While most of New York has adopted a catch and release season for Largemouth and Smallmouth bass outside of the traditional bass season of June-November, two counties remain staunch in their refusal to allow anglers to target bass during those months: Jefferson, and St. Lawrence. Both of these counties cover Lake the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence river. However, when the season does open, the first two weeks is possibly the most incredible fishing you will ever experience in your lifetime. While many people read my last piece that focused on Lake Ontario and thought they’d seen the best of the best, what I saw in the river could actually surpass that of the lake.
And being that the next stop on the Elite Series is here, back again after Brandon Palaniuk dominated in 2013, it’s no big surprise that the river was full of some of the biggest names in bass fishing trying to squeeze in a last minute round of practice before off limits starts. Many of them posted pictures of giants they caught. And rightfully so. The river was full of them, and they were feeding heavily. Find any rocky area in 6-10 feet of water and throw a moving bait and you were sure to hook up! Move out a little deeper and sight fish them in 30 feet through crystal clear water. Or go flip grass and chase big largemouth. You could literally do anything you wanted and catch huge fish. If the Elite Series Tournament had taken place during that first week, it would take 100lbs to make the cut. Guys were catching 27 lbs in single day events and not even cashing checks.
Oh…and that’s 27 pounds of brown fish. That’s right. Smallmouth. Only these smallies aren’t always entirely brown. In fact, some of them are bright green with huge black tiger stripes. Some of the most beautiful you’ll ever see. And the scenery won’t disappoint either. They don’t call this area The 1000 Islands for nothing. It’s gorgeous, and littered with bluff walls, shoals, boulders, current, pads, you name it. If anyone caught the weigh in from 2013, they would have heard guys like KVD, Hank Cherry, and Skeete Reese say things like “This is by far the most beautiful place I have ever fished”. Now think about that for a moment, and the places they’ve been. That’s a pretty powerful statement. But if you’re gonna go after giants here, you need to do your research and take the proper precautions. Having updated nautical charts and a good graph is essential, or you could just as easily end up hurt as you could happy. Some of the many islands and shoals have long reaching points that can be left unmarked by buoys. Even I have moments when I need to double check where I’m running and I’m a local. Being that the river is split in most areas by the US/Canadian border, you’ll want to be sure your cards cover both areas, that you have both licenses (you really do need both), and you’ll want to call-in to report that you’ll be fishing Canadian water. It’s not difficult and takes only about 30 seconds. Keep a journal of when you call each day, so if you’re asked you can show that you’ve called multiple times. Makes our northern neighbors feel all warm and fuzzy when you do that.
Besides, to be honest, the best fishing is on the Canadian side, particularly around Wolfe Island. Now, to be fair, it’s so close to the lake that people could easily argue that it’s rating the river at an unfair advantage as far as this series is concerned. However, it is classified as being part of the river, and the Elites, who are banned from fishing the lake this time, aren’t banned from fishing here near the mouth. Are there big largemouth here? Absolutely. I even went and got one myself while the little guy with us took a bathroom break in French Creek. But should you target them here? No. Period. And that’s a solid, resounding NO. Sure you can, but you’ll lose. And lose by a LOT. Besides, you don’t travel to Brown Town NY to flip docks.
So is it really that easy to catch huge smallmouth at The STL? Well, during the first two weeks of the season, yes. Put yourself in that 6-10 foot of water range and throw small swimbaits or spinnerbaits, or go deep and drag a tube or a Mendota Rig and you’ll catch a ton of fish with an honest shot at a trophy smallmouth weighing over 6 pounds. I do highly recommend a good pair of sunglasses for sight fishing in the clear water, and can’t stress enough the importance of updating your charts. I helped the people at Fishing Hotspots update the map recently for the St. Lawrence, and you can get some great spots from me in that map! While most of my quest thus far saw little-to-no wind, this trip saw more than enough to last me a year, and we pretty much got blown off the water before we could catch anything really big. We did manage to catch about 55 fish in just over 15 hours across two days, which is by no means a bad trip. But it certainly wasn’t what it would have been had we not had winds over 15 mph. Even with the islands, it’s hard to hide and harder to run. I considered going back for two more days to give it another go during calmer winds, but to be fair, that’s what it’s like when you fish up here. Have to take the good with the bad. But I’ll say this for sure: I didn’t get to see the full potential of this place. Remember: anyone who likes my Facebook page (click here) and sends me a Private Message can get my waypoints for anyplace I’ve fished!
Totals and gear:
55 Smallmouth. Biggest fish 4.75. Average fish 3.85.
2 Northern Pike. 2 Walleye. 2 Rock bass. 1 Black Crappie (on a jerkbait!).
Dobyns 765 CBGlass, Quantum Smoke reel, Seaguar InvizX Fluorocarbon 12lb, Elite Tungsten swimbait hook, Reaction Innovation Little Dipper (Sungill) (Bill was using a Kietech swimbait).
Dobyns 703C, Shimano Chronarch, Cortland Line RZ-8 PE Braid 80lb, Seaguar Fluorocarbon 20lb InvizX leader, Mendota Rig (www.mendotarig.com), Skirted craw, Alabama Craw.
Stormr Fusion (Blue)
Costa Corbinas (Amber lenses, best for sight fishing).
G2 Gemini Neck gator
Montauk Tackle Company performance shirt.