Barely a week removed from the events of this post (and those that will follow), I already feel a lifetime removed. Now twenty-plus hours drive time from the clear waters of green and sunny upstate New York, I’m only now beginning to feel recovered from the drive to and from as well as the four-days and nearly 50-hours of fishing that fell between. Admittedly a lot to cover, I’ll do my best to keep each post brief and promise to include as many photos as possible along the way.
With that in mind, I’ll start off today with our first day of tournament pre-fishing. My first taste of New York waters in roughly two decades…
Clear skies and blistered hands
Though I arrived in New York on Sunday, May 16th, it was Thursday the 20th before Jake and I finally met on the water. With less than two-days of pre-fishing available before the tournament began, we headed for the Finger Lakes region intent on seeing just how many species we could reasonably manage on a single body of water.
Our target body of water more than six miles in length, we elected to scout by kayak the first day & see if we could isolate any particularly productive stretches of shoreline. Hoping to utilize the wind to our favor, we crossed the width of the lake from east to west and began our day prospecting the rocks and scattered boat docks that littered the western shore.
The water far clearer than any southeastern Louisiana has to offer, the abundance of fish in the lake was quickly apparent as large schools of bluegill were visible along the length of the shore interspersed with smallmouth bass & the occasional lumbering carp working the shallows.
Starting small, I began the day working a white Fluff Butt along the rocks in hopes of checking off a crappie or yellow perch early. However, after my dozenth bluegill in as many casts, it quickly became apparent that the abundance of small sunfish would preclude the use of any fly this small. Swapping to a #4 Chartreuse Clouser’s Minnow, the size of fish began to increase. While the larger sunfish were still in play, a few strong strikes were registered including one that cut clean through my light (8 lbs) tippet.
Perhaps my first encounter with a tiger? I can’t say for certain, but the bluegill caught on the following cast seemed to support that theory. Scalped down to the muscle, the little fish had clearly survived a close call.
Among the docks
A few more failed attempts to elicit the attention of the muskie I assumed had cut me off a few casts earlier, I joined Jake further down the shoreline as the rocks gave way to the aforementioned scattering of docks.
The quality and quantity of fish that held tight to this man-made structure was astounding. Intermixed with the ever present bluegill were crappie, rock bass, smallmouth and largemouth. Of the later two, individuals in excess of 5-lbs did not seem uncommon. Though not quick to bite (no bass that reaches that size is a fool), they were plentiful enough that I wondered aloud why our grandfather had not frequented this particular lake during our childhoods. While neither Jake nor I had an answer to this question, it seemed clear that he had missed out on prime water near to home.
My semi-rhetorical question left unanswered, we returned our attention to the docks, and I was quickly able to check off two knew species for the year. The first a rock bass was large enough that I momentarily thought I had hooked my first smallie. The second, a Pumpkinseed sunfish, I chocked up as an easy catch. Though in the end, it proved a rarity with less than half a dozen individuals landed among the endless bluegill.
Bigger is Better
Having managed a yellow perch (and lost a crappie) on his olive Woolly Bugger, Jake made the swap to a larger streamer in hopes of drawing interest from some of the larger bass that frequented the shade of the docks. Immediately reward with a number of strikes from nicer smallmouth, I followed his lead and began rotating through my streamer box in search of a pattern that might elicit a similar response.
Larger clouser’s largely ignored I switched to an EP Minnow, only to be broken off by a nice smallmouth, before finally settling on one of the 1/0 olive and white deceivers. Admittedly feeling hindered by the floating line still rigged on both rods, I felt confident the pattern could produce on a lake known for its overabundance of alewives.
And after a series of follows and refusals, that confidence was validated as my first smallmouth in nearly two decades was brought to net. Far from a lunker, it still checked another species off the list. Making three eligible species landed thus far. The small largemouth that followed made four with Jake’s lost crappie making five eligible species thus far.
The docks eventually subsiding, we began to put some miles between ourselves and our launch. Still heading south, we made our way to stretch of shoreline Jake felt would hold the six and final species we were hoping to check off our list on the day.
Far from a guarantee, Tiger Muskie were high on our list as the fish was valued at 500 pts in The Mayfly Project’s tournament format. Matched only by select other species, it was a our best bet at a high value fish. One we needed to find if we were to remain competitive in this event. With our sights set on at least 15 species if we hoped to place, we couldn’t afford to miss out on this toothy hybrid.
The wind providing an advantageous drift, we proceeded to launch streamers in the direction of the various dead falls lining the shoreline in hopes of drawing a tiger from the depths.
Relatively uneventful, Jake did draw one strike from a Tiger along the course of our drift. Sadly, the hook failed to stick, and we were forced to chalk the experience up to mere proof of concept.
Dusk now approaching, and four miles between us and our launch, we conceded defeat and began the long paddle back. We had landed four eligible species on the day and confirmed the presence of at least three others. Still a long way from winning, we were feeling good about our progress. Ending the day with craft beer and cold pizza, we laid out our plan for the following morning.