May 20, 2020
By Jeff Knapp
If anything good can be said about the coronavirus chaos, it’s that it has certainly increased participation in fishing, with license sales on the rise across the country. After all, it’s a great, safe way just to get out of the house, breathe some fresh air and break up the monotony of quarantine life. Fortunately, there are countless opportunities around the East to keep anglers busy all summer long. Here’s a look at half a dozen hot bites to seek out in the months ahead.
SEBAGO LAKE SMALLMOUTH BASS
While the mention of freshwater fishing in Maine might conjure images of trout and landlocked salmon, Vacationland offers excellent bass fishing, too, particularly for smallmouths in 35,000-acre Sebago Lake.
Carl Bois of Rocky Ridge Guide Service says that from mid-May to mid-June, Sebago bronzebacks, which average two to three pounds, move onto shallow rock-and-gravel flats for the spawn.
“I’m not a ‘bed picker,’” Bois says, “but I do like to target the outside, deeper edge of spawning flats—places where I’m more likely to pick up the larger female smallmouth.”
As summer progresses Bois says Sebago’s brown bass gradually move out into deeper water where they respond to Ned Rigs and creature baits. Mid- to late-summer patterns include picking apart humps in the 30- to 35-foot range with Carolina and drop-shot rigs. Though Bois prefers to target the more abundant smallmouth, Sebago also features largemouth bass, and Bois has a host of smaller bass waters in the area that, when the time is right, offer exceptional fishing.
LAKE CHAMPLAIN LAKE TROUT
Given its size and diversity of habitat, it’s no surprise Lake Champlain offers such a broad spectrum of fishing opportunities. One of the best during the summer months is angling for lake trout.
Captain Mick Maynard expects to find lake trout averaging 6 to 7 pounds over main-lake humps and reefs that top off in 90 to 120 feet of water. He’s taken lakers that tipped the scales in the high teens.
Whereas many lake trout are taken via trolling, Maynard prefers to vertically jig for them, a tactic he feels results in a much higher rate of successful releases since the fish can experience decompression if brought up from the depths too quickly. Spoons, tube jigs and hair jigs can all be effective.
The deep-water lake trout bite begins once water temperatures reach the mid 60s, and the best fishing period extends from mid-June through mid-September.
HOUSATONIC AND FARMINGTON RIVER TROUT
The Housatonic and Farmington rivers near Cornwall, Connecticut, provide quality, albeit varied, trout fishing during the summer months.
“It’s nice to have the two options,” says veteran guide Rob Nicholas of Housatonic Angers.
As Nicholas explains, the Housatonic is a freestone river with origins in Massachusetts. It’s subject to thermal pollution from mid to late summer, but when it’s in good condition in June, which it often is, it receives relatively light fishing pressure. By contrast, the Farmington is a tailwater fishery that benefits from the stability and cold water that such environments are known for. Therefore, Nicholas says, it is fished much harder during the summer months.
Both the Housatonic and Farmington feature stocked trout that hold over well and attain the elusiveness that’s more characteristic of wild fish. Several of the rivers’ tributaries support stream-bred trout, and bug life is plentiful in both rivers.
CHAUTAUQUA LAKE MUSKIES
A 13,000-acre lake steeped in musky fishing lore, southwestern New York’s Chautauqua Lake is a perfect place to catch your first musky or your hundredth.
Both casters and trollers will find Chautauqua to their liking. Subsurface weeds offer numerous edges around which to work jerkbaits and crankbaits. And though many muskies relate to the vegetation, they’ll also be found in the open basins keying on food fish—white perch in particular. Expect these muskies to be suspended in the water column.
Chautauqua is separated by a narrows that divides the lake roughly in half, with deeper, clearer water in the northern basin and darker, shallower water in the southern portion. Every musky angler has his preferred side, as both areas hold plenty of fish.
Muddy Creek Fishing Guides has a reputation for consistently putting muskies in the boat during the summer season.
LAKE ERIE WALLEYE
Thanks to several strong hatches in recent years, Lake Erie walleye numbers are higher now than they have been in decades, something Pennsylvania and New York anglers are taking full advantage of. Cory Elder of XTR Fishing Charters utilizes a wide variety of trolling applications to keep his clients on fish that are constantly on the move as they follow massive schools of baitfish. Elder recommends small spoons, stickbait-style crankbaits and worm harnesses—presentations that can achieve productive depths with the aid of diving sinkers (i.e. Dipsey Divers) and leadcore line.
Elder says Lake Erie’s suspending walleyes move from west to east—from shallower to deeper water—over the course of the summer. Popular ports, such as Walnut Creek, Erie and Northeast in Pennsylvania and Barcelona, Dunkirk and Buffalo in New York, become busy when walleyes are on the bite.
Yellow perch are another Lake Erie staple, though the fishing has been comparatively inconsistent the last two years—perhaps due to predation and disruption from bumper walleye schools.
CHESAPEAKE BAY STRIPED BASS
While migratory striped bass will have returned to the Atlantic once summer arrives, it’s prime time to key in on smaller resident stripers.
Captain Mike Smolek of Penny Sue Charters fishes out of the South River near Annapolis, Maryland. Focusing on baitfish-attracting structure near the Bay Bridge, Sandy Point and Thomas Point Lighthouse, he puts his customers on resident striped bass that run from 18 to 30 inches. Maryland’s two-part striper season, which opened May 16, allows the harvest of two fish with a minimum length of 19 inches.
Fishing is done with light tackle, often around chummed areas. Typically, schools of stripers are revealed on sonar, though Smolek says seagulls are a reliable indicator of the presence of baitfish and, in turn, feeding stripers.
“We just toss baits at the birds and allow them to sink a few feet to a hungry striper,” he says.