Days Gone By – St. Lawrence Smallmouth Bass Fishing
There was a time before golden arches blighted the landscape and Interstate 81 was nowhere to be found on road maps when an all-day drive – and sometimes an overnight stay — was required to enjoy a fishing adventure in the 1000 Islands Region of Ontario.
Getting to the St. Lawrence River
So good was the bass fishing that awaited anglers on the St. Lawrence River, however, that neither the hardships of two-lane roads nor the delays of traffic lights were going to prevent those annual fishing trips, that bass fishing anglers spent all year eagerly awaiting. It didn’t even matter if the sandwich bread became a bit stale and the meat and cheese somewhat bland in the waxed paper wrappers of the pre-packed lunches or that the ice in the picnic jugs failed to keep the tea or lemonade cold throughout the entire St. Lawrence fishing trip.
Good Bass Fishing is Worth the Drive
When weighed against the bass fishing that lay on the other side of the trip along Lake Ontario, up through the 1000 Islands, the inconveniences of road hazards and delays were taken in stride. None of that mattered to the eager bass fishing angler, because that’s how good the largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing was.
St. Lawrence River Fishing Issues of the Past
Overfishing and Invasive Species Impacted the Bass Fishing
Well, those days are back as the mighty St. Lawrence has recovered from decades of too much catch-and-keep fishing and the invasion of zebra mussels that found their way into the Great Lakes and their tributaries, creating real concern over the future of one of the world’s great fisheries. This invasive species, which got into the water when bilges were discharged by ocean-going vessels, quickly adapted to their new freshwater homes and feasted on microscopic aquatic life, turning stained water that had served as cover for baitfish crystal clear.
Smallmouth Fishing Guide Problems
When the baitfish moved, so too did the gamefish that fed on them, making for some hard times for charter captains, guides and private recreational anglers. Well, clearly (pun intended), based upon first-hand experience the last two years, the recovery of bass fishing on the St. Lawrence is a story of nature taking care of its problems without the interference of man.
Turning Tides for the Bass Fisheries of the St. Lawrence River
A few years ago, a longtime friend and lifelong bass angler, Tom Banditelli of Tamaqua, Pa., and a group of anglers who annually fish with him on the St. Lawrence began to see a change for the better. Because of the clear water, subsurface vegetation was growing earlier than usual, attracting baitfish and gamefish alike.
Great Fishery for Anglers
While still overseeing his auto body and tackle shop businesses, Banditelli spends more time than ever on the St. Lawrence as a co-owner of Caiger’s River Side Resort, located three miles east of the 1000 Island Bridge near Mallorytown, Ontario. For more than 50 years he has been fishing Canadian waters, enjoying the good times, enduring the bad times, and now – in his opinion – experiencing the best of times.
Bigger Bass on the St. Lawrence River
“Last year, we started to notice bigger bass being listed consistently on our catch-and-release board at Caiger’s,” Banditelli said. “Even first-time fishermen were catching fish between three and four pounds; and when we saw some of the pictures people had on their digital cameras, we knew some were even bigger.”
Professional Tournaments Bring in Big Fish
Last May all the boats in their annual catch-and-release pike tournament brought in their three-fish limit, with the smallest weighing more than six pounds, the heaviest more than 11. According to local guide Doug Amos, that was the most pike and heaviest pike he has ever seen in any tournament in the area.
Monster Smallies for Many Bass Fishing Anglers
From the opening of bass season the last weekend in June, through the end of the season in October, many anglers – even first-time fishermen – were catching bass between four and five pounds, and the winning boats in two tournaments held by bass clubs from Pennsylvania had limits of five pound fish. “When things started to turn around two years ago, we hoped it was a sign of things to come; but we never expected to see what we saw last year – which was the best fishing I’ve seen since first coming up here when I was in high school,” said Banditelli.
Catching Smallmouths While Big River Fishing
Banditelli credits catch-and-release angling for contributing to the bass population’s rebounding. As for the greater number of bigger and heavier fish, it seems the bass have learned to feed on the very zebra mussels that were once seen as leading to the demise of the fishery.
Ideal Water Levels to Target Bass
According to Amos and other guides from the area, another factor that contributed to productive fishing in the 1000 Islands Region on the St. Lawrence was that for the first time in recent memory the water level remained at nearly spring level throughout the season. This allowed for plenty of deep water for safe boating in many areas where low water levels late in the season makes them impossible to target smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Finding The Bass on the St. Lawrence River
In addition to consistent catches of heavy smallmouth, the numbers of largemouth bass are on the rise. Last summer most of the bigger smallmouth were caught along drop offs and rocky areas between eight and twelve feet deep, and the largemouth were holding against bull rushes and submerged timber.
Other Species for Great Fishing on the St. Lawrence River
As a bonus, for those who enjoy eating panfish, the dark-colored water in channels has been holding record-size crappie and perch. Battling larger-than-hand-size crappie and 14-inch perch on light and ultra-light tackle provides its own unique challenges. Now, if there was just a way to eliminate all that never-ending road construction on I-81.
Original Article By Doyle Dietz
About The Author
Doyle Dietz and his wife Betty reside in Orwigsburg, PA. He currently serves as outdoors editor of the Pottsville Republican and Herald and the Shamokin News. He is a member of PA Outdoor Writers’ Association and the Mason-Dixon Writers’ Association and is blackpowder editor for The Browse Line, a publication of the PA Deer Association.