It’ll be interesting to see how many anglers will be on our lakes and rivers for the opening of pike, pickerel, walleye and tiger muskellunge seasons this Saturday.
Some may be dressed in camouflage. Why? Because it’s also the opening of spring turkey season. The last time this happened was in 2004. I remember pulling my boat over to a farm on the east side of Saratoga Lake well before sunup, hunting until 11 a.m. (got my tom), and then going directly to Saratoga Lake to fish for pike. I’ll bet there’ll be many doing the same thing this weekend.
Now from what the panfishing crowd has reported, these freshwater toothy predators should be biting.
Let’s take a look at some of the waters that each year offer early-season fishing action.
One notable omission from my list is Saratoga Lake, only because of the lack of reported pike catches the last couple of years. I had very few reports this winter of big pike taken through the ice, but this is an amazing lake, and it can fool you. You’ll have to make the call.
For northern pike and walleyes, the Great Sacandaga Lake is hard to beat. For years, it has produced outstanding catches, and the fish taken through the ice this year were outstanding. There were a number of 40-inch-plus, double-digit weight pike and two-foot-plus walleye pulled from its depths. For pike, concentrate on the flooded areas in the southern basin. Any of the many bays on this big lake can attract springtime pike. They frequent these areas to feed because of the warmer waters. Once the water and air temperatures increase, they move out into the deeper areas. It’s also a good idea to work the shorelines. Quite often, the females, after spawning, will hang around or revisit their spawning areas.
Similarly, the walleyes often hang out near their spawning creeks. Work these areas slowly from the shallows into deeper water. You might also want to try trolling the channel edges and off the edges of the many shoals found here.
Another very popular walleye lake which should attract a lot of attention this weekend is Oneida Lake. Several years ago, I spent a May day on this lake with a walleye guide, and was quite impressed with our catch. We boated two dozen ’eyes from 16 to 23 inches, two of which traveled back to Saratoga in an ice chest and ended up on a barbecue grill. For most of the day, we concentrated on five- to 10-foot depths just off the northern shore. I’m not a big trolling fan, so I enjoyed casting a Rat-L-Trap and catching a few, but the best and most bites came while trolling stickbaits like Rapalas, Rattling Rouges and shad-colored, deep-diving crankbaits.
We finished the day in an off-shore area called Schoolhouse Bar, two miles from the state launch in Briggs Bay, where we had launched. There, in addition to trolling the edges, we drifted bottom-bouncing one-quarter- and three-eighths-ounce hair jigs tipped with worms. The jig colors were mixes of black, yellow, brown, chartreuse and orange. In this same area, we also caught and released some awesome smallmouth bass on chartreuse jigs.
Lake George is another very productive pike fishing destination. Early May into June is a good time to be tossing big half-ounce white and/or chartreuse twin-bladed spinnerbaits trailed with three- to four-inch Mr. Twister tails around in the southwest corner of the lake. Sit outside the buoys marking the weeds and make long casts. Moving up the lake and into Dunham’s Bay, toss that same bait along the weed edges. If you like bobber fishing with a big minnow, this is a very good place for it. Chances are you’ll probably be rewarded. I’d work the back end of the bay, also, and try to get under the bridge — that creek can hold toothy surprises. This is one lake where big bait can attract big fish. Other areas in the South Basin that hold northern pike include Kattskill, Warner, Basin and Boon bays.
One of the sleepers in the North Country for pike is Schroon Lake. This lake has and will continue to produce some double-digit pike again this year. In spring, the best starting point is in the weeded area around the Schroon River at the north end of the lake. From there, work your way on the east side of the Word of Life Island and fish the large sunken boulders in 10 to 15 feet of water. They can hold some very nice northerns.
From there south, on the eastern shoreline, toss a spinnerbait or big pike-size Mepps spinner into the shallows and work it back to the boat. Work this all the way south to the narrows.
I’ve caught some 30-inch springtime northerns along this shore, slow-drifting with a large shiner down about three to four feet beneath a big bobber. You’re allowed to fish with two rods, so put that live bait out the back of the boat and drift down the shoreline. But lay the live bait rod on the floor of the boat or in a rod holder. Big pike can pull in a rod and reel outfit very quickly.
For your last stop, fish the extreme southern end of the lake. Work your way casting flashy spinners or a Rat-L-Trap to the shore starting in front of the Eagle Point State Campground on the west side of the lake, all the way in and around to the state launch site. Work this area thoroughly, and if you can get a slow drift, drag that big shiner beneath a bobber along behind you. Set the bait about four feet down, and use a small pinch-on sinker to keep it down.
For the past few years, the Mohawk River in the Albany/Schenectady area has been producing some very good northern pike. I really don’t know what to expect this year, but several veteran river anglers think this year will be good again. The two areas that should produce are in the Crescent Pool between Locks 6 and 7, and the Alplaus stretch between Locks 7 and 8. Both offer a number of weed-covered areas which are always good spots to start looking for pike.
For pike in the Alplaus stretch, weeds are also the key. You’ll find plenty of them to toss flashy spinnerbaits at and/or watch a big bobber with live bait. Some of the areas to consider are around the Alplaus Kill, the island just above the Mohawk Valley Marine launch site and the south side of the river shoreline just above Freemans Bridge.
In the Crescent pool, there’s also a chance of hooking up with a tiger muskellunge. Each year, the Department of Environmental Conservation releases tigers nine to 10 inches long in several areas. Last year, in the Colonie section, they stocked 6,200, and in Niskayuna, 3,500. Tigers are a naturally occuring cross between muskellunge and northern pike that grow quickly. It’s estimated they’ll grow from 10 to 15 inches each year.
When you hook up with one of these giants, you’d better have a good rod, reel and heavy line with a long steel leader, or chances are you will never land them. They’ll fight you right to the end, and that makes them a true trophy. Once one is alongside the boat, I suggest handling it as little as possible and releasing it gently back into the water. If you want to preserve the memory of your tiger, take the measurements (length and girth), several good color photos and give them to a taxidermist who will reproduce your tiger. And remember, when you take those measurements, always round numbers upward.
If you want a little less water traffic and still have a chance of catching a decent “toothy critter,” there are two choices. The first is Lake Lonely, that had two northern catches through the ice this past winter that weighed more than 10 pounds each. Both were released.
The action can be anywhere in the spring. I’d launch at the boat livery on Crescent Avenue and go under the bridge and out to the lake. If you like using artificial lures, start where the lake opens up, using a three-eighths-ounce chartreuse/white spinnerbait trailed with a white twister tail all along the northern side of the lake. And drag a big, live bait, as mentioned above, beneath a bobber. At the far end of the lake, you might want to try still fishing with the live bait. The beauty of this lake is you can fish it all in a day. If you don’t have a boat, one can be rented at the livery on Crescent Avenue.
Cossayuna Lake in Washington County is another little lake with good pike and tiger muskellunge. The same lures and bait tactics will work here, as well. Begin fishing right near the state launch site in the north end of the lake, and work the shallow weeds out to their deeper edge. Slowly work the eastern side all the way down to the end, and spend some time bobber-watching those big shiners swim around off the edges of the weeds. This lake, like Lake Lonely, can be completely fished in a full day.
Saturday evening, after you’ve finished cleaning all those fish, drop me an e-mail with all the details so I can include them in my Fish Tales column. And if you got a turkey, let me know so I can include it in Turkey Tales. Send your tales to: [email protected]
Good fishing and hunting.