Northern New York Getaway
Published Aug 5th 2014
Warmwater fishing in lake country
By Bob Petti
A lot of New York residents like to believe that the perception of the state by outsiders is that there are two main regions - the city, and upstate. Certainly among fly fishers, that isn't the case, as the rivers and streams of The Catskills are known around the world. Lake Placid, in the heart of the Adirondacks, twice hosted the Winter Olympics. Niagara Falls was been a wedding and honeymoon destination when Las Vegas was still a dusty sun parched patch of desert. Binghamton was the home of IBM for years, and many cities in Central NY had huge GE factories, and we should add the Corning Glass Works as well. Who doesn't have something pyrex in their kitchen?
The fact is, New York is an amazingly diverse place to live. Five months ago, we had a storm drop 24 inches of snow on us. Three months ago, it was below zero. Two days ago, it was 95 degrees in the shade. So yeah - we know diverse - weather, geography, culture, economy, politics, you name it - New York has it. You can live among 8 million of your friends in Manhattan, or you can live in relative solitude in rural areas.
The same is true for possibilities afforded an outdoorsman - especially fishermen. Within a couple hours drive from my home, I can fish for three species of trout, walleye, bass, pike, pickerel, panfish, shad, and even saltwater species such as striped bass. A little further away, we can find steelhead and a few species of pacific salmon that run up the tributaries to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, along with lake trout, lake run brown trout, and even reintroduced atlantic salmon. We can even find catfish, bullheads, and carp if you are into those things, and I've heard Long Island has some good fishing for bluefish.
One of the highlights of my fishing season is a trip to a lake to the northern part of the state in an area west of the Adirondacks and east of Lake Ontario. This is sparely populated farm country - with rolling hills and an occasional slow moving river. The towns are small, scattered, and for the most part exist to support the agriculture industry that is so prevalent. Among the rolling hills are countless ponds and small lakes, most of them shallow and weed choked serving host to warmwater species.
The lake we like most is just a wide spot in a river, much longer than it is wide, with a barely perceptible current from the inlet to the outlet. Access is limited, and while there is a permanent campground and a few private houses along the shore, much of the shoreline is untouched and wild. The place is a fish factory - filled to overflowing with small panfish and other bait species that provide plenty of protein for the lake's star attractions - largemouth bass and pike. It is the kind of place where there really are no bad days fishing - just average days and really really good days. We've had plenty of both.
We've been going there as a group for more than 20 years, but a couple of the guys have been going there far longer - 40+ years. While there have been a few more private campsites added, little else has changed. The boats and cabins you can rent for an overnight stay are what you could classify as "rustic" - yet inexpensive and perfect for a weekend getaway.
The fishing is not very complicated. The goal is to slowly drift along the shoreline and cast to structure along the way. That is one of the great things about this lake - structure galore. There are rocky points, submerged logs and rocks, fallen trees, little inlets and bays, reeds, flat marsh areas, and big patches of lily pads. Just about any sort of structure you could think of - and most of it holds fish. When the conditions are right - great fun can be had with topwaters. When it is cold and the fish are off - a slow moved rubber product will be productive. Otherwise - when you're searching - a minnow bait like a rapala can be deadly.
Fly Fishing can certainly be very productive, but is reserved for times when we can cast to targets without scaring others in the boat, you know? We're not purists, but I have to say catching a pike - even a small one - on fly gear can be a real thrill.
You won't find any ten pound bass like you might in Florida or California, but every year we seem to hook one or two that will get the heart pumping. We also see plenty young fish, which is a good sign that the lake holds a healthy population of naturally reproducing fish. Add in enough pike to steal a lure and keep you on your toes, and it makes for a great weekend fishing trip. Each year we look forward to the next year's trip before we hit the highway on the way home.
New York certainly has some drawbacks - very high taxes, departing industry, aging infrastructure, and climate extremes - but for an outdoorsman it has something for everyone all year long.