Bass are No. 1 with N.Y. anglers

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany – Given the storied waters and New York’s place in
fly-fishing history, one might think trout are the marquee fish of
the Empire State.

Wrong.

While trout certainly draw plenty of angling attention, it’s
bass – both smallmouth and largemouth – that are clearly the most
popular game fish in the state.

“Everybody thinks, maybe because of the famous waters we have
here, that trout are our most popular sportfish,” DEC Bureau of
Fisheries Chief Doug Stang said. “But it’s not even close. Sixty
percent of our anglers fish for bass.”

That’s why the third Saturday in June – June 18 this year –
carries a significant meaning for so many avid anglers. It’s
Opening Day, this time for bass season.

Trout anglers may have the Beaverkill, Delaware, Willowemoc,
Batten Kill, Ausable and other noted waters, but it’s pretty
difficult to overshadow the state’s two big bass hotspots – Lake
Erie and Lake Ontario.

Bass season on Lake Erie, in fact, began on the first Saturday
in May with a special trophy season where anglers may take one fish
over 15 inches. That’s usually not much of a chore: the state
record smallmouth of eight pounds, four ounces came out of Lake
Erie, and fish topping four and five pounds are fairly common.

While Lake Erie’s reputation is well-deserved, Stang says Lake
Ontario’s bass fishery is “just outstanding.”

Stang says several waters in the state have seen smallmouth
numbers climb on the heels of zebra mussel infestations, which he
says “makes the energy within the lake system more bottom-oriented.
That favors the smallmouth, which is more of a bottom-oriented fish
than the largemouth.”

Oneida Lake, which has for years been noted for its walleye
angling opportunities, is a perfect example, he said. “Smallmouth
numbers seem to be expanding in Oneida, as well as largemouths,”
Stang said. “The vegetation beds are extending out into the lake,
and that’s good for the largemouths.”

While it’s difficult not to take notice of the huge waters of
lakes Erie and Ontario, it has only been in recent years that the
nation’s sixth-largest freshwater lake, Lake Champlain, has been
discovered as a bass factory.

“No question, it’s been discovered,” Stang said. “All it takes
is one big bass tournament where the pros come in and it makes
TV.”

Champlain offers quality smallmouth and largemouth fishing, and
the top bass anglers in the country have been giving it rave
reviews as the Wal-Mart FLW and Everstart Series tours made stops
there, piling up record catches of largemouths and smallmouths.

Another northern water, Black Lake, has been on the bass fishing
radar for many years, and it just keeps getting better. “It’s well
known, and the 15-inch minimum size limit set for Black Lake has
helped the smallmouth fishery,” Stang said.

While virtually all the Finger Lakes offer quality bass fishing,
Stang says a couple have quietly emerged as real hotspots.

“Probably Honeoye Lake doesn’t get as much notoriety as it
should; it’s a great bass fishery,” he said. “And Conesus, too, has
some excellent bass fishing. A lot of folks go there to fish for
their big walleye, but end up fishing for bass instead.”

Most Finger Lakes waters (with the exception of Skaneateles,
Cayuga and Otisco) have a first-Saturday-in-May kickoff where
catch-and-release fishing is allowed until the regular June
opener.

New York, too, has no shortage of flowing water with top-shelf
bass fishing. Leading that list, arguably, is the St. Lawrence
River, that expansive border water where muskie and pike fishing
often push bass angling to the back burner. But the truth is,
there’s some outstanding bass fishing in the river’s big bays as
well as around the countless rocky islands.

Too, the Hudson River ranks high among bass anglers, with its
tidal challenges offering quality bass fishing.

Here’s a list of some of the other noteworthy bass waters around
the state:

€ Chautauqua Lake: A western New York gem with two distinct
basins and plenty of smallies and largemouths.

€ Saranac Chain of Lakes: An Adirondack hotspot with plenty of
fish as well as superb scenery.

€ Greenwood Lake: This New York-New Jersey border water stands
up to plenty of angling pressure, as well as recreational boat
traffic that makes an early start a necessity. Greenwood has a
catch-and-release season that began April 15, as well as a June 16
opener instead of June 18.

€ Lake George: Just down the road from Champlain, it’s a superb
bass fishery that gets overlooked due to the great trout and salmon
opportunities.

€ Amawalk Reservoir: Part of the New York City reservoir system,
pay attention to the special regulations and enjoy the fishing.

€ Peconic River/Lake Ronkonkoma: Offering fine bass fishing on
Long Island.

€ Mohawk River: Another of the state’s fine flows where good
bass fishing is available.

€ Genesee River: A western New York river where bass are
abundant.

€ Susquehanna River: Great smallmouth possibilities along the
entire stretch.

€ Chemung River: Often overlooked, it offers fine fishing all
the way into Pennsylvania.

€ Tioughnioga River: Another water where the lack of fishing
pressure belies the quality of the bass angling.

The 2005 bass season is a landmark one, since 2006 could bring
some dramatic changes in the fishing seasons.

DEC officials are contemplating an essentially year-round bass
season, with catch-and-release angling from Dec. 1 until the
traditional June opener. The move could come in an effort to
increase angling opportunities.

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