New York's Grasse River is ideal for muskie anglers seeking smaller waters that are fishable by small boats or canoes. Here's a look at how you can get in on the action this month.
Photo by Matthew Curatolo
By Matt Curatolo
Floating small rivers can be a nice way for anyone to spend some time watching the scenery go by, but for New York's muskie anglers, floating can be an efficient and effective way to boat fish.
On the Grasse River in St. Lawrence County, float trips are the way to go for the hefty muskellunge that inhabit this relatively small waterway in the North Country.
While the St. Lawrence River is known for its prime muskellunge fishery, the Grasse River can be a pleasant surprise for any angler because it offers fishermen the opportunity to catch smallmouth bass, walleyes and the elusive muskie.
"As an alternative water, the Grasse River has some interesting changes in scenery and will occasionally produce a very memorable experience should you happen to hook one of its big muskies," said Steve Litwhiler, a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Region 6 citizen participation specialist.
From its south branch, originating near Long Tom Mountain in the town of Colton, the Grasse River offers 115 miles of fast and slow water for muskie enthusiasts to enjoy.
The river flows through St. Lawrence County before emptying into the mighty St. Lawrence River in Massena. Approximately 85 miles of the river are canoeable, according to the DEC.
FLOATING FOR MUSKIES
The Grasse River is relatively shallow, usually between 3 to 12 feet deep in most sections, but flows can be higher or lower, depending on recent rainfall and the time of the year.
During late summer, when there is traditionally a lack of rainfall coupled with warmer temperatures, depths on the Grasse can become extremely shallow. Because of this lack of summer depth, bigger boats will not be able to reach some prime muskie hotspots.
Many anglers fish the Grasse from canoes, kayaks or flat-bottomed boats in the 10- to 14-foot range, with electric trolling motors or small outboard motors. The standard tactic is to drift along with the current, letting the river take them to the fish.
The benefit of using a light water-craft is that when there is fast and shallow water, such as in Morley and at Buck's Bridge, a small-craft angler can portage a canoe, johnboat or kayak overland around the fast stretches, large boulders, or even past the waterfalls in Madrid and Louisville.
Using light watercraft also allows anglers to put in at bridge crossings and other difficult access points, according to Mike Seymour, a fisherman and guide who has caught muskies on the Grasse River for many years.
"The Grasse River is excellent for float trips because there are so many access points along the river," says Seymour.
WHERE TO FISH
Grasse River muskies are most often found where there is plenty of food and are lots of places to hide. In general, the key to catching fish on the Grasse is to look for structure. Muskies like to ambush their prey, so concentrate on areas where a muskie would be able to hide and then strike quickly at unsuspecting baitfish. Focus on water near thick weedbeds, submerged stumps and logs. These same areas will produce smallmouth bass as well.
During the warmer summer months, muskies will hide in the shadows of shoreline cover to get out of the sun and keep cool, or they will suspend in deep, dark pools.
The stretch of water most fished for muskies is from Canton to Massena, a distance of approximately 36 miles. The following floats offer excellent angling and the chance to catch a lunker-sized muskie:
CANTON TO MORLEY
This stretch is approximately eight miles in length and is easily canoeable in water with depths ranging between 3 to 6 feet.
The DEC maintains one access site approximately three miles west of Canton on state Route 68 across from the Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area. To access the river with a canoe, consider the bridge in the hamlet of Morley. Paddle upstream from here and then float back down. From the DEC's boat launch, continue upriver until the rapids stop you (about one-half mile upstream) and then drift back down. This is a good place to try for muskies waiting in the calm water along the edge of the rapids.
On any float, fish each outside bend you come to because this is where the deepest water will be found. The stretch of water downriver from the state boat launch boasts a variety of weedbeds and fallen timber where muskies lurk.
About two miles from the boat launch, the river becomes a series of shallow riffles with a number of boulders all the way to Morley.
MORLEY TO MADRID
Beyond Morley, expect a small series of riffles and flat water down to Buck's Bridge. The water at Buck's Bridge (in the middle of this float) is known for its smallmouth bass and muskie fishing. The water here gets extremely shallow, so the muskies will be found in the deep pools.
After Buck's Bridge, the remaining section to Madrid is flat water that is 5 to 12 feet deep. This entire stretch holds muskies.
The dam in Madrid is the first portage for the angler. There is public boating access in Madrid at the Madrid Municipal Park on state Route 345.
There are two boat access sites at this location. The site above the waterfall will allow anglers to go upriver to fish the Bucks Bridge and Morley areas.
MADRID TO MASSENA
The access point below the waterfall is a hand launch that allows anglers to fish a stretch of water all the way to Massena, where the river meets the St. Lawrence River.
Many anglers fish from the rocky shore right at the base of the waterfall in Madrid. Muskies are active here at night and in the early morning, when they will feed on baitfish washed over the waterfall.
This section, about 21 miles in length, consists mainly of flat water and is 4 to 8 feet deep. However, the river gets extremely shallow in some sections, and the waterfall in Louisville is a major obstacle for boaters.
ugh the river is fairly shallow in this area, muskies can be caught along the banks and in deeper pools.
There is a municipal boat launch in Massena behind the fire hall on Andrew Street. Anglers can travel upstream and then drift back to the launch.
There are canoe access sites at Chamberlain Corners, Chase Mills and Louisville.
GRASSE RIVER MUSKIES
Muskies caught in the Grasse River are generally smaller than fish caught in the St. Lawrence, primarily because of limited food sources in the smaller waterway. However, muskies have been caught in the Grasse River measuring over 48 inches and in the 30- to 40-pound range.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has implemented a 48-inch minimum size limit on muskies caught from the mouth of the Grasse River to the first impassable barrier, which is the Louisville falls. Upstream of Louisville through Madrid, Buck's Bridge and Canton, a 40-inch size limit is in effect.
"It's best to unhook a muskie without removing the fish from the water," said Seymour. "The Grasse River has a respectable muskie population, but anglers should practice catch-and-release because the muskies here can be easily over-fished."
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