Outdoor Journal: Rod-bending brutes close to home
I’m sure my readers have heard “There are other fish in the sea.”
This week, I’m going to discuss some of the other great fishing opportunities available on nearby waters that will provide some “reel” rod-bending action — fish we seldom talk about. New York state has been referred to as a fisherman-friendly state for a number of reasons. Here are just a few.
SALMON & BROWNS
When talking about salmon in New York, one county in particular is always mentioned — Oswego.
How good is it? Good enough to have three state-record catches and one International Game Fish Association record.
The IGFA world-record chinook-coho hybrid is a 35-pound, eight-ounce fish taken in the Salmon River by Brooks Gerli in the fall of 2001. The state-record chinook is a 41.9-inch, 47-pound, 13-ounce trophy taken in the fall of 1991 by Kurtis Killian from the Salmon River. Ironically, this species actually is a native to the Pacific Ocean.
Continuing with this county’s state-record-book catches is a 38-inch brown trout caught by Tony Brown in the fall of 1997 that tipped the scales at 33 pounds, two ounces. Brown’s brown was taken on a Smithwick Rogue in Oswego County’s Lake Ontario waters.
The last Oswego record is not a salmon or brown. It’s a bit different, in fact. I had to look it up to see what it looked like.
It’s the shorthead redhorse, and the state record is held by Joe Williams, who pulled his 11-pound, 11-ounce fish from the Salmon River in May 1996 using a nightcrawler.
The shortnose, which is considered a gamefish, is prey for pike and muskellunge. They can be found in tidal water of the Hudson River and other rivers and lakes.
If I had to choose just one freshwater fish I considered to be the most prized trophy in New York, I’d say it was the muskellunge (muskie). It’s truly the most elusive, and when hooked, it provides a true test for both the angler and his/her equipment.
They’ve been called the fiercest predator in fresh water, and those who have fished for them on a regular basis call them the “100-hour fish.” By this, they mean that a general rule of thumb is that it takes an angler 100 hours on the water to catch one muskie. I don’t think I have 100 hours yet, but I probably have about 75 hours, and had one follow my giant plug to the boat on the St. Lawrence River, but he didn’t bite.
The muskie is a member of the pike family and not found in many of our fresh-water lakes and rivers. The waters in which they’re found include the upper Niagara River, Chautauqua and Black lakes, Lake Erie, the Allegany and Chazy river systems and probably the most popular, the St. Lawrence River.
The state record, a 64.5-incher that tipped the scales at 69 pounds, 15 ounces, was caught in the St. Lawrence River by Art Lawton of Albany in 1957. That one may never be beat.
I’ve been out several times with a guide, really the best way to go. They’re on the water daily, and know where to start looking and fishing. A longtime friend, Capt. Ernie Lantiegne (FishDoctorCharters.com), has guided for muskie on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario for more than 31 years. He has not only caught plenty of salmon and browns, but has also been successful with clients hooking up with muskies. I know he has had a client catch and release a 47 1⁄2-incher. All muskies that come aboard the Fish Doctor’s boat are released. But a few good photos and measurements can put a nice reproduction on a den wall.
Another good fighter you should experience on the end of your line, and one that’s a bit easier to lure in, is the tiger muskellunge (tiger muskie), a hybrid cross between a muskellunge and a northern pike.
The state record measured 50 inches and weighed 35 pounds, eight ounces, and was taken by Brett Gofgosky from the Tioughnioga Reservoir in Broome County. This is also one trophy that’s available in our backyard.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been stocking tiger muskies for some time, and in 2011 there were quite a few distributed close to us. The Mohawk River was the recipient of 5,700 in the Albany area, 3,000 in Herkimer County and 3,000 in Schoharie County, which included sections of the state barge canal.
Kinderhook Lake in Columbia County received 1,100, Cossayuna in Washington County received 2,300 and Lake Durant in Hamilton County got 1,200.
Round Lake in Saratoga County has not received any tigers recently, but there are reports of big ones being caught.
My four encounters with tigers were all in the Crescent stretch of the Mohawk River, and all while fishing for bass. Two I landed, two I lost.
My first came in front of the Colonie Town Park area. I lost it trying to net it at the boat. The second was in the area near the lock leading to the Alplaus stretch. I thought I was hung on a log and trolling-motored in to try and retrieve my crankbait. When I was about six feet away, the “log” moved, swam by the boat, where I could see it was a tiger, and broke my line.
The two I caught were taken in the Colonie Park area, both on 40-pound-test Spider Wire on a flipping stick. Both meas-ured in the 35- to 38-inch range.
If you’re interested, I think the best way to attract them would be trolling with big rapalas and/or lip-hooking the biggest shiner available about four or five feet beneath a bobber and drifting or slow-trolling it behind the boat.
The last big freshwater rod-bender, and this one is often called the “ugly fish,” is the channel catfish.
They’re not the prettiest, but hook up with a 15-pounder and your tackle and your stamina will be tested. The channel cat is primarily a nocturnal feeder using its barbels (whiskers) to help locate their food, but generally, if they can get it in their mouth, they’ll eat it.
On several occasions, I’ve caught channel cats on plastic worms, spinner baits and a Johnson Silver minnow while bass fishing on Lake Champlain. In New York, there are channel cats in the Finger Lakes, lakes Erie, Ontario, Oneida and Champlain, the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers and the barge canal system.
Ironically, the state record came from little Brandt Lake. It was a 40-incher, weighed 32 pounds, 12 ounces, and was caught on a worm by Chris Dixon in June 2002.
Several years ago, I spent the night on the concrete wall next to the boat launch at South Bay, Lake Champlain, cat fishing with worms and chicken livers. My eight hours of fishing produced seven cats, which I released with the exception of my biggest, about seven pounds. I gave it to a fellow angler, also fishing all night.
My first channel cat fishing exposure came when I accepted an invitation from Tom Kail of Burnt Hills, who taught me his way of catching these rod-bending ugly fish on Lake Champlain.
It was a day trip fishing from his boat, and we were using shrimp without shells for bait. We launched early in the morning at South Bay and headed north along the narrow sections of the lake where Tom had several areas we would try. At the first area where we anchored, it wasn’t long before Tom hooked up with a four- to five-pounder and before we left that afternoon, we had caught and released about six or seven cats. Definitely a fun day.
This spring, I made my first solo run to Lake Champlain to try the skills I learned from Tom on the channel cats. The night before, I bought the shrimp, and having read an article on cat fishing, I soaked them overnight in vanilla extract. I don’t know if that helped catch the cats, but they definitely smelled a lot better. My plan was to follow what I like to call the “stick pattern.”
As you run north up the narrow part of the lake from South Bay, you’ll notice a number of sticks stuck in the water just offshore. I never paid much attention to them before, but Tom explained to me that they’re where the catfish anglers tie their boats.
So these are the areas I fished, and the pattern worked. I hooked and released nine or 10 channel cats and a few carp, a surprise. My largest cat I estimated to be about eight pounds, and all were a lot of fun on my regular bass fishing outfits.
Take a day off fishing for your favorite freshwater gamefish and try one of these great rod-bending brutes.