My favorite … The Thousand Islands

By on August 7, 2017

Of all the tremendous places we have to fish in New York State, my all-time favorite is the Thousand Islands area. When it comes to great fishing mixed with outstanding scenery, the St. Lawrence River/Thousand Islands region can’t be beat.

 Kevin Van Dam has got nothing on this guy. Poppy Miller with a nice mess of Thousand Island bass. Provided photo


Kevin Van Dam has got nothing on this guy. Poppy Miller with a nice mess of Thousand Island bass. Provided photo

It is also the favorite of many of the Bassmaster Elite anglers, especially Kevin Van Dam who just earned $100,000 for winning the recent Bassmaster Elite Tournament held in the Thousand Islands out of Waddington, New York a few weeks ago. Where the heck is Waddington, New York you ask? It is a tiny town some fifty miles northeast of Alexandria Bay, the village listing its permanent resident population at 972. But during the week of this tournament that number swells to 34,000; all to see the best professional bass fishermen in the world competing.

Bassmaster Elite fisherman Kevin Van Dam won this Thousand Islands tournament with a whopping four-day total of 90-3; one of the highest ever recorded by an Elite Series angler, weighing in only smallmouth bass. Kevin is regarded as one of the top smallmouth anglers in the history of the sport. The man has won over six million dollars in Bassmaster events in his lifetime and that’s not to mention the millions in endorsements. He has won 20 Bassmaster tournaments and named Angler of the Year six times.

Van Dam put on an incredible show all four days of the event, rotating among a variety of lures. During the early stages of the tournament, his primary technique was drop shotting with a chartreuse Strike King Dream Shot in strong current.

“I was fishing it just as fast as I could,” Van Dam said. “I’d bomb it out there, let it hit the bottom, shake it once and one would just load up on it. That’s how I caught that 24 pounds the first day. But I had to mix it up every day. Smallmouth are very aggressive by nature, but you have to give them what they want for whatever mood they’re in.”

Van Dam, who also recorded victories in B.A.S.S. events on the St. Lawrence River in 1995 and 1999, said, “Sometimes they’ll chase something 20 yards and eat it, and other times they’re just really timid.” As the week progressed, Van Dam also used several different jerk baits, swimbaits and a wacky-rigged Strike King Ocho.

All that being said, Kevin Van Dam has got nothing on a young Poppy Miller. Poppy in his prime back in the day could have out fished Van Dam with one hand behind his back. That is, if they both had to use Mitchell 300 reels, Ugly Stick rods, a Tadpolly for a lure and fish out of a 14 foot aluminum rowboat powered by a twenty-pull start Johnson 10 HP.  Doing all this while holding a cream ale in your other hand and not spilling a drop. Van Dam would likely quit after the first day.

Mr. James Foster Miller, Sr. (Poppy) was a City of Rochester police officer back in the 60’s and is the father of my buddy James Foster Miller, Jr. Poppy was the first person to take me to the Thousand Islands when I was a teenager.

Back then The Islands, as we called them, was one of those mystical places I had heard about but never thought I would actually get a chance to fish. Then when I was sixteen or so, Mr. Miller took a few of us neighborhood boys and his son for a weekend of camping and fishing. We camped at Burnham Point State Park on the St. Lawrence River just outside of Cape Vincent, New York. For me it was love at that first smallmouth bass I caught and I haven’t missed a year fishing the Thousand Islands region since.

The village of Cape Vincent sits at the head waters of the St. Lawrence where the river takes in what Lake Ontario can send her (no, Gordon Lightfoot got it from me). Cape Vincent is more or less the beginning of the Thousand Island area. Wikipedia tells me there are actually 1,864 islands, but I’ve only counted 1,860. Officially, the Thousand Islands region is the stretch of the St. Lawrence running from Cape Vincent to Massena, New York.

Though a little longer drive from Rochester than the last few lakes featured in this column, (a three-hour drive), it is well worth the trip.  Besides the great fishing, there is a ton of history and it is a great place to take the family for a long weekend. Families can take in numerous attractions, including the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton or Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay. Watching the huge freighters that travel the river is worth the trip alone.

The fishing is great along the entire stretch of river, but in my opinion, Cape Vincent is the best section of waterway to fish because of its proximity to Lake Ontario. From the middle of August to the end of September, the walleye fishing in this area is great. And we are talking big boys, a 10-pound marble eye up there won’t even raise an eyebrow. There is a nice free launch in Cape Vincent. From that launch head for Carleton Island, but be careful of the Featherbed Shoals that lay in wait for your lower unit between the launch and the island. There is a walleye hotspot on the northwest corner of the island referred to as the Ironman.

Once there, if you troll pull worm harness or stick baits; if you prefer hands-on, go with a black 3/8 ounce jig tipped with worm. I bet Hick’s Shiver Minnow would be deadly there as well.  Night fishing is popular on the Ironman and it will be lit up like a small city when the walleye bite is hot.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the King of the St. Lawrence River, the muskellunge. The state record was caught there back in 1957 at 59 pounds, 15 ounces and 64.5 inches long. We are talking a submarine caught by legendary muskie angler Arthur Lawton.

I would like to personally thank Mr. Miller in print for taking me to the Thousand Islands so many fish ago. Without that trip, I may have taken the wrong path in life and become a criminal or, worse yet, a politician. Poppy is still fishing the Thousand Island waters at the age of 86 and has passed the love of fishing down to his sons and grandsons.

Now go explore the Thousand Islands. The summer is trying to get away from us.

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