It was one of the hottest weekends of the year … so far. I found myself on the boat of local St. Lawrence River region legend Capt. Allen Benas of Clayton, owner of the Thousand Islands Inn and Thousand Islands Fishing Charters. My wife Sandy and I were part of a mixed half-day charter that benefitted a father and his two sons, as well as an older gentleman who wanted to wet a line in the mighty St. Lawrence.
Hiring a guide like Allen is a good thing. On a day when temperatures would be soaring into the upper 80s if not the 90-degree mark, knowing what the fish will do under those conditions comes with experience…and Benas has 34 years of it. He’s seen just about every circumstance and situation that Mother Nature has been able to muster for the North Country. That comes in handy when she duplicates those situations.
While we didn’t have them jumping in the boat, we caught enough fish to keep the action consistent and everyone happy. Well, almost everyone. One of the sons caught more than his share; the other didn’t catch a fish. The father, Dave Merino of Webster, reeled in a few savvy bass before something hit that felt like bottom. This bottom was moving and the five pound-plus bass rocketed out of the river and put on a nice acrobatic show for the fishermen. As luck would have it, though, he lost the fish next to the boat – just out of the reach of the net.
The job of a charter captain isn’t easy. He has to try and keep everyone happy, dealing with all different levels of fishing competency. Some people are good with the stick; others are not. Some people pay attention to the necessary details; others don’t have a clue. The charter guy has to figure all that out and lend a helping hand when necessary.
If you have your own boat and you're hauling it to a new area you've never fished before – like the Thousand Islands – hiring a charter for a day can make a huge difference in whether or not your vacation is a successful one. A charter guy can show you the places to go … and where not to go. The latter can be an important lesson in a place where islands litter the river, as well as rocks that don’t quite make the full island status.
Learning where to fish, what to use and what techniques work best are all part of the on-water educational lesson. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s important to pay attention to everything from water depth to lure color. If you don’t learn what you need to, it’s your own fault.
When selecting a charter guy – or gal – to go with, price shouldn’t be your only consideration. Are they full-time or part-time? What kind of gear do they run? How many fish can they expect to hook up with in a normal morning? If you're a fisherman, though, you have to understand that fishing is unpredictable. So many factors come into play like wind and weather, boat pressure and fish cooperation.
Fishing the St. Lawrence River should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether it's to simply catch fish like the bass, pike and perch we reeled in on this hot July day; participate in a fishing tournament; or to try your luck pursuing one of the local leviathans, the muskellunge, the fish are only part of the experience. The destination itself offers great food, wineries and an historic flavor that adds much too any visit. And when you do go fishing, hire a guide first. It could actually help save you money in the long run.