St. Lawrence River named best bass fishery in the nation

By on August 5, 2019
Veteran bass angler Bob Hendrick with a good example of the size these Thousand Island region smallmouth bass are now growing to. Provided photo

Veteran bass angler Bob Hendrick with a good example of the size these Thousand Island region smallmouth bass are now growing to. Provided photo

The prominent Bassmaster magazine released their rankings of the 100 best bass fisheries in the nation for 2019 and, New York’s St. Lawrence River has earned the prestigious top spot. Over the past seven years, the St. Lawrence River and the eastern end of Lake Ontario have been in the top 10 twice. But this year, New York’s amazing smallmouth fishery would not be denied as the number one bass fishing destination in the country. The rankings identify the Top 10 lakes in the nation based on head-to-head comparisons.

The process of creating the rankings takes more than two months. State fishery agencies across the U.S. are polled and rank the fisheries in their states based on stocking efforts, catch rates and angler access. B.A.S.S. Nation conservation directors then add to the potential lakes list based on the thousands of tournaments they hold across the country. Finally, the data from dozens of tournament organizations, as well as big bass programs from various states, is analyzed to create the ultimate list of the Top 100 lakes. The rankings are debated by a blue-ribbon panel of fishing industry insiders. The final result of all this research and debate is Bassmaster’s 100 Best Bass Lakes rankings published in the July/August issue of the magazine. 

Competition for the number one spot is fierce. Alabama’s Lake Guntersville took the number two spot after producing several 30-plus-pound limits this spring. Texas’ Sam Rayburn Reservoir slipped from number one last year to number three in 2019. Rounding out the remainder of the Top 10 lakes are Texas’ Lake Fork at fifth; Tennessee’s Chickamauga Lake at sixth; California’s New Melones Lake at seventh; Michigan’s Lake St. Clair at eighth; South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Lakes at ninth; and another one our own – New York’s Lake Erie (out of Buffalo) at tenth.

The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series was held June 19 through 21 on the St. Lawrence. In this event, a 26-pound, 6-ounce limit of smallmouth was weighed in. However, the most astounding statistic is that the average weight of the entire 149-team field was 20.3 pounds. The winning team from Sam Houston State University averaged 24 pounds, 4 ounces per day. The Carhartt Big Bass Award for that event was a 6-pound, 7-ounce giant. 

“The St. Lawrence is not only healthy right now, but seems to be showing off,” said James Hall, editor of Bassmaster magazine. “There have been years where a spirited internal debate was required to assign the top spot in the rankings. This year was easy after looking at the unbelievable weights being produced at the Upper St. Lawrence River. And on top of that, the scenery is stunning. If you are looking for the best angling experience in the country right now, the St. Lawrence River should be your next destination.”

I first fished the St. Lawrence River as a teenager back in prehistoric BC (before cellphones) days. You may remember the pre-cellphone days when the world actually engaged in real conversation and wasn’t constantly staring down at a tiny hypnotic screen. There was plenty of bass up there then, but their size was nowhere near the giants that are being caught there now. The practice of catch and release plus the fact that these current bass are feeding on the protein-filled round goby has allowed the St. Lawrence River smallmouths to grow to record-breaking size. 

Back in August of 2016 Patrick Hildenbrand landed a Godzilla of a smallmouth bass weighing 8 pounds 4 ounces while fishing in the St. Lawrence River at Cape Vincent, New York. The fish, which measured at 21.5 inches long and 20.75 round, tied the New York State smallmouth record set in 1995 by Andrew Kartesz on Lake Erie.

Hildenbrand says that he released the fish back in to the river after taking its measurements, so she is still swimming and could be caught again. 

My first trip to the promised-land was when a friend’s father, James Miller, Sr. (Poppy), took a few of us neighborhood kids fishing and camping at Burnham Point State Park on the St. Lawrence River, five miles east of Cape Vincent. For me, it was love at that first smallmouth bass and I haven’t missed a year fishing the region since.

Poppy Miller passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 86. He was the persona of an old-school fisherman and in his younger days could out fish any of these softies in their $70K bass boats on their best day. I was glad I had an opportunity to thank Poppy when he was alive for introducing me to the St. Lawrence River. 

I know he is fishing with my Dad on the great bass waters in the sky. Up there every old outboard motor starts on first pull and the weather is always sunny with just enough of a breeze for a perfect drift along the drop-off. The bass are all over five pounds and, of course, the coolers are always full with ice-cold beer. 

Not bad … we here in Western New York have the number one and the number 10 best bass fisheries in the nation, all within a three-hour drive. Now tell me again why you aren’t fishing?