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What to look for, where to go when bass fishing’s big day finally arrives

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Saturday, June 16, is a special day on the sportsman’s 2012 calendar as that date marks the opening of bass season. In light of Saturday’s opener, here’s a look at the bass fishing regulations and a look at a number of area waters that promise quality, opening-day action:

STATE REGULATIONS

Statewide regulations include two seasons for smallmouth and largemouth bass. The first one is the traditional season that runs from the third Saturday in June through Nov. 30. During that period, the minimum length requirement is 12 inches, and the daily limit is five bass.

The second season is a catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only season that runs from Dec. 1 through the Friday preceding the third Saturday in June. The waters in four counties in New York State are closed during the catch-and-release season, and those counties are Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, and St. Lawrence.

Special Bass Regulations for St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties: In addition to the closed catch-and-release season in St. Lawrence County waters, other special bass regulations are in effect. For one thing, the minimum length requirement for bass on all rivers and streams, except the Raquette River impoundments and those covered by the Great Lakes regulations (St. Lawrence River and tributaries to the first barrier), is 10 inches. Also, the minimum length requirement for bass on Black Lake, including the Indian River from the falls in Rossie downstream to the confluence with the Oswegatchie River, is 15 inches. Finally, when fishing on Tooley Pond, anglers are restricted to the use of artificial lures only and catch-and-release fishing.

Special regulations for Jefferson County call for a 10-inch minimum length requirement for bass taken on the Indian River and on the Black River upstream from the Dexter Dam.

ST. LAWRENCE RIVER

At this time of the year, smallmouth fishing is good along the entire length of the river from Cape Vincent to Massena. Expect bronzebacks to be in the vicinity of spawning areas such as tributaries, bays, shorelines, islands, and large flats. The best spots will have gravel, rocks, and mild current. Areas of scattered weed growth in the 8- to 14-foot depths can also be productive. Effective lures include tube jigs, Senko-type baits, in-line spinners, and jigs tipped with twister tails. A live minnow suspended below a small split-shot is a “can’t miss” offering for early summer smallies.

LAKE ONTARIO

The salmon and trout fishing in the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario overshadow the quality smallmouth bass fishing there. Good bets for early summer action include Chaumont, Black River, and Henderson bays, as well as Point Peninsula, Pillar Point, and Stony Point. Near-shore gravel areas will likely produce the best action. In addition to casting traditional lures and drifting live minnows, anglers should have good luck running minnow plugs on planer boards.

BLACK LAKE

Black Lake is not only one of New York’s best bass waters, but it also has been ranked among the top bass destinations in the entire country. Thanks to the 15-inch minimum length requirement instituted in 1996, the lake has an abundance of big bass, both largemouth and smallmouth. In early season, largemouths can be found throughout the lake in shallow water (6 feet or less). Simply work any shoreline or weedy bay. Any bass lure will take bucketmouths at this time of the year, but the traditional favorites are the plastic worm and jig and pig. On windy days, though, a spinnerbait might be a better choice. Because of their increasing numbers, smallmouth bass are fast gaining in popularity among Black Lake anglers. Prime locations for smallies include rocky points, rocky dropoffs, island shorelines, and mid-lake shoals. Sure-fire offerings include tube jigs, Senko-type worms, and live bait.

INDIAN RIVER LAKES

The Indian River lakes offer numerous opportunities for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Butterfield Lake covers 1,005 acres, and it has prime habitat for both species. Largemouth bass are particularly abundant near the massive weedbeds at the lake’s north end. Smallmouths favor the southern half of the lake, where they can be found near steep dropoffs, rocky points, shoals, and areas that have a combination of weeds and rocks. Red Lake (400 acres) offers the chance for largemouth bass up to six pounds and smallies up to four pounds. Weedy bays near the state launch and in the lake’s east hold largemouth. Smallmouths prefer the rock ledges extending along the north and south shorelines.

Grass, Clear, and Crystal are three additional lakes that harbor both largemouth and smallmouth populations. Grass (320 acres) and Clear Lake (180 acres) have public access while Crystal (122 acres) has private access. Because of extensive aquatic vegetation, Payne, Moon, and Hyde lakes offer first-rate fishing for largemouths. Varying in size from 160-175 acres, these three lakes reach a maximum depth of 15-20 feet, and they have state access.

RIVER ACTION

Early bass season is a great time to fish the north country’s small rivers such as the Black, Indian, Oswegatchie, Grasse, and Raquette. Smallmouths are the bass of choice on these waters although some stretches of the Indian and Oswegatchie rivers harbor largemouths. Launches offer access for various size boats, but these rivers are best suited for small boats and canoes. Shallow stretches even afford wading opportunities for bronzebacks. Dozens of access points (launches, bridges, highways) along each river allow for float trips of various lengths.

RAQUETTE RESERVOIRS

The construction of hydroelectric dams on the Upper Raquette River resulted in the creation of eight reservoirs commonly called the Upper Impoundments. Each reservoir has a decent smallmouth bass population, and prime spots include necked-down stretches with current, boulder-strewn areas, points, island and shoreline dropoffs, tributary mouths, and weed edges. At 3,000 acres Carry Falls is the largest reservoir while the smallest reservoir is Five Falls at 122 acres. The other six impoundments and their size in acres are Stark Falls (600) Blake Falls (700), Rainbow Falls (700), South Colton (230), Higley Flow (1,135), and Colton Flow (154). All of the reservoirs have public access, and camping is available at Carry Falls, Blake, and Higley Flow.

CALENDAR

Monday: Lisbon Sportsmen’s Club hosts trap and skeet shooting at Pray Rd. property at 5:30 P.M.

Friday: Frog season opens in New York.

Saturday: Traditional bass season opens in New York.

Saturday: Muskellunge season opens in New York.

Saturday: SLRWA hosts annual Smackdown (Mike at 384-3450).

Saturday: SLVSC hosts annual Opening Day Bass Derby.

Saturday-Sunday: Henderson Harbor annual Bass-Walleye Derby (938-5313 or 9387-333).

June 20: Public Input Meeting on state forests in Northern St. Lawrence County at St. Lawrence Central School at 6 p.m.

June 23: Public Input Meeting on state forests in Northern St. Lawrence County at Madrid Waddington School at 9 a.m.

June 23-24: Free Fishing Days in New York.

June 26: DEC conducts annual Wilson Hill Goose Drive.

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