After an incredible trip to Lake Erie with Larry Mazur began this epic trip of gigantic smallmouth bass fishing (click here to read Part I), I made a quick stop at Oneida Lake before heading north to show that even the little cousin of the great lakes can still pack one hell of a punch!
When people talk about huge smallmouth in New York the conversation always centers around three places: Erie, Ontario, and The St. Lawrence River. However, Oneida is quickly making a run at those three larger bodies of water. Whether that’s because the recent invasion of Gobies has stimulated their growth, or because people are getting better at finding the bigger ones is still unknown. What is known is that Oneida is the largest lake that lies entirely within New York State and with that comes a fair amount of donkey smallmouth bass!
When people think of Oneida they think of great fishing, and they should. It’s a premiere walleye fishery, and hosts multiple bass fishing tournaments every weekend during the season. But thanks to the catch and release rules of most of New York State, you can now fish for bass all year (as long as you’re not keeping them or putting them in your livewell), which allows you to target them during some of the best feeding times. This was the case for our crew, who happened to hit Oneida during some great smallmouth action just days before the season opened. Our trip would take us all over the lake: from the Oneida River, to the shoals, to the deep grassy bays. And we caught a ton of fish over the two days we were there.
The Oneida River, located at the far West end beyond the RT 81 bridge, is the largest source of outflow in the lake. A long stretch of “no wake zone” begins at the bridge and ends several miles downstream at a fork. To the left is a lock to the Erie Canal, and to the right the Oneida River continues until meeting a damn miles downstream. This long stretch of “no wake” is a huge deterrent for tournament anglers who often are unwilling to exchange two hours of fishing time to travel there and back again, but those who do make the run often find huge treasure troves of smallmouth upon their arrival. This is also a great place to go when the weather proves unruly, as can often be the case at Oneida. While waves of 3-5 feet can be common and withstood with ease at the Great Lakes, they can be nasty and unforgiving at Oneida due to their narrow build and close proximity to each other. So if you’ve travelled far and wide but aren’t looking to get beat up by an unforeseen storm: never fear, the river is here! The current here can fluctuate, so you might need to make multiple runs to avoid burning up your trolling motor batteries. I recommend using a 5 inch swimbait with a 1/4 oz jig head, or a 3/4 oz spinnerbait with tandem blades. Swimbait action really can be dynamite this time of year!
Shacks is one of the most popular destinations for people looking to find smallmouth bass. It’s a series of humps and bumps that can hold giant smallmouth when the time is right. It’s also great to brush up on your bird watching before heading to Shacks. Terns, small white birds with bright orange beaks, are often seen diving into the water, seeking bait fish being chased to the surface by wolfpack smallmouth. When the water is calm, it can appear to boil from the feeding frenzy and is one of the most incredible things you’ll ever witness on the water. You’ll often hear people talk about “chase the birds”, but it’s not that easy and requires a lot of understanding. For instance, you should never chase 1 or 2 birds you see diving. You shouldn’t move your boat unless you see a large group of 10 or more. Even then you have to understand that those schools of bait fish are running for their lives, and they can move 80 yards in seconds! If you don’t predict where you think they school will go, and drive to where you see the birds, you’ll find that they’re gone when you arrive. The best thing to do is to try to watch their behavior and find a place that looks (roughly) like the center of the action and wait there for the school to come to you. A Lucky Craft Sammy, Yo-Zuri lipless 3DB, or new Echo by Rat-L-Trap are the best baits for this type of action. When you’re not chasing the birds, your best baits are either tubes or dropshot rigs. I use a minimum of a 1/2 oz Elite Tungsten weight with a Trokar hook. If the waves are over 2 feet I will increase my weight to 3/4. You need to keep your weight on the bottom, so it’s imperative that you be prepared and have the heavier stuff!
Believe it or not, you don’t have to be in deep water to catch big smallies. In fact, a lot of big smallmouth like the same water that hold big largemouth. I’ve caught smallies over 4 pounds in less than 6 inches of water. It all depends on forage, time of year, and location. Bays that have healthy grass, steep ledges with access to deep water, some current, and great rocks, will hold bait fish, big smallies, and largemouth. There’s a reason why people who win tournaments on Oneida usually have mixed bags of fish, and it’s not because they spent an hour on the shoals looking for one big smallmouth. Those big fish run together. Flip the isolated weed patches with a 1/4 oz Mendota Rig in Root Beer or Alabama. You can land a five pound smallmouth and follow it up with a five pound largemouth on the very next cast.
Who says you need Erie for big fish!
While I can’t say we caught the same quality of fish consistently for the entire day that we caught at Erie, I can say that we caught a lot more fish. But that’s got just as much to do with the timing as anything else. I could go back to Erie tomorrow and catch 200 or go to Oneida and struggle for a limit. As always, you can connect with me on Fishidy and you’ll have access to all my catches! Here’s our two day score and what we used:
Total Fish: 80 Smallmouth, 8 Walleye, 12 Drum, 4 Largemouth
Total smallies over 5: 2
Average Smallmouth: 2.5lbs
Dobyns Champion Extreme DX 743, Shimano Chronarch 7:3:1, Seaguar InvizX 12 lb leader, Cortland RZ-8 PE Braid 80lb, 1/4oz Mendota Rig (Root Beer color).
Dobyns Champion Extreme DX 762 Spinning Rod, Shimano Stradic, Seaguar InvizX 12lb, Trokar drop shot hook, 1/2oz Elite Tungsten Dropshot weight, Brandon Palaniuk Money Maker.
Dobyns Fury 735C, Daiwa 5:3:1, Seaguar InvizX 12lb, Elite Tungsten Swimbait hook, Reaction Innovation Skinny Dipper Sungill.
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