Monday, August 24, 2015

The Annual Adirondack Fishing Trip- "Where Have All the Smallmouth Gone?"

Before regulations clamped down on fossil fuel emissions from businesses of the Northeast and before the Federal government implemented the CAFE regulations over fuel economy, quite possibly the fishery most impacted by acid rain was the Adirondack Region of New York. Trout and Bass populations were decimated. Since then, the various fisheries of this vast area have made a great comeback. I have grown to cherish my regular fishing trips to this unique region where I have logged well over 100 days on the water.  

This year’s fishing trip to the Lake Flower/Oseetah, Lower & Middle Saranac chain has come and gone. These waterways and the fish that inhabit them never cease to teach this old dog new lessons. But there was one refrain that echoed from Mt. McKenzie to Ampersand and across the Sawteeth range like a 60’s folk song.... “Where have all the Smallmouth gone?” (apologies to Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul & Mary).  

Now the particular lakes I fish the most, Flower and Oseetah, are shallow, weedy lakes and, generally, there are only four or five areas that have, up to now, given up Smallmouth of good size. Lower and Middle Saranac- the latter made famous by Shaw Grigsby when it was the site of the ESPN Outdoor Games bass tournament- and Kiwassa offer deeper, rockier, more traditional smallmouth habitat. Those lakes were not my concern. It was the noticeable lack of anything but a couple of dink smallmouth in Flower and Oseetah- from the launch to the locks- that alarmed me. There is always the chance that there were a few bad spawning years. Perhaps the last two harsh winters pushed a lot of fish into the few tight deeper areas where they had to compete heavily for resources, maybe the current warmer temperatures of these two shallow, 

weedy lakes have pushed them to inactivity, or perhaps the pike population have had their way with them. Whatever the reason, it is the first time since I started fishing these lakes 15 years ago that I did not catch a quality Smallmouth. Conversely, the Largemouth population seemed healthier than ever as we hooked more 2-4 lb. fish than we had boated in previous years. Not sure there is cause for alarm but it was certainly unusual.

I had made a plan on this trip to do two things: 1) Finally master the art of the baitcaster after 35 plus years of spinning; 2) Catch a big Pike on a chatterbait- just had never fished them on these particular lakes and I thought Flower and Oseetah tailor-made for them. I clearly achieved number one as my St. Croix Mojo Bass rod paired with my Shimano Chronarch brought a lot of fish to the boat while only sustaining one minor, fisherman induced  “meltdown”  during the week. 

The chatterbait, on the other hand, was another matter. Perhaps it was a confidence issue- my skirts did not match those perch and fire tiger skirts working with the spinnerbaits- or perhaps it was my choice of trailers- a chartreuse curly tail grub. Whatever, I disobeyed all the lessons I preach to others and would abandon it each day after only a dozen or so casts. I know, I know, I should have experimented more, should have given it more of a chance. Next time. Perhaps I will consult with my iBass360 Pro Staff colleagues Jimmy Buonanno, and Richie Moschella at the next iBass360 get together, but, yeah, I know what I did wrong- mostly a lack of patience, a lack of persistence and a lack of doing all the things I have written in so many articles and done so many times myself on other lakes with other baits.

There were a couple of baits that on certain days, under certain cloud and wind conditions, were on fire. On one morning, the Rapala Rippin’ Rap in yellow perch took three largemouth and a pike in a 45 minute period. The 

Rapala Clackin’ Rap also was a repeat favorite in the fire tiger color. Interestingly enough, spinnerbaits with trailers caught more fish than those without trailers. Although the chartreuse curly tail grub was effective, it could not out fish a 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad paddle tail in Pumpkin w/ chartreuse tail or the Mama’s Chicken color. That was the 2015 ticket. A saltwater striped bass favorite. Go figure. Last year there was no beating the Terminator natural perch with a pulse skirt with double gold willow or gold willow w/silver Colorado blades. This year, that worked ok but a
Terminator with a fire tiger skirt- same blade combos but with non pulse skirts with the Bass Assassin trailer- boated the most fish. As always, we needed a candidate for the family fish fry and a chunky 30” Northern Pike fit that bill just fine courtesy of yours truly.  Most bass were either up in the weeds or oriented to wood- particularly stumps. So, it seems that each year brings a little variation on a theme. 

The Lake Flower public ramp in the Village of Saranac Lake or the Second Pond State Park Ramp off of Rt. 3 just a few miles outside of the Village provide excellent launch and parking facilities. The boating channels are well marked and once you venture into the structure, as long as you use your trolling motor, the lakes are fully accessible to the fisherman. Do watch for the man-eating stumps when you venture out of the marked channels. For us, the pace of fishing was far from intense. Generally we fished 6:00-11:00 AM and 3:00- 7:00 PM.  It was, after all, a vacation for relaxation. If that type of fishing appeals to you, whether from a bass boat, pontoon, Kayak or canoe, the Adirondack lakes- and I would add Tupper, Long Lake, Schroon and river systems like the St. Regis- might just be what your family needs for a fishing vacation. 
The nice thing is the mornings are quiet and you won’t see a lot of fisherman contesting for your spots. If you want the big lake experience you can easily trailer to Lake Champlain or Lake George- both quality fisheries. Whatever you do, Live the Passion! 

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