also vary greatly in maximum depth, from 30 feet in Honeoye Lake to 650 feet in Seneca Lake. Most of the Finger Lakes are considered two-story fisheries, containing both cold water (trout) and warmwater (bass) fisheries.
The warmwater fisheries of the Finger Lakes are as varied as the lakes but the Finger Lakes produce some of the best bass fishing in the state. According to DEC fisheries biologists, angles should try the shallow, weedy areas of Cayuga, Otisco, Conesus and Honeoye for largemouth action and the slightly deeper areas of Seneca, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Keuka, Skaneateles, Otisco, Owasco and Hemlock for smallmouths. Anglers can also expect to find walleyes, pickerel, pike, muskies and a variety of panfish in the Finger Lakes.
LONG ISLAND ANGLING
In discussions of New York's best bass fishing it's not often that Long Island is included on the list, but anglers are cutting themselves short if they don't plan at least one spring outing to "the big city." A well-kept secret, Long Island provides visiting anglers with outstanding freshwater fishing opportunities in more than 500 lakes and ponds and over 30 miles of streams. Even in New York City, anglers can find remarkably good fishing in numerous small ponds and lakes, including those within world-renowned Central and Prospect parks.
The Niagara River is a Great Lakes connecting channel and an international border between the United States (New York) and Canada (Ontario). The Niagara River flows northward from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario for a distance of 36 miles, conveying an average flow of about 200,000 cubic feet of water per second. The river is comprised of two parts: the Upper and Lower Niagara, separated at Niagara Falls. The Lower Niagara River is approximately 14 miles in length with fishing opportunities from the Whirlpool north to the mouth of the river at Lake Ontario.
This mighty river supplies Lake Ontario with about 80 percent of its water, more than all other sources combined.
The Lower Niagara can be fished literally 12 months a year, with different opportunities during each season of the year. The lower river is well known for its cold-season Chinook salmon, steelhead (rainbow trout) and walleye fishing, while in spring and summer smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and muskellunge are the biggest attractions.
In general, the international border runs down the middle of the lower river and each jurisdiction requires a fishing license when angling in their respective waters. Be sure to follow the regulations of the jurisdiction in which you are fishing, as New York State and Province of Ontario have separate, and somewhat different, angling regulations. The Lower Niagara River Fishing Access Map (PDF) (available from the DEC's Web site) highlights shore fishing sites, boat launches and popular boat drifts.
Access to shore fishing is at Whirlpool State Park off Robert Moses Parkway near the city of Niagara Falls. Whirlpool State Park offers shore anglers the farthest upriver fishing opportunity. The shoreline is accessible by walking the almost 300 vertical feet of trails and steps that descend into the gorge. This area is not for the faint of heart! A trail runs along the river for over a mile from the Whirlpool downriver through Devil's Hole State Park. Use extreme caution when shore fishing at Whirlpool State Park as slippery rocks, water level changes and very strong currents make this area hazardous.
Additional shore access is at Devil's Hole State Park off Robert Moses Parkway, bordering Whirlpool State Park to the north. The shoreline is accessible by walking the almost 300 vertical feet of trails and steps that descend into the gorge. The return trip out of the gorge is quite strenuous, especially if you are carrying fish. This site is popular for smallmouth bass and other warmwater species during the summer. Good numbers of fish hold close to shore where shallow water and rocky reefs offer fish refuge from the swift currents.
The New York Power Authority (NYPA) fishing platform located at the NYPA Power Vista is a popular access site from spring to late fall. It is closed during the winter months. The fishing platform is open to the public and is universally accessible by persons with disabilities. The facility also features a fish cleaning station and restrooms. Parking is available at a small lot at the foot of Power Authority Service Drive and in an additional lot at the top of the gorge. Power Authority Service Drive is accessible from Hyde Park Blvd. (Route 61). This is a popular destination for June bass fishermen. A long-handled landing net is helpful for bringing fish up to the fishing deck.
Located between Lewiston and the NYPA Power Vista, Artpark State Park features more than a mile of river shoreline. A network of trails lead anglers down to the river's edge. A stairway near the parking area off South 4th Street offers anglers the easiest access to the river. While Artpark anglers do catch some salmon during the peak of the salmon run, this site is better known for quality steelhead fishing opportunity from November through April.
Joseph Davis State Park is north of Lewiston off Lower River Road/Route 18F. The park offers some shoreline fishing access as well as a universally accessible fishing platform for anglers with disabilities.
Niagara River anglers may also fish from the shoreline at Lewiston Landing Waterfront Park in Lewiston. In Youngstown, anglers can fish from Water Street Village Park and Constitution Park.
TAKE YOUR PICK
Nearly all of New York's warmwater lakes, rivers and ponds contain fishable populations of either smallmouth or largemouth bass. To help anglers decide where to go, the DEC offers an alphabetized listing of available contour lake maps on its Web site in PDF format.
The New York State Lake Contour Map Series provides information on depth contours, water surface area, mean depth and available fish species for selected state waters. Maps are to be used as a fishing aid only and are not intended for navigation. Public access may not be available to all waters. For additional information on available public access, or other specific details concerning these waters, contact the appropriate DEC Regional Fisheries Office.
For more information, maps, current regulations and other details about New York's June bass fishing opportunities, log onto www.dec.ny.gov.