St. Lawrence River/Thousand Islands 7/7 + 7/8


Got up to Cape Vincent around 10 am on Monday. The last time I fished there was back in 1980 while up with my friend Chris. We still-fished and trolled for smallmouths back then and did pretty well. I was going to launch out of Clayton, but I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm, so I stopped at the Cape. There’s a nice public town launch there so off I went.

The river (or Lake Ontario) is wide there and there are plenty of shoals. It’s generally a good smallmouth area. As I launched my boat the wind started picking up and the river began to whitecap. Oh well. I worked some smallmouth stuff around Carlton Island. Didn’t do much except for a perch. I did see a nice sized drum. It was hard to drop shot and work deep stuff with the wave action. I settled for throwing bubblegum colored super flukes in the shallows south of the island and managed a decent 15 to 16″ smallmouth bass and lost another. Tons of perch were everywhere. I jigged up one decent perch on a spoon in 40′ of water. Caught another bass off Millen’s Bay on the fluke and that was it for the first morning/afternoon. OK fishing – not great by any means – but a start. BTW, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in the rudeness of the pleasure boaters out on the river. There is zero respect for “right of ways”, minimum distances between watercrafts and other “trivial ;-)” regulations out there. People are just oblivious on the river. I had big yachts and Bayliner type boats zinging by at close range. It’s just the way things are up there. I rarely encounter that sort of ignorance on the Fingers!

I met my buddy Jared at Clayton around 5 pm and we set up “camp”on the ESF island and after a little tour and a bite to eat we went fishing. He’s done a ton of fisheries research on the river, mostly on muskies. He also fishes it a lot and knows plenty of good areas. I was psyched! I gave him the helm and let myself be guided for a change – which felt great.

He asked me if I wanted to catch some pike. Of course I would. So we went to a bay that featured a nice weedy flat surrounded by deep water. He said we’d get a pike within 10 casts. I threw my shaker along the outer weed edge with confidence. The area looked great. On my second cast I had a solid hit ala a pike or big walleye. I set the hook and was surprised at how strong the fish was. It beelined for deep water and I couldn’t do anything but watch line peel off the reel – like hooking a big carp. I was confident in my 14lb. Fireline and 40lb bite leader. I tightened my drag a little bit. The fish dogged me determinedly for a bit, then switched directions and ran again. It ran near the boat. I kept expecting the fish to give up or at least tire out. I said to Jared “this isn’t fighting like a northern”. It wasn’t a big drum either, which would have been a good guess – except the fish didn’t do the circular type of drum fight. I kept repeating – “this isn’t a northern”. I’ve caught a lot of pike up to around 16 to 17lbs – and this wasn’t fighting like any of them. I didn’t know what it was. I saw a brownish drum like flash and Jared saw a greenish flash and long shape. Then my jig popped out of the fish’s mouth! What a bummer!

Jared then caught a nice fat pike – around 32 to 34″ long and probably 9 or 10lbs. We hit a couple other areas before it got dark. I got a small pike and a bass. We tried night casting for walleyes without luck. The midges (small non-biting insects) were very thick out there. I couldn’t help but talk about the “one that got away”. On the next day Jared told me that he “didn’t want to say anything, but felt that I probably had a musky”. I didn’t think about it at the time I had the fish on, but that may well have been what it was. It fought very much like the nice Tiger Jared had hooked a couple weeks ago at Otisco. Strong runs, some herky-jerky dogging, then a run or two under the boat. The other ESF people at the island had a 20lb+ dead musky in a cooler that was destined for Cornell for autopsy. VHS is still around and some locals “called in the dead fish” after they found it. Looking at the musky, I couldn’t help but think that’s what I’d hooked – though mine wasn’t a 20lber – the fish I hooked felt like it was around 12lbs or so. Hooking muskies isn’t too uncommon around the area we fished in late June/early July according to Jared.

We tried some largemouth fishing on day 2 in a south shore bay. No luck. We then worked a nice shoal for smallies. Jared hit some nice fish there and I caught one or two. Goby tubes on a 3/8th tube head did the trick. He had a meeting to attend to, so we took a break and I drop shotted another nice bass from the island’s shore. Rock bass and perch were everywhere – just like I remembered from 28 years ago!

Over the course of the trip Jared pointed out the hundreds of smallmouth bass beds all over the river shoals and around the islands. He sawtons of big smallmouth bass spawning on them. The weird thing about places like the St. Lawrence River and Black Lake (to name a couple) is that catch and release fishing really isn’t that popular over there. Guides are well known for their “shore lunches” and tackle stores are full of photos with happy fishermen grinning over big stringers of bass. They harvest plenty of bass. Jared recalled talking to a boater fishing around the ESF island who was wondering “where the bass went?” He said they’d hammered them the week before. Did you keep them? Yeah we kept 10 nice ones. Jared told him – “Well there was another 20 + boats that also fished the area over the past week and hammered and kept fish. We’d seen around 50 bass total – so maybe you have your answer as to ‘where the fish went’ now!”

We hit a few other areas on Day 2 and Jared managed a big smallmouth on a wind blown shoal. I kept the boat positioned. He also took a couple more decent fish. I felt out of the groove – just a day late and dollar short on every lure I selected. It was a bit of a fishing rut – not making adjustments, having too many rods out and general lethargy. But a good thing to deal with!

Overall, I enjoyed the river and the trip a lot. Next time, I’d try further downstream. I’d also get a Canadian License if I stayed longer. The US side gets fished HARD! Beautiful area, plenty of fish – though it can be challenging. The current, bigwater, deep fishand wind make for challenging angling. The post-spawn smallies can be tough. DEC has netted smallies on bottom in 120′ of water in the river! Many fish are often in 30′ to 50′. Back in 1980 we often fished 40′ of water – and this was BEFORE zebra mussels! I wouldn’t feel confident in any tournament with what we’d scraped up. According to Jared, the fish were around beds a week ago and the fishing had been great – it wasn’t hard to get 8 or 10 nice bass in one area.