Go Fish!

Editor’s note: Long gone are the days when outdoor pursuits were seen as a strictly male endeavor. Women are flocking to the mountains, rivers, woods and streams in ever increasing numbers, trying their hands at everything from snowmobiling and long-distance solo hiking to kayaking, camping and everything in between.

This surge in female interest in all things outdoors also extends to hunting and fishing.

A 2018 report from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and The Outdoor Foundation found that 49.1 million Americans went fishing in 2017— 1.9 million more than in 2016. And 35.8 percent of the NEW fisher folks were women, making them the fastest growing demographic in the sport.

As you head out to celebrate this three-day Labor Day holiday, perhaps you’re looking for some out-of-doors activity to try. Why not consider picking up a pole? Fishing has the unique capability of being both fun AND relaxing. It’s also a great thing to do with kids. And if you don’t catch anything, well, a day on the water – or at its edge – is hardly a day wasted.

CivMix contributor Laura Cardwell is an avid fisherwoman. The photo that accompanies this piece is a Smallmouth Bass she caught herself. She has some suggestions for newbies looking to break into the sport locally…Enjoy!

Question: What are the three most beautiful words in the English language?

Answer: Get the net!

Despite our best efforts to ruin our local waterways with toxic waste, there is excellent fishing to be had in creeks, ponds, lakes, reservoirs and rivers around the Capital Region. Whether you’re hoping to break a state record or simply want to relax for an hour after work, fishing is a great hobby to explore.

Warning: you’ll get hooked!

Getting started is easy. If you have analysis paralysis, Conroy’s Bait Shop in Watervliet is a great locally-owned resource for tackle, bait, and information.

Assuming you’re trying to target fish that are less than 10 pounds and don’t have big teeth, all you really need is a basic setup with a spinning reel that has 6 or 8 pound test line on it. Ugly Stik is a good choice if you’re accident prone. It can even withstand being slammed in a car door.

Select a pack of fishhooks in a few different sizes – the Crappie/Panfish Assortment is good – and if you want to use weights, a bag of tin split shot sinkers. Bobber is optional. You will also want pliers or a multitool in case you need to cut line or remove a swallowed hook (by a fish, hopefully, and not a human).

Don’t forget your New York State fishing license ($25 for residents, one year). For bait, a can of worms will do the trick for many species. If you’re going for bigger fish, you can use minnows (hook them right by the dorsal fin so their movement isn’t restricted and they don’t die too quickly). And finally, make sure you have a net. Nothing worse than a big fish falling off because you forgot the net.

A frequently asked question asked by new fishermen and women: Should I eat what I catch?

This is entirely up to you. Many anglers advocate for CPR fishing (catch, photo and release) to ensure fish aren’t being removed from waters at unsustainable rates. Still, it is a very rewarding experience to catch and cook your dinner. Depending on the size and species of your catch, you may need to whack it over the head with a fish bat or stab it through the brain (ikejiri) to swiftly end its suffering. Bring a cooler or a stringer and make sure your fillet knife is sharp.

Be aware that many waterways in the Capital Region have health advisories for eating fish – particularly for young people and pregnant women. Avoid any flesh with visible small black parasites or anything that doesn’t look right.

Here’s a list of what you might be catching locally:

– Trout

Native trout populations have dwindled with increased pollution and development. Several times a year, the DEC stocks area waters with catchable brown, rainbow and brook trout (our state fish!). While many of these “stockies” are snapped up in the first week trout season is open, plenty more swim up and downstream and provide action throughout the year.

Stealth is key when fishing for trout. They spook easily, so the smaller and more natural looking the bait or lure, the better. Fly fishing is popular when insect larvae are hatching. Trout tend to gather in deep pools sheltered from fast currents, but don’t be afraid to fish rapids, too.

Trout season in New York opens April 1 and ends Oct. 15.

– Channel catfish

Active at dusk and at night, attract these slippery hunks of muscle with stinky and/or live baits fished on the bottom. My best channel here was about 10 pounds, caught using an old pork chop my friend forgot in her fridge, and I caught a 20 pounder in the Baltimore Inner Harbor on a small ball of bread!

Channel catfish are easily distinguishable from white catfish and bullheads by their forked tail. While they can grow to be huge – the state record weighed 35 pounds – channel catfish are not big enough to noodle for unless you’re a small child.

Pick any floating dock or shoreline on the Hudson River and enjoy! I have had good luck at Hudson Shores Park in Watervliet just past where the Rusty Anchor used to be moored. Big channel catfish especially like areas where currents change direction or where two water bodies converge. If you’re fishing a tidal river like the Hudson, within a couple hours on either end of incoming tide is most productive.

– Striped bass

Each year in mid-spring, shad and herring run up the Hudson River from the Atlantic, followed closely by hungry striped bass and even hungrier fishermen and women. Striped bass are anadromous – they reside in saltwater once mature, but return to freshwater to spawn.

Striper season is a big deal in the Capital Region. The turnaround point of the run is Federal Dam in Troy, and you can find dozens of fishing boats out and about on the Hudson for much of May. From I787 during the run, fishermen line up shoulder to shoulder anywhere there is access along the river.

Spawning size fish are not petite, and you will need sturdy tackle if you want a chance at landing a monster. Herring and shad are the best baits, but striped bass also go for mackerel, bloodworms (don’t Google image search this right before bed), eels, and artificial lures.

If you’re not sure what you’re doing and don’t own the gear needed, it might be worth looking into a chartered trip – there are many local captains who know how to put people on fish. The current state record, caught near Newburgh in 2014, was 53.4 inches long and weighed 60 pounds.

– Northern pike and chain pickerel

Pike are wolflike predatory fish who hunt in packs and have 300-to-500 sharp teeth that point in every direction to ensure prey can’t escape. They like shallow, weedy areas with lots of cover where they can sit and wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. Northern pike are a very popular gamefish.

Northern pike can be found in bigger lakes and rivers throughout the region, while pickerel are happy to live in smaller ponds. They are often found in very shallow water right after thaw. Think like a predator: Where do smaller fish like to congregate?

Chain pickerel are brighter green, much smaller than northern pike and are often considered a nuisance by bass fishermen and women. Both pike and pickerel secrete a TON of slime and don’t like to be handled, so make sure you remember pliers and a net.

Pike and pickerel will both go for live minnows and artificial lures that mimic a swimming fish. They strike quickly, which is very exciting and gives little margin for error! Use a wire leader so you don’t have to retie line every time you get a bite. It’s not uncommon for pike (or chain pickerel) to saw off line while fishing for bass, endlessly frustrating if this means losing $10 lures!

Northern pike season is closed from March 15 to the first Saturday in May.

– Smallmouth bass

In my opinion, if you like largemouth bass better, you’ve never fought a big smallie. Pound for pound they fight much harder than largemouth bass do, entertaining fishermen and women with acrobatic jumping displays and violent attempts to shake off your hook.

Smallmouth bass can be found all over the area in lakes and rivers with rocky bottoms, including the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. The Tomhannock Reservoir in Troy is another great spot to fish for them (additional permit required from City of Troy).

Both large and smallmouth bass will go for soft plastic lures like Senkos or curly tail grubs (my favorite is the Zoom Fat Albert), crankbaits, and in warmer months after they spawn will hit topwater lures like Whopper Ploppers. Popular live baits include crawfish and nightcrawlers.

– Largemouth bass

Big Mouth Billy Bass. The most common member of the black bass family, largemouth bass have large “bucket” mouths and enjoy hiding under lily pads and weeds in ponds and lakes. In the water, they are easily identified by a lateral black stripe and black tails.

Largemouth bass often take bait and lures rather lightly, unless they smash it – then it’s like a freight train hitting. For whatever reason, there’s a massive billion dollar industry built around catching them. Around here there are tournaments on Round Lake and Saratoga Lake, but you can pretty much fish anywhere for largemouth.

Technically speaking, Bass season starts the third Saturday in June and ends Nov. 30. You can eat them, but they aren’t renowned for being tasty.

– Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, Redbreast Sunfish

Sunfish are pretty, fun to catch and are good eating if the water is clean! There’s action in almost any sizable body of water, including city park ponds and lakes accessible by public transportation, and they share habitats with just about all other fish species.

The simple yet classic bobber and worm setup works well to target sunfish. They have tiny mouths and are quick to spit hooks, so wait until they really make a run for it before setting your hook and reeling in.

Bluegill and pumpkinseed can be found everywhere, including Buckingham Lake and Washington Park Lake in Albany. Redbreast sunfish have vivid green patterning near their eyes and can be found in the Adirondacks, including the Hudson River near Corinth. There is good access off of Spier Falls Road.

Daily limit is 50. Go to town.

Tight lines, all!

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