This week, I would like to highlight one of the most underfished bodies of water in New York state — the Mohawk River. It offers 140 miles of water and all the popular freshwater species, especially smallmouth bass.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s in our own backyard, the 10-mile stretch between Locks 7 and 8.
Using the old stone abutments west of the Rexford Bridge as our starting point, this week, we’ll fish our way west to Lock 8, and next week, east to Lock 7.
Fishing on the Mohawk
To read the second installment of outdoor writer Ed Nooan's adventures on the Mohawk, click here .
Just before sunup, there are three excellent early-morning smallmouth spots around the Mohawk Valley Marina. A few hundred yards east, on the same side as the marina, is the Alplaus Creek mouth. Directly across from the launch ramp, the shoreline east to the old stone bridge abutments is another good spot, but watch the motor in the shallow water. And the third spot is the island just west of the marina on the south side. Fish both the island’s east and west points. All that’s needed to bring those smallies up and smashing your surface offering in all these areas is an orange-bellied Pop-R.
Notice I did not say what color the top part of the Pop-R should be. Why? Because years ago, when giving a seminar on top-water fishing, I recommended several different colors. A wise old gentleman in the audience asked, “How can bass, who are below the lure, see the color of the top of the lure?”
Once the sun is up and from mid-morning on, I have taken many five-bass limits from the area just past the mooring docks on the Mohawk Valley Marine side of the river.
Begin by working tight to shore with a wacky worm, spider or tube jig. This area has several sharp drops into the channel that can produce good smallmouth bass catches. Watch the depth/fish finder, and you’ll find them. Be sure to fish it up to and a little beyond red marker buoy No. 72.
Across the river and behind the island from there, you’ll find a large stretch of lily pads and weeds. This area can hold both large- and smallmouths, and even an occasional northern pike. For those who like the excitement and anticipation of pulling a plastic frog or rat across the tops of weeds/pads, this is a good place to do it.
Just be sure your tackle is heavy enough to get them out of this jungle. It’s a good idea to have a wacky- or Texas-rigged plastic worm ready to toss into the hole made by any bass that misses your frog. Most of the time when they miss, they’re still there, and if you get a worm back in there, chances of catching one are very good. And if you like flipping a one-ounce jig with a plastic frog trailer, this is a great place to punch the pads.
Continuing west several miles, there are three bridges — a railroad bridge, Freemans Bridge and the Western Gateway Bridge. Beneath the two vehicle bridges on both sides of the river are good spots to toss a quarter-ounce chartreuse/white willow leaf spinner bait or a Rat-L-Trap. At the railroad bridge just west of red buoy No. 86, each abutment should be fished with the plastics (tubes, spider grubs, wacky worms, etc.). Fish them tight to the structure and all the way to the bottom. When the smallmouths are schooled here, the action is fast and fun.
Actually, any permanent outcrop — wood abutments, walls, etc. — can hold smallmouth and/or largemouth bass and should be fished. When fishing these bridges, especially in the marked channel, be careful and yield to other river traffic using the channel.
Just before you get to the Western Gateway Bridge, on the north side of the river is the point of the Isle of the Cayugas. It’s marked by red buoy marker No. 100. This point is an excellent spot to cast top-water lures first thing in the morning for schooling and feeding smallmouths. You can also stay in about 10 feet of water just off the point and make long casts with deep-diving crankbaits or a Carolina-rigged tube or four-inch motor oil-colored worm. Fish your way all the way up the channel side of this island with jigs and plastic baits. Fish this area slowly and deliberately — the bass are there.
Directly across on the south side of the river from red buoy 100, there’s a small, shallow, often weedy bay. Start fishing the shoreline about 300 yards east of this bay, and work it westward. I’ve had the best smallie luck there with rootbeer-colored tubes and spider jigs. Continue right across the mouth of this bay, keeping your boat in about eight feet of water. At the west point of the bay, there’s a 10- to 12-foot-deep hole that usually holds a smallie or two.
From there to Lock 8, I run-and-gun with a spinner bait and a Rat-L-Trap, fishing obvious river points and flats looking for schooling smallies. When you catch one, don’t be too quick to leave — usually where there’s one, there are more. And don’t be afraid to drag that Carolina rig across these areas before moving on.
On the way up to the lock, make a dozen or so casts at the two island points (east and west) of the Isle of the Oneidas. These are always “must fish” spots, and should be tried several times throughout the day.
The last area to fish here is around Lock 8. This area, especially around the lock dam and falls, is very dangerous. Always obey the danger signs, and stay well behind them. The waters near the dam are very swift, and can be trouble for all boaters who are not extremely cautious. It’s not worth taking a chance just for the sake of catching a fish. This same warning also applies to the walls around the lock doors itself.
Stay away from the dam!
HOW TO FISH IT
The Carolina rig I mentioned may be new to some. It’s a very good technique that every bass angler should have the makings for in his bass kit.
Start by cutting off a 16- to 24-inch piece of line from your reel. I prefer 12-pound test. Slide a half-ounce brass or tungsten slip casting sinker on your main line, followed by one or two brass beads, then a barrel swivel. These are the noise-makers. Tie one end of the cut line to the barrel swivel and the other to a 1/0 worm hook.
As for the lure, there are many plastics that will work. My choices, in order of preference, are: three- to four-inch tube, four-to six-inch plastic worm and a spider grub. I rig all of these baits Texas style, with the hook covered. Black with metal flake, pumpkinseed and any crayfish-colored piece of plastic will work. The Carolina rig is a great technique for finding fish.
Make long casts and let it sit on the bottom for a few seconds before doing anything. Keeping the rod tip high, pull the bait slowly, allowing it to stir up the bottom several feet, then take up the slack. Repeat the retrieve all the way back to the boat. When the bite is felt — it sometimes feels like pulling on a rubber band — don’t be overanxious to set the hook. When you set the hook, be sure you’ve taken up all the slack, and set it hard.
Attention walleye anglers: Last week, Dan Stadler of Schenectady and his cousin, Joe Horvath of Pennsylvania, spent three days fishing this stretch of the Mohawk River, targeting and catching walleyes. In the three days they fished, Dan and Joe hooked up with a total of 64 ’eyes, over half of which measured the state limit of 15 inches, and four of them measured over 26 inches, the biggest, a 28-incher weighing just over seven pounds. They kept just two five-fish limits of the 15- to 17-inch fish for the frying pan, and released the rest.
“I think this was the best walleye fishing I have ever experienced on the Mohawk River,” Stadler said.
Stadler’s method wasn’t anything new, but there was one little difference. He was using the traditional spinner-and-worm, slow-trolled and bottom-bounced with a night crawler in seven to 16 feet of water. He worked both the channel drops and the channel, which will result in lost tackle now and then, but the loss was obviously worth it — that’s why they call it terminal tackle.
The slight difference, he said, was color. The most popular walleye spinners are usually red/white or gold; Stadler switched to chartreuse and gold, and started catching fish. He also added that it’s not necessary to use a full-size night crawler. The worm is there more for smell and flavor.
Next week, I’ll head east, fishing the Rexford Historic Aqueduct, cliff areas on both sides of the river, two small waterfalls, largemouth holding weedbeds and some good small/largemouth backwater holding areas near Lock 7.