Top Places for Bass Fishing in New York

Top Places for Bass Fishing in New York
Photo By Ron Sinfelt

By all means and measures smallmouth and largemouth bass here in New York are doing very well, thank you very much. And according to the 2013 survey entitled, "Black Bass Anglers Experiences and Their Views on Tournaments and Fisheries Management" conducted by Cornell University and funded by the Fisheries Division of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, anglers are generally pleased at how the state's bass fisheries are being managed and their experiences on the water.

According to the Fisheries Division black bass are the most popular and sought after game fish in the state. Back in 2001, an estimated 387,000 New York anglers spent time pursuing smallmouths and largemouths investing some five million hours doing so. That boils down to 48 percent more effort than for trout, the second-most popular and sought-after targets.

Here's what to expect for bass fishing in New York in 2014.

These figures do not include the 1.8 million angler days spent on the Great Lakes in pursuit of bass, some 71 percent more days spent fishing for lake trout. At that time, an estimated 28 percent of angling effort in New York was directly towards bass, making them the number one target of anglers statewide.

Of course, that was back before current fishing regulations were set in place in 2011, which basically established a winter/spring catch-and-release season on most waters from the end of November to the third Saturday in April, when the general season opens. According to the 2013 survey conducted by Cornell University, since the year-round angling opportunity was put in place an estimated 40 percent of respondents fished at some point during the winter/spring season. If those numbers were included in the number of angling hours spent in pursuit of bass the total would not only show a higher interest in angling for smallmouth and largemouth bass, but solidify their position as New York's most sought-after fish among anglers.


What makes this survey interesting and important is it was designed to focus on anglers specifically interested in fishing for black bass in New York State and not other species. The three areas addressed included assessing angler opinions on current fishing regulations, getting an understanding on views concerning bass tournaments and overall participation to those events and how satisfied anglers are with the overall bass management in New York.

Basically, once all answers were tabulated the findings would tell managers whether anglers were satisfied with the bass angling experiences and current opportunities, are they happy the way the fisheries are being managed and how regulations might be changed, or do they need changing to improve quality and opportunity. It would also indicate whether the DEC/Bureau of Fisheries (DECBF) was doing a good job.


The full report can be viewed at but here are some interesting tidbits.

The survey showed anglers showed no preference between largemouth and smallmouth bass — anglers favored and fished for each equally. This will allow biologists and rule makers to manage bass as a group rather than segregating interests of largemouth anglers from smallmouth bass interests.

As might be expected, the opportunity to catch at least one bass each time out proved important to most anglers, but — surprisingly — catching a lot of bass or trophy-sized bass proved less important.

Nevertheless, most respondents indicated they would support special regulations on certain waters to increase the opportunity to catch larger bass and most supported regulations already in place on some waters that increase chances of catching larger bass.

Most respondents also thought the current 12-inch minimum length limit should be kept as is; three-quarters thought the third Saturday in June should be kept as the harvest season opener; and 90 percent wanted the harvest season closing date to remain Nov. 30.

As for the new winter/spring catch-and-release season, more than 65 percent of respondents would like to see it continue — and 97 percent of the anglers who actually fished the catch-and-release period — wanted to it continue. Such a high percentage rate is a clear indication to the DECBF that the year-round angling opportunity is very popular and will be on the books for the foreseeable future.

On the subject of bass tournaments, two-thirds of the respondents had not participated in a tournament within the past five years. The rest had fished a tournament within the past five years or had an interest in do so. Along with scheduled BASS tournaments, Lake Champlain, Chautauqua Lake, Oneida Lake and the 1000 Island/St. Lawrence will be the site of five American Bass Anglers Weekend Series Tournaments in 2014, starting in June.

Overall, 72 percent of anglers were satisfied with their bass fishing experiences in 2012, something that might prove difficult to improve on since many factors that govern success on the water are beyond the control of the DECBF. No doubt the bureau will continue to do what it can to provide the best bass angling in terms of quality and opportunity but may consider concentrating on actions generally supported by anglers such as managing habitat for better bass production and growth, developing and improving access sites, communicating more with anglers about fishing opportunities and partnering with organizations to implement some of these actions.


One tidbit I found interesting in the survey concerned where bass anglers are actually fishing. Seven options were provided, including six of New York's most popular and best known bass waters.

As might be expected 17.3 percent of respondents had fished Lake Ontario. That was followed by the St. Lawrence, with over 14 percent; Oneida Lake with 12.4 percent; and Lake Erie with 10.3 percent. Rounding out the six waters were Lake Champlain at 7.6 percent and the Hudson River with 5.9 percent.

It was also interesting to discover about one-quarter to one-third of anglers on these waters keep at least some of their catch, except on Lake Champlain and Hudson River, where fewer anglers harvest fish and more release what they catch. No explanation was given, but the reasoning could be due in part to fish consumption advisories on much of the Hudson River and the fact that Lake Champlain is a popular bass tournament site (bass tournament anglers eventually release their fish after the weigh-in).

Information on fish health advisories on the Hudson River as well as certain other waters in the state will be found on the NYDEC web site.

As popular as these six waters are among black bass anglers, more than 83 percent of the survey respondents indicated they fish other waters in the state. This goes to show just how widespread and available bass are in New York, how worthwhile fishing other waters can be and that many anglers have a honey hole closer to home. With all things considered, the way to look at it, no matter where you live in New York the odds are high some top-notch smallmouth or largemouth bass angling opportunities is not far away.


As good as black bass management and angling is in New York there remains room for improvement, and that only comes with more study and research.

In that light, the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Cornell University is conducting a statewide assessment of black bass populations to develop strategies to improve the DEC's ability to manage the species.

In 2013 SUNY Plattsburgh researchers assessed post tournament bass condition and dispersal on Lake Champlain to learn the effects on the bass population, if any, on this popular tournament lake, the finding of which should be released this year.

Researchers at the Cornell Biological Field Station at Shackelton Point will be adding a near shore survey component to their long-term monitoring of black bass on Oneida Lake, and the DEC is initiating a study to track seasonal distribution and habitat use of largemouth bass in the lower Hudson River.

More information on these programs can be obtained by contacting Jeff Loukmas at the DEC's central office in Albany by telephoning (518) 402-8897.



As it stands right now, New York bass anglers can expect to find plenty of bass again this year and plenty of opportunity throughout the state and be assured the DEC is doing what it can to make things even better.

Anglers who fish the St. Lawrence/Thousands Island area, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, Oneida Lake and Cayuga Lake, and Empire State bass anglers in general, should take note that the Bass Anglers Sportsman Association (BASS) listed those waters among their top 100 best bass waters in the country for 2013. No other state had more waters listed.

Despite the increased angling opportunities now available, anglers should keep in mind there is no catch and release season in Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties again this year. Take note as well that the catch-and-release season runs to the second Saturday in June on Lake Champlain rather than the third Saturday, and there are exceptions to both the general rules and catch-and-release season in the Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond and Nassau Counties. Other lake specific exceptions are also on the books, so make a point to check the Fishing Regulations Guide or DEC web site for details.

One of the more exciting smallmouth bass angling opportunities available is the early season on Lake Erie. The spring bite begins in April and lasts into June as bass move towards shore looking for places to spawn and feed on emerald shiners. Because of the high concentration of fish, near-shore and tributary anglers not only not only have an opportunity to catch numbers of bass in the 2- to 4-pound range, but trophy fish in the 5- and 6-pound class. The last five New York State record smallmouths have come from Lake Erie, including the current record, an impressive example weighing 8-pounds, 4-ounces!

Along the northernmost edge of the state, the St. Lawrence River is a perennial bass hotspot. Although both species are available, smallmouths are the most commonly caught. Good catches possible near any of the islands, points and bays.

Live bait, including minnows, worms and crayfish are popular offering early in the season. Later on, rubber worms, spinnerbaits, various surface lures, plugs and shallow-water baits are productive. To find largemouth bass, work the shallow weedy areas, which the St. Lawrence has in abundance.

The Finger Lakes will continue to draw its share of bass anglers, simply because they offer some of the best bass angling in the state. For largemouths try the shallow, weedy areas of Cayuga, Otisco, Conesus or Honeoye. Try the deeper areas of Seneca, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Keuka and the others for smallmouth.

The complete list of productive bass lakes is too long to mention here, but good bets would also have to include Lake George in Warren County, Long Lake in Hamilton County, Candarago Lake south of Richmond Springs in Otsego County, the Sodus Bay area of Lake Ontario and of course Chautauqua Lake, which in the minds of those who fish and know it rivals Lake Erie, Lake George and other state hotspots. For smallmouth concentrate efforts on Chautauqua's north basin; for largemouth hit the shallower and weedy south basin.

Depth maps as well as access and other helpful information on over 400 New York lakes is available on the DEC web site at

Don't forget to share your best bass photos with us on Camera Corner for your chance to win free gear!

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