My family is in the midst of packing for our trip to New York. We are heading out to let my younger son compete in the ever-popular baseball tournaments that are held in Cooperstown. While this particular trip will be all about baseball, whenever I travel to New York, I can’t help but think about the outdoors.
I have spent considerable time fishing and hunting in the Empire State. I know, it sounds odd to me too when I say it out loud. Most of us always think of New York City when the state is referenced. Vast swaths of urban landscape and scores of people cloud the reality that is the rest of the state.
The outdoor opportunities are abundant from the eastern-most boundary to the western-most. I have no doubt that when I cross the state line I will be thinking especially about the fishing in New York. In one word – awesome.
The eastern most part of Lake Erie, or the Eastern Basin, is home to some of the fiercest smallmouth I have ever wrestled. There are lots of huge rocky reefs scattered about the area that fish just pile up on. One particular practice day for a tournament always flashes back to my memory.
I was running across the big water to a popular reef I wanted to check out. As I was scorching across the lake’s surface I had an eye on my flasher checking the depth as I went. All of a sudden it shot up and back down in an instant. I immediately came off plane and turned the boat around to check it out.
Sure enough, I had found a really small rock pile. It was about the size of a two-car garage. It wasn’t on any of the maps I had or on the electronic topographic map on my GPS. It was too small to be noticed. Instantly, I was excited by my find.
I picked up my rod and dropped a tube jig into the rock pile. The water was smooth as glass and the sun was bright with no clouds. Terrible conditions. Finally, I saw my line tense up just slightly. I reared back and set the hook hard. It felt like I had snagged a rock, then the rock started to swim and fight! Hold on!
When that smallmouth rolled the surface I nearly had a stroke. It was the largest brown fish I had ever caught or seen in the water. I successfully landed it and laid it on the measuring board. It hung off the end!
In hindsight I should have put it in the livewell and run back to the nearest certified scale. I am positive it was close, or maybe could have been, a new New York state record. Instead I quickly released it back into that little rock pile with the hopes that I could return during the tournament and catch that same fish.
The weather turned overnight and running the thirty miles across Lake Erie became impossible due to monster waves. To this day, I have never been back to that mysterious little reef that I found by accident. Was that fish a state record? Who knows? What I do know is that is was the biggest smallie I have ever landed and there was absolutely no one there to witness it besides me!
I was practicing by myself. There was not another boat in sight and this was the era before everyone carried a phone that had a camera in it. My story and my memory are mine alone and I will never forget it. I would like to think that same brown fish still lurks atop that rock pile and waits for careless crayfish to show themselves.
I don’t know if another angler has ever even fished that little pile. It was truly like finding a needle in a haystack. Odds are someone has, but in my mind, I was the first and last to fish it.
Yes, New York is home to amazing fishing. If you ever have the opportunity to wet a line there, please do. Besides Lake Erie, I have had great catches on Lake Champlain, the Hudson River and Lake Oneida. It truly is a gem in the angling world.