In 2013 Cornell University conducted a survey, funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of Fisheries, that was designed to focus on anglers with a special interest in black bass fishing.
Basically, fisheries managers were interested in discovering more about fishing activity, angler satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their angling experiences, and views on current management practices, particularly about the new regulation that allowed the catch and release of black bass during the winter/spring season.
The end result showed that nearly three-quarters of the respondents are satisfied with the bass angling experience. That is a pretty high margin, considering most anglers always seem to want more or something better.
In addition, most anglers feel the 12-inch minimum length limit should remain in place. Over 75 percent wanted the third Saturday in June kept as the harvest opening date, and 90 percent of the respondents wanted Nov. 30 to remain as the harvest season closing date. A majority of anglers would also support special regulations to increase the number of black bass in certain waters throughout the state, as well as special regulations that would increase the chances of catching larger bass.
The winter/spring catch-and-release regulation also proved popular. Over 40 percent of respondents fished the season at some time and of those 97 percent wanted the season to remain in place. Even among anglers who did not fish during the winter/spring season, 65 percent wanted it to continue.
With everything said and done, the Cornell survey makes clear that overall, New Yorkers are pleased with their bass angling experience on the water and the way the DEC is managing the state's black bass resources.
But is there room for improvement in certain areas? The answer is, yes. There always is. Satisfaction with angling experience is influenced by many factors, some within control of management agencies (such as regulation changes), others not under direct control (such as the ability of a given body of water to naturally produce a fishery of desired quality and quantity). Also, currently the NYDEC does not stock black bass.
One area of importance and concern to anglers the DEP can address is better access to bass waters. In recent years the DEP has made substantial progress in the upgrading of existing boat launch facilities and the construction of new access sites and facilities.
As part of Governor Cuomo's "New York Open for Fishing and Hunting" plan, new sites have been made available at Chaumont Bay and Point Isthmus on Lake Ontario, on the upper Hudson River at Fort Edward, on Lake Champlain at Plattsburgh, on Cuba Lake in Allegany County and Round Pond in Saratoga County.
Significant upgrades have also taken place or are planned at the "Crusher" launch facility on the Raquette River, at the Horicon Ramp on Schroon Lake, the Second Pond site on Lower Saranac Lake, the Peru launch site on Lake Champlain, and the Northville and the Saratoga County sites, both on Great Sacandaga Lake in Fulton County.
A complete list of public boat launch sites and access points by county will be found on the NYDEC web site.
A WORD ON REGULATIONS
One way the NYDEC can influence the quantity and quality of a fishery in given waters is through regulation. In many waters, limiting angler retention of big fish can, over time, increase the number of larger fish in that fishery. By the same token, decreasing or increasing the daily bag limit or allowing the retention of fish after a certain date can help increase or decrease the number of fish available, and often modify the average size of those fish.
The NYDEC has done a good job over the years assessing bass resources in some of the most popular waters in the state and in determining what is needed to ensure both quantity and quality in those particular waters.
The current general state-wide bass season opens the third Saturday in June, after the peak spawning period, and ends in early November, before winter's hard freeze. The general season minimum length limit is 12 inches and the daily limit is five fish. The general-season regulations give anglers an opportunity to catch bass of good size. At the same time, they give bass time to finish spawning without pressure, and time to prepare for winter after angling pressure stops. Both "rest periods" help the resource maintain itself.
But some fisheries are different for a number of reasons, and require special regulations. This is why season and retention dates, minimum length limits and daily bag limits on a number of waters in the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Champlain vary from the general regulations.
None of these regulations will be changing anytime soon, because they simply have been working rather well. Testament to that is the high degree of angler satisfaction on New York's bass waters. The NYDEC is continuously monitoring waters throughout the state to assess bass populations and overall quality and health, and along with input through angler surveys will make any regulation changes as needed, but for 2016 statewide any special regulations will remain the same as they have been for the past few years.
THE BASS OUTLOOK AT AS A WHOLE
Black bass are literally found throughout the state, in every region and in every county. Anglers don't have to travel far to find them. While Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the St. Lawrence River and the Hudson River stand out and are considered top destinations among recreational and tournament fishermen alike, New York is blessed with thousands of smaller, perhaps less known waters that offer superb bass opportunities.
To the "Top Notch" list, in the western region you can add Chautauqua Lake, Silver Lake, the Cassadaga lakes, Bear Lake, Honeye Lake, Conesus Lake, and Quaker Lake and Red House Lake, both within Allegany State Park. Largemouth as well as smallmouth bass are found in each.
In the north Tupper Lake, Long Lake, beautiful Lake George, Schroon Lake, Saratoga Lake, Chateaugay Lake, Chazy Lake, Black Lake and the Saranac chain, to name but a few, can produce excellent action. In central and north-central New York Cayuga Lake, Oneida, and Owasco Lakes, Otisco Lake and lesser known North and South ponds in Oswego County are good bets.
Angling maps showing lake contours and depth as well as access point are available on the NYDEC web site at www.dec.ny.gov.
In the southeast, on the east and west sides of the Hudson, most of the 19 York City reservoirs (such as the Cross River, New Croton and Amawalk reservoirs in Westchester County and the Bog Brook and East Branch reservoirs in Putnam County) hold both largemouth and smallmouth bass. For excellent smallmouth opportunities anglers should try the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County or the Pepacton Reservoir in Delware County. But the Cannonsville, Neversink, Rondout and Schoharie reservoirs can also be quite productive.
Angling maps of each reservoir are available from the New York City of Environmental Protection or on the NYCDEP web site. Anglers are also reminded a free access permit is required to access and fish these areas.
For more information visit www.nyc.gov/html/dep.
Even Long Island offers some fine bass angling opportunities. In Suffolk County, Artist Lake in Middle Island, Belmont Lake in North Babylon, and Randall Pond in Ridge are open year-round to catch-and-release angling. The bass in Randall Pond are rather abundant although small, but they offer good action. It is a wonderful place to introduce kids to fishing.
Other bass waters on Long Island include Lake Ronkonkoma, Fort Pond, Big Reed Pond, Fresh Pond within Hither Hills State Park and Blydenburgh Lake. To help rebuild or maintain the bass fisheries, most are open starting the first Saturday in June through April 30 to catch-and release-angling only.
DON'T FORGET THE RIVERS
For the most part bass fishing here in New York is concentrated on lakes and ponds, with the majority of anglers overlooking the great potential in our rivers and streams. There are exceptions — namely the St. Lawrence River and the Hudson River, two nationally ranked resources that received a great deal of attention and host a number of bass tournaments each year. But a longer list of New York's rivers offers some of the best angling opportunities in the state.
In the north, rivers flowing into the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, including the Black, Indian, Oswegatchie, St. Regis and Saranac, are all worth exploring and getting to know. Nearly all have public launch facilities or public access.
In other areas of the state, the upper Hudson River above the dam in Troy offers productive angling for both smallmouth and largemouth. And in the west the Upper Niagara River, which can be as productive and rewarding as the Hudson or St. Lawrence, offers a combination of weed-cover shores and shoals that can produce 3- to 5-pound bass, both largemouth and smallmouth. The Niagara River action on smallmouth below the falls can be extremely productive, and anglers have experienced exceptional catch rates there of late.
The Allegheny River in southern Cattaraugus County is another good destination for both species, although smallmouth dominate. The river enters New York from Pennsylvania, travels for nearly 50 miles before exiting New York. The river is largely undeveloped, is generally slow moving, with gravel and clay bottom and banks. Shallow riffles in several areas make boat travel difficult except for canoes and kayaks, and wading is possible in many locations. Access is best at numerous bridges crossing the river along its New York length.
In the north-central part of the state the Seneca, Oswego, Genesee and Oneida rivers have healthy bass populations and can be extremely productive, especially in June and later in the season. The lower section of the Oswego offers smallmouth moving upstream from Lake Ontario, while the upper 20 miles is home to both largemouth and smallmouths. The Genesee, flowing more than 40 miles through Allegheny County, is best below Belmont and offers more than 18 miles of Public Fishing Right easements.
In the east, Schoharie Creek downstream of the Blenheim-Gilboa Dam is prime bass water. And while good bass opportunities are possible along much of the Mohawk River, anglers should concentrate on the stretch between Lock 16 at St. Johnsville and Lock 8 west of Schenectady. Several public launch facilities offer convenient access as well as shore fishing options.
Bass anglers in central New York are well aware of the Susquehanna River, and others within that system, namely the Chenango, Otselic and Chemung rivers. The Tioughnioga in Cortland and Broome counties is another good one for smallmouth, especially from June through October at the head and tails of pools and riffles. It flows for about 34 miles, is best fished from small car-top boats, canoes or kayaks and offers four Public Fishing Rights areas.
The Susquehanna itself is one of the better known bass waters in the state and offers something for everyone. For a good float anglers might try the 30-mile stretch between Oneonta and Sydney. The stretch is wide and generally slow-moving but offers some pool-riffle areas that offer prime smallmouth action. Plus, there are a number of public access points.
For updated fishing conditions anglers should contact regional DEC offices. Most regional offices also have maps and printed materials on these popular rivers that can prove helpful for first-time anglers. Maps showing Public Fishing Rights easements are can also be found on the NYDEC web site at www.dec.ny.gov.