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June 16, 2004

Smallmouth Bass - The Real King of Freshwater Fish
By Doug Fuegel

OSWEGO COUNTY, NY -- A 12-inch minimum legal size smallmouth bass may weigh about two pounds but when you hook one, you'll realize the "bronze backs" are king when it comes to fighting and stamina. Pound for pound there is likely no other freshwater fish species that can match the fighting power of a smallmouth bass. Their acrobatics are unmatched when it comes to diving, jumping and just plain endurance when hooked. No other fish provides so much family fishing enjoyment and is so easy to catch if you know where to find them. There is no better place for constant hook-ups than Oswego County's tremendous offshore bass structure of Lake Ontario, the weed-lined bays of Oneida Lake, or countless other lakes and rivers in this area.

Season Opens June 19

New York's bass season opens statewide Saturday June 19. All anglers 16 and older must hold a valid fishing license. Daily limit remains at five per day per angler, and minimum bass legal size remains at 12 inches. To introduce new anglers and those who may have not fished recently into the fun of fishing, the DEC has again scheduled two totally free fishing days this year, with no license required. For 2004 the two license free days open to all residents and nonresidents are June 26 and 27.

Most important for any family that is planning a relaxing day of fishing is access to good productive bodies of water. Oswego County, the City of Oswego and the state have really gone the extra mile to provide the public with easy access for not only boaters but shore anglers as well. Anglers can access Lake Ontario from Oswego Harbor via Wright's Landing, the city boat launch, or from the state's Mexico Bay boat launch. Both are public launch sites. Additionally, several private marina boat launches are located along the lakeshore including sites at Catfish Creek, Port Ontario and Sandy Pond.

Piers, docks and walkways for the handicapped angler and shore angler are strategically located at several bass hotspots. Linear Park, along both the east and west shore of the Oswego Harbor, can be a real hotspot for the bass; but don't be surprised if a nice walleye occasionally hits your bait. Handicapped facilities are also provided at the pier of Selkirk Shores State Park near Grindstone Creek and the dock at the Mexico Bay launch on the Little Salmon River. One of the newest for all anglers is at Port Ontario where the State Route 3 bridge crosses the Salmon River. At this site anything is possible -- bass, northern pike, pan fish and bullheads. On Oneida Lake, a handicapped access is provided at the newly constructed Toad Harbor site and at the DEC access near the I-81 Bridge at Brewerton. Both access sites have wide black top walking and wheelchair paths leading directly to very safe fishing platforms.

Both shores of Oneida Lake have ample boat launch sites that can put you near whatever island or shoal you wish along its 20-mile length. Several private marinas provide boat launches near Cleveland, Constantia and Brewerton. The DEC has free launching sites at West Monroe and just west of Cleveland. off NY Route 49 at Godfrey Point. The Oswego River upstream from the port city is a haven for both small and largemouth bass. The city of Fulton has two launch sites, one on the river east of town and one west of town.

Years of fishing creel census reports by the DEC confirm that anglers overall prefer bass fishing; perhaps it is the minimal equipment required or the constant action for the kids and entire family. The DEC boat census confirms that anglers target bass in Lake Ontario more than all other trout and salmon species combined.

Look for Bass in Shallow Water this Time of Year

This has been a strange spring with more rain than usual and cooler temperatures. Consequently, the lake water may not be as warm as it should be this time of year, and may have an effect on where you will find bass on opening day. Bass may be in shallower water, perhaps six to 15 feet deep, with some remaining in the tributaries. Good bets for the Lake Ontario bass at the season opener could be the excellent bass structure just off shore east and west of the Mexico Bay launch and points out of Oswego Harbor near shore. Both locations have ideal bass habitat. The cooler water may provide a bonus for tributary anglers; cool temperatures may delay the exit of those bass that spawn in the streams. The underwater rock gravel and ledges near the shoreline are a haven for crayfish, a favorite food of bass.

Bass are constantly moving, depending on food supply, water temperature and other factors. Exactly when you plan your fishing outing during the long summer season should be your guide to where you begin your search for fast smallmouth action. Early season and immediately after spawning, bass will be in Oswego Harbor, both the Salmon and Little Salmon Rivers, and near shore in quite shallow water. As the season progresses and the water warms, bass will move to deeper depths for comfort and concealment from the much clearer water. By mid-season, late July and August, bass will be at 25 feet deep or more, depending on temperature.

The great walleye fishing on Oneida Lake sometimes overshadows the tremendous bass fishing also available on the largest inland lake in the state. The weedy shallow bays, such as Big Bay on the west end of the lake, can produce some lunker largemouth. Fishing the weed lines of the deeper water and outer bays are hotspots for nice smallmouth concentrations.

An often-overlooked bass hotspot is the Salmon River. During mid-summer the deeper pools are a magnet for nice smallmouth bass and the countless state and county access locations make entry to these areas easy.

Try a Variety of Baits and Techniques

Bass fishing techniques and tactics are purely a matter of personal preference. All are equally successful. The basic methods are trolling, drifting and anchoring. All three have the option of live or artificial bait. Most who prefer trolling use an assortment of deep diving stickbaits as the small Rapalas, Thunderstick juniors or Smithwick lures. To increase fishing action due to the clearer water, some bass trollers are now using side planers to move lures away from the boat.

With the right chop on the water I prefer drifting and bottom-bouncing various colored jigs or power tubes tipped with a piece of crawler. The same drifting tactic can be used replacing the jig with a number six hook baited with a crayfish or minnow and enough split shot to get bait near the bottom. You may have to adjust the amount of sinker depending on speed of drift and wind. Bass are not everywhere, when you hit the right structure that sends the rods into action, drop in a marker to pinpoint the location. Bait and tackle shops have an assortment of commercial markers, however, an old Clorox bottle painted orange blaze with a drop line and attached weight works equally well.

Today's modern technology of depth finders and GPS units have made cataloging and relocating good underwater structure a simple timesaving task for all anglers. This technology is great for the angler who wants to drop anchor and work the area casting various baits.

Make It a Safe Family Outing

We should never lose sight that fishing is fun, relaxing and one of the most enjoyable rewarding family adventures available for a minimal effort and expense, especially when the kids are involved. There are a few rules we adults should follow when we take the kids. The first thing we need is a little fishing gear, a little knowledge about bass fishing and bushel baskets full of patience. We need a rod that fits the child with plenty of action so the child can feel the tug on the line.

The Hooked on Fishing International (HOFI) organization says unless the child really wants to handle the minnows or worms it is better for the adult to do the baiting. HOFI records show that worms and minnows catch more than 80 percent of the fish at their Kids All American Fishing Derbies.

Kids must wear life jackets when riding in a boat; it is the law. It's also just plain common sense to have the kids wear one if they're bank or pier fishing. Most important for a family day of fishing are plenty of snacks and drinks. And near the top of the list for kids are timing, let the kids decide when enough is enough. We need to keep the fishing desire and enthusiasm alive for the next trip.

If you don't have your own rigged boat and don't want the hassle of trailering, launching and locating a bass hotspot, Oswego County has one of the largest and most experienced group of charter fishing guides on Lake Ontario. Although all are veteran salmon and trout charter captains, they are equally proficient bass anglers and guides as well. Family fishing aboard a big well-equipped charter boat allows the family to have all the fun and relax while the captain uses his knowledge to ensure a great day of fishing.

A complete list of Oswego County charter captains and guide services is included in Oswego County's Hunting and Fishing Guide. Copies are available by contacting the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism at 315-349-8322, by visiting the web site at www.oswegocounty.com, or by writing to 46 E. Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126.

Doug Fuegel is the weekly outdoor writer for the Oswego County Weeklies, freelances for several outdoor publications and contributes to several area tourism guides. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, past president of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association, and member of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council. He recently retired from several years as a charter captain on eastern Lake Ontario. He resides in West Monroe with his wife Shirley and son Jeff. You can contact Doug at 315-668-9492 or email dfuegel@ix.netcom.com.

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