Here's a look at what's in store for New York's bass anglers in 2007, plus some hotspots for hot bass-fishing action near you this season. (May 2007)
Photo by Michael Skinner
Empire State bass fishermen spend nearly 7 million days a year on the water, making bass fishing the most popular angling sport in New York by a wide margin. And bass will continue to dominate, as new regulations permitting year-round fishing in most lakes and streams kick off a monumental new era -- the greatest change in bass-management policy in over 50 years.
The traditional open season remains the same: from the third Saturday in June (the 16th, this year) through Nov. 30, with a 12-inch minimum length and daily limit of five.
During the rest of the year, catch-and-immediate-release bass fishing using artificial lures is now permitted in the great majority of lakes and streams.
This dramatic change in bass management has been studied for about 10 years, according to Doug Stang, fisheries bureau chief for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
"Bass fishing had been really good for many years with the restrictive open season," he stated. "And there didn't seem to be any reason to change what was working.
"But anglers were changing, with many fishing exclusively for particular species, and our most popular species, including muskies, had the shortest open seasons. We began receiving requests for longer bass seasons, and that started the process."
Fishing for bass during the spawning season is controversial, presenting hurdles for fishermen and biologists alike, Stang explained. The big question with no easy answer was: What is the impact on bass populations of removing some males from guarding eggs and fry, for even a couple of minutes?
And if there is an impact, will it improve or diminish the recreational and economic benefits of fishing?
In its studies, the DEC learned that bass deposit eggs when the water is 61 to 65 degrees, although they start building nests earlier. Male bass guard the eggs for a few days until they hatch, and the fry for about a week until they've absorbed their egg sacs. By checking water temperatures, it was discovered that 50 percent of New York's waters have males guarding eggs and fry in mid-June, the start of open seasons.
Records from several lakes revealed no correlation between the bass population following early or late springs. In other words, removing more males from nests during late springs -- when spawning is delayed -- may impact reproduction, and it probably does. But no population changes were apparent.
Water temperatures across the state's various geographic zones are remarkably similar, so it's not necessary to fine-tune regulations in certain regions to protect the spawning bass.
Researchers found compelling evidence of surplus production of fry and small bass in New York lakes.
The pre-season trophy smallmouth fishing permitted for many years in Lake Erie has not caused any discernible impact on the population.
Removing guarding males, even for short periods, will cause some predation of eggs and fry. This loss may be minimized, however, by quickly releasing males, since studies indicate the males will return to protecting their nests.
Voluntary catch-and-release bass fishing, a growing trend, is responsible for a generally low harvest rate across the state, which also helps minimize predation losses caused by spring fishing.
Other states with smallmouth and largemouth populations have conducted similar studies and have eased restrictions on bass fishing.
These few highlights hardly scratch the surface of the landmark study that has changed bass fishing in New York. But they do indicate the sort of solid scientific facts that will permit fishermen to enjoy a lot more bass action this spring without jeopardizing this wonderful resource.
The cautious approach has identified two areas of special interest, however, that are not included in the new regulations. The Hudson River downstream from the Troy dam doesn't have good bass spawning and rearing areas. And a few North Country counties with similar spawning conditions and shorter growing seasons are restricted to the traditional open-season dates.
Check the county sections in the regulations booklet for details. Stang feels that these waters could eventually be opened to extended-season fishing as the DEC gains experience with the liberalized regulations -- but not in the foreseeable future.
With bass fishing heating up right now, the only problem with so many choices is deciding which lake or stream to hit this weekend. Lakes Erie and Ontario, for example, offer more exciting bass-fishing opportunities than any angler can explore in a year. But, this article features some superior bass waters in each region, helping fishermen across the state start their seasons with a bang.
In the westernmost corner of the state, Chautauqua Lake has a split personality, offering fishermen the widest possible range of conditions.
The northern basin's depths drop to more than 60 feet in several areas, featuring steep shoreline slopes, clear water and extensive weed lines -- typical smallmouth water. The southern basin is shallow, with maximum depths of less than 20 feet, a silt bottom and large areas of aquatic vegetation -- typical largemouth water.
It looks that way to fishermen, but the bass are not quite so discriminating. Generous populations of both species are found throughout the lake.
Hitting the weedlines is the popular technique here, using crankbaits, spinners, plastic worms and jigs.
Chautauqua Lake is in Jamestown. Take Route 394 from Interstate Route 90 (Exit 60), which runs along the west side. Route 430 provides access to the east side. A public launch off Route 394 at Prendergast Point gives access to the north basin, and the Chautauqua State Park launch off Route 430 accommodates fishermen on the other side.
A DEC launch at Bemus Point, at the narrows, provides easy access to the Southern Basin.
The upper Niagara, above the famous falls, offers smooth sailing for bass fishermen, although as the river
leaves Lake Erie, unending rocky structure pokes up to within a few feet of the surface.
The break walls in this vicinity are at the center of the fabulous pre-season trophy bass fishing mentioned above. The current picks up steam, however, as it reaches the large area of reefs and shoals, where two popular smallmouth hotspots may be found. Fish Market Shoal and Horseshoe Reef are a short run from the Front Park boat ramp.
The river widens and slows around Grand Island. Conditions are frequently perfect for drifting and casting to bass, plus the occasional muskellunge, in weed clumps on the generally flat bottom. An Ontario license is required when fishing the west channel around the island.
Stop immediately at the shoreline safety markers below the island and return upstream for another drift -- you don't want to make headlines by having to be rescued from the falls. In fact, some experienced locals carry extra anchors for emergency stops!
The launch facility at Riverside Park, on River Road in North Tonawanda, provides access to this stretch.
The Finger Lakes region is another one of those "takes all year" places to fish, with the spotlight on smallmouths. But for some hot fishing that's a little different, Honeoye is the lake for largemouths. It's the smallest of the bunch, at 4.5 miles in length, and also the shallowest and the weediest.
Working lures along submerged weedlines is recommended in spring and later on, as the extensive weedbeds reform in both ends of the lake. Hitting floating mats with weedless baits and flipping lures into openings will do the trick.
Honeoye is southwest of Canandaigua in Ontario County, with Route 36 and East Lake Road surrounding the lake. A public launch is off Route 36, near the south end.
Cayuga Lake is probably the favorite Finger Lake for most bass anglers. It offers excellent populations of smallmouths and largemouths, and it's a big lake. Fishermen can find productive water in nearly any weather.
Of course, the fish run big here.
At the north end, shallow, weedy, structure-filled water extends into the lake for about seven miles, approximately to Farley's Point Since it warms first in spring, it's a good place to start, especially for largemouths. A similar situation exists for about a mile on the south end.
That leaves 30 miles of a typically configured Finger Lake that favors smallmouths. With steep, rock-bound bottoms dropping to more than 400 feet, it's essentially a shoreline fishery. The narrow, weedy stretches in bays and coves are a good bet in spring. But for the post-spawn period, bouncing lures along hard bottoms off points of land is recommended.
Cayuga Lake is south of Auburn with Route 38 on the west side, and routes 34 and 90 on the east. Off these roads, several well-marked state parks offer launch facilities.
A current favorite of professional bass fishermen, Oneida Lake has been at the top of New York anglers' lists for decades. The late-breaking news, however, is that smallie numbers are growing, and the weedy shallows harbor some trophy largemouths.
At this time of year, bass will be found along weedlines and other structure around the extensive shoreline -- Oneida is about 21 miles in length. But the many shoals and reefs are the main attraction for most smallmouth anglers in this relatively shallow lake, with significant portions of water less than 25 feet deep.
The most famous rockpile is Shackleton Shoals, which is more than three miles in length in the middle of the lake off Shackleton Point.
Messenger Shoal, a much smaller hump northwest of Lewis Point on the east end, is also recommended.
The west end of Oneida Lake is shallower, with a couple of islands and several small shoals off the north shore, including Dakin Shoal, Grassy Shoal and Pancake Shoal.
Oneida Lake lies north of Syracuse off I-81 at exits 30, 31 and 32, with routes 39 and 41 and local roads surrounding the lake. Public launches are at Oneida Shores County Park, with DEC facilities at Briggs Bay and Godfrey Point.
The Susquehanna River gets no respect from the fishing fraternity except for a few bass anglers who got wind of a DEC report a few years ago. Fisheries experts claim an average smallmouth catch rate of 1.5 per hour, with some fish taping 24 inches! Hellgrammites and crayfish are effective baits, but may be used only during the regular season. Float-fishers using small boats or canoes report excellent fishing with spinnerbaits and floating stick baits.
The river flows south from Otsego Lake into Pennsylvania, and then loops back north before leaving the state. The DEC reports good bass fishing anywhere south of Oneonta, and best floating stretches begin downstream from Sidney.
State Route 17 and I-88 border the river. There are 16 launch sites, ranging from cartop to small ramps, on the 86 miles of river through Chenango, Broome and Tioga counties. For the free guide, Fishing the Susquehanna, call the Cortland DEC office at (607) 753-3095.
Similar to some other top-quality bass fisheries, Lake Champlain is two lakes in one. Its wide northern portion is deep and crystal-clear, with plenty of shoreline rock structure, ideal habitat for the hefty smallies that have made the lake famous. The narrow southern portion is shallow and weedy, with a silt bottom -- classic largemouth water.
Together, they comprise a 120-mile bass factory, attracting anglers from all over the Northeast.
There is great fishing throughout the lake, but many bass experts favor the Plattsburgh area north to the Canadian border. The islands here are smallmouth magnets. Several rivers empty into this region, and along waterfronts, some manmade structure is especially productive. A new public launch was recently installed at Plattsburgh.
New York-licensed anglers may fish the Vermont side -- adhering to their regulations -- except for three bays that are off-limits: Malletts, Missisquoi and the Inland Sea.
Lake Champlain lies east of I-87 with villages, marinas and public ramps situated along routes 9, 22 and some local roads.
Motorists on I-90 travel the historic Mohawk Valley for many miles, yet rarely will they see an angler on this, the state's most underfished bass hotspot. The Mohawk River is primarily a true smallmouth fishery from Herkimer to Albany.
There are a few good shore-fishing places, including below the Barge Canal dams. But launch ramps are not plentiful, a
nd you'll need a boat to fish the river efficiently.
The dams can be a nuisance for boaters. But anglers who prevail are rewarded with many miles of great bass fishing, along with an occasional catch of walleyes. Riffles, dropoffs and the deeper runs are usually most productive, along with the plunge pools below dams, where live bait and artificials are effective.
A recommended stretch of the Mohawk is the 11-mile run between locks 7 and 8 in the Capital District. Two public launches may be found on the south side of the river at the end of Lock 7 Road, and at Freeman's Bridge.
A 230-acre lake surrounded by suburbia wouldn't be the first choice of most bass fishermen. But Long Island's largest lake has a long history of largemouth fishing, despite the heavy pressure it receives. Local anglers give the lake high marks and have helped maintain Ronkonkoma's bass tradition, promoting catch-and-release fishing and building habitat with weighted Christmas trees.
Special regulations also aid the bass population. The minimum size is 15 inches during the regular season, and catch-and-release fishing ends on March 15.
Except for a deep hole near the south shore, most water in this saucer-shaped lake ranges between 10 and 20 feet. Spinnerbaits, plastic worms and tubes are popular in spring, and topwater lures produce plenty of excitement.
Plan on using a canoe or cartop boat to fish Ronkonkoma, where only electric motors are permitted. On Victory Drive on the west shore, a DEC launch is available.
Ronkonkoma lies north of Route 495. Lakeshore Road and Rosevale Avenue surround the lake.
St. Lawrence River
The great St. Lawrence bass fishery, throughout the Thousand Islands from Cape Vincent to Chippewa Bay, remains the top destination in the North Country for bass fanatics. The river's unending shorelines, rocky shoals, rubble bars and expanding weedlines -- courtesy of zebra mussels and clearer water -- all combine to create classic bass habitat.
All the standard bassing lures work here, especially jigs, spinnerbaits and sinking crankbaits. Drifting live shiners over rocky humps is also deadly.
The international boundary runs down the middle of the river, and a Canadian license is required on the Ontario side of the line.
Access to the St. Lawrence is off I-81 via routes 12 and 12A. Public launches are provided at several state parks, along with marinas at Clayton and Alexandria Bay.
For more information on and public access sites and bass fishing, log on to www.dec.state.ny.us or call these DEC's regional offices: Stony Brook at (631) 444-0280, New Paltz at (845) 256-3161, Stamford at (607) 652-7366, Warrensburg at (518) 623-1200, Watertown at (315) 785-2261, Cortland at (607) 753-3095, Avon at (585) 226-2466 or Allegany at (716) 372-0645.
Find more about New York fishing and hunting at: NewYorkGameandFish.com