Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Survey of New York’s Chemung River shows solid fishing

Elmira, N.Y. — If you’re fishing the Southern Tier’s Chemung River, you’re likely not picky about what you catch. You’re fishing from shore and, on average, you’ll catch something about every half hour. And you’ll have better luck, overall, between Corning and Elmira than you will from Elmira to the Pennsylvania state line. But even then, you were on the water for almost three weeks last year.

A recent survey by New York Department of Environmental Conservation staff drew a picture of the river from the fisherman’s perspective, and it shows the 35-mile river to be a quality fishery.

“The Chemung River provides mostly local anglers with good warmwater fishing opportunities, primarily for smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and walleye,” wrote DEC Senior Aquatic Biologist Brad Hammers in the study released earlier this year. “Chemung River anglers are avid, with nearly one-third fishing the river more than 20 times the preceding year.”

The numbers were part of a 2015 summer survey to gauge angler effort, catch and harvest rates, and the effort put into all fish species – but specifically black bass, walleye and tiger muskie. Streambank interviews, creel surveys and electrofishing were completed between May 1 and Oct. 31. The river was divided into two sections — upstream from Corning to Elmira and then downstream from Elmira to the Pa. line. A good cross-section of days and times gave surveyors a variety of contacts.

“Anglers within the 35-mile reach of Chemung River within New York fished nearly 28,000 hours from May 1-Oct. 31,” said Hammers in the report, adding an estimated 11,700 fish were caught, although several factors likely led to an underestimate of the catch rate. River flows were high during the summer of 2015 and DEC representatives were not able to conduct nighttime surveys because of safety concerns, especially in an around the city of Elmira.

Additionally, there was a “angler distrust” issue.

“Both agents expressed concern about a general distrust in motives of the agents by some anglers being interviewed, especially at the more urban sites. On several occasions anglers would leave as the agent approached for an interview,” according to the report.

What the agents were able to find, however, was that if people were specifically fishing for anything in the Chemung, especially in the upper region, it was a smallmouth bass, followed by catfish, carp and walleye. Smallmouths accounted for 52 percent of all fish caught and 94 percent of the game fish. Catch rates for bass show some success for anglers at .77 fish per hour.

But it was a surprise to DEC just how popular channel catfish were. Downstream, fishermen were looking for catfish more than any other species.

“Since it appears that channel catfish are an important component of the river fishery, the population should be assessed and, if warranted, a management plan developed,” Hammers said in the report.

That was one of several management recommendations to come out of the study, including removal of the existing 10-inch minimum size limit for smallmouth bass on the upstream tributaries of the Canisteo, Cohocton, and Tioga rivers, since bass harvest does not appear to be excessive and few anglers would be impacted. The majority of fishermen interviewed (70 percent) didn’t even know about the special tributary size limit and almost 90 percent favored the 12-inch minimum, according to the report.

Other recommendations included possibly stocking up to 1,200 muskellunge fingerlings in the river.

“Because it appears that pure-strain muskellunge are increasing in abundance, efforts should continue to be made to stock muskellunge in the Chemung River and avoid additional stocking of muskellunge hybrids (tiger muskie),” Hammers said. “These stocking efforts should be publicized in an attempt to increase angler awareness of the potential to catch a ‘trophy’ sized fish.”

Hammers also suggested a more thorough electrofishing effort to see if the smallmouth bass and walleye populations are different in areas away from the boat access sites, as well as exploration of “opportunities to enhance fishing access to the section of river below the low head dam in the City of Elmira.”

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