July 05, 2012
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.
The Tennitys are extremely versatile anglers but they are inclined to stick with plastic worms, Senkos and other lures that wiggle seductively as they sink to the bottom. Their lures of choice are retrieved with slow, erratic cranks while the two guides keep their eyes on the line. When this approach doesn't work — which isn't very often — they may switch gears and fan-cast along weed lines and dropoffs with swim baits, spinnerbaits or even shallow-running crankbaits to cover a wide piece of water in search or active feeders.
A state boat launch, on Route 14 at the north end of the bay, affords easy access.
Less popular but nearly as fish-filled as Sodus Bay are three smaller bites in Wayne County's shoreline: the 750-acre Port Bay, in the town of Wolcott off West Port Bay Road; Blind Sodus Bay, a 250-ace cove on the border between Wayne and Cayuga counties off Route 104A; and East Bay, a 150-acre fishing hole in the town of Huron just east of East Bay Road.
The folks in the Wayne County Tourism office will help you locate lodging and other amenities near all of these largemouth-loaded fisheries. Call them at (800) 527-6510.
Not so long ago, Skaneateles Lake held so many diminutive smallmouth bass that fishermen were permitted to creel them if they were a mere 10 inches long. That's two inches shy of the state-standard for what constituted a "catchable" bronzeback.
The rule turned out to be pointless, said Department of Environmental Conservation biologist Jeff Robins, because Skaneateles, one of the clearest and coldest of the Finger Lakes, has plenty of adult bass, very few of which are runts.
"There's a lot of energy in that lake," Robins said. "And the bass seem to be mostly good size. I think if a good bass fisherman kept track, he'd be getting around 30 or 40 smallmouths a day and of those, only 10 or so would be under 12 inches."
Anglers who consider Skaneateles Lake as an alternative to crowded home waters might be disappointed if they happen to schedule their initial visit for the last week of June or the first two weeks of July. That's when the lake erupts with mayflies. First, the brown drake and then the Hex hatch take place. Both bugs carpet the lake's surface at dusk, and everything from perch and rock bass to rainbow trout to landlocked salmon are up and at them. Crowds of anglers dot the lake, too.
So what can a bass fisherman do? He can avoid the evening flotilla by casting small crankbaits or live crayfish between mid-morning and dinner time. Alternately, he can temporarily trade his baitcasting and spinning gear for a 6-weight fly rod and get in hatch-matching of his own when the sun drops behing the hills.
Skaneateles, a picturesque village, is at the north end of the lake, off U.S. Route 20 about five miles east of Auburn. A state boat launch is on the west shore, about five minutes from the village. For lodging advice, contact Finger Lakes Tourism, at (800) 530-7488.
A row of fence posts maintains the peace and quiet on Tully Lake, a 230-acre fishing hole that straddles the border between Onondaga and Cortland counties just west of Interstate 81. The posts were put at water's edge to keep big, noisy boats off the lake, and effectively make the adjacent state boat launch at the end of Friendly Shore Drive in Tully useable by canoes, jonboats and inflatable pontoon boats or belly boats only. (Not counting residents, who can launch whatever sort of vessel they desire.)
I'll never complain about the situation because Tully Lake is perfect for small-boat users. Its largemouths, which average about 14 inches but now and then crack the 8-pound barrier, can run but they can't hide. They like the weedy near-shore environs but also hang out around the rim of two deep potholes in the pretty, camp-lined lake. Deep-plunging plastic worms and weed-guarded jigs are excellent choices. Other good spots in mid-summer include the deep water straight out from the launch site and the weedy 10- to 15-foot depths straight out from the camp with the pontoon plane parked near the water.
You can get a map of Tully Lake from the DEC Region 7 office in Cortland, (607) 753-3095. To get there from the Syracuse area, take I-8-1 to the Tully exit, cross Route 80 at the end of the ramp and instead of getting back on the interstate, bear right. Go around the next curve, take your first left off that (Wetmore Road) and stay on that road until you get to Friendly Shores and the DEC parking lot.
The Cortland County Visitor's Bureau, at (800) 859-2227, is the best source of area tourism information.
If you're figuring to get away from it all by heading for a lake with ample casting room, why not try the one that's often referred to as "the Great Inland Sea?"
Lake Champlain, on the state's eastern border, is 118 miles long and has a maximum depth of 400 feet. How big is that? So big that many residents are convinced it is capable of hiding a giant lake monster, nicknamed "Champ," which is said to resemble a prehistoric plesiosaur. Whether Champ actually exists I'll leave to other folks to decide, but anybody with a bass boat can verity the presence of other monsters in Lake Champlain. Both largemouths and smallmouths thrive, from the north end to the southernmost shore.
Two-pounders are routine catches, but the lake holds enough 4- and 5-pounders to draw bass-tournament enthusiasts all summer long. Not only weekend anglers, but national tournament circuits as well convene and compete regularly on Champlain.
First-time visitors can prep for a trip by dialing the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce, (518)-563-1000, and asking for a packet of tourism brochures, including a list of Clinton County marinas, campgrounds and other points of interest to t raveling anglers.
Lake Champlain is big enough, in all seriousness, to intrigue an individual angler for a long lifetime. Before you fish it, be sure to purchase a folding map of the lake at any sizable bait shop or marina along it is shoreline, and focus on the dozens of islands and tributary mouths. The drop-offs around the islands are especially good for summer smallmouths while the creeks and such tend to harbor some dandy bucketmouths.
Among other places, be sure to check out the mouth of the Great Chazy River, at King Bay, the wood and stone pilings on the railroad bridge at Rouses Point, the shallows in Bulwagga Bay just south of Port Henry, and each and every weedbed in the lake that is within casting distance of deep water.
Public boat launches are spread up and down the New York shore. Plattsburgh, Port Henry, Port Kent, Willsboro and other towns along the lake have convenient, well-constructed ramps.
Keep in mind Vermont has jurisdiction over its side of the lake. Consult the "Lake Champlain Regulations" section on page 38 the New York rule book that comes with every fishing license sold in our state, and pay particular attention to the map showing the sectors of the lake where a Vermont or Quebec license is necessary.