Fishing with Don Meissner

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

What an incredible day we had last Monday fishing on the Mohawk Reservation where the St. Regis and Racquette Rivers flow into the St. Lawrence. This is one of the finest fisheries that I have ever experienced, and no matter what the conditions, usually it is possible to find and catch fish. We certainly hoped this would prove true as thirty degree temperatures, a steady downpour with a little sleet, and strong winds posed a severe challenge to our comfort and success.

Every species found in the St. Lawrence watershed migrates to these inflowing rivers soon after ice-out. Smallmouths by the thousands find their way upstream to a suitable spawning area, while largemouth and pike seek out quieter bays and channels in response to the same urges. May can be a magical month for any angler fortunate enough to find himself on these waters.

I was accompanied by three friends as we all piled aboard Will Clute’s 20 foot Lund. These are vast waters, and our craft was more than up to the task of transporting us safely and rapidly to several locations. We decided to begin our day upriver on the St. Regis in the shallow rapids that rushed cascading water from the Dam in the village of Akwasasne. This is as far upstream as the migrating smallies can reach, and serves as a collector for hundreds of pre-spawn fish. Dave Swanson and Jim Ingram were my other comrades this day and both were eager to test my boastful expectations. Jim started with a white spinner bait he had modified with an extended trailer hook.

Dave decided to begin with a Thunderhead wobbler, Will tied on a bubble-gum pink colored Fluke, and I chose my trusty orange Hydra. We were all soon into two to three pound smallies. Will caught bigger fish on the Fluke some approaching five pounds. It may have been that he had a better technique, but what seemed most apparent was that those fish were responding to speed and shape. The fluke could be cast into inches of water without snagging and retrieved at variable speeds that may have provoked reluctant observers. The spinner bait required more of a steady speed to maintain its vibration, whereas the Hydra was heavier and less effective than either of the others.
Dave decided to switch to a Dream Catcher cedar plug. Will had told him that these fish had been responding to surface commotion and felt that the Dream Catcher might provoke some strikes if he popped it slowly. There is something about using a surface lure that is more exciting than any other type of fishing. It’s the visual explosion that bombards our senses as we watch in tense anticipation. We all were soon envious of the fun Dave was having, and Jim wasn’t long in tying on the same bait.

While Will and I watched, Dave and Jim caught several three to four pound smallmouths. Our technique consisted of Will positioning the boat thirty feet from shore as we drifted along allowing the two anglers to cast within a few inches of the bank. They would let the bait sit on the surface motionless for a few seconds before beginning the retrieve. As the circus like action continued Dave cast to an eddy formed from a huge submerged boulder that caused the current to sweep around and create a calm pool in the middle. Dave’s lure landed in the center of this calm water and was almost immediately taken under by what appeared to be a smaller fish. As Dave reared back and the barbs bit in, a foot long bronze-back catapulted from the surface. Our smiles turned to shock when the surface exploded as the bass reentered the water. “What the….” I heard someone whisper as Dave’s rod was nearly wrenched from his hand. “Hold on,” I urged, “A giant muskie has engulfed your bass!” Dave stayed silent, almost shocked, as the high pitched sound of dangerously stressed mono rose above the shrieking wind. “He can’t be hooked,” I yelled. “He must have clamped down on that bass, refusing to let go.”

As Dave valiantly held fast, the giant fish began towing our boat across the current. “He is just under the boat!” Will shouted above the wind. “I see it….Its huge…..Must be over fifty pounds…..” Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the battle was over. The muskie opened its gigantic jaws and released the shredded prey. We were left stunned and deflated, although we all realized it had to end that way. But wait….There’s more!

Not ten minutes later a similar incidence occurred as we let the current carry us downstream. Will suggested that we tie on a giant Hydra in preparation for a sandbar that we were approaching. He thought that maybe the cold nasty weather had invigorated the Muskies and that we should prepare ourselves for another fish. Dave selected a long wire leader and a 45 size red and white Hydra. He tried a practice cast near the shoreline where I had just caught two nice smallies on consecutive casts. His lure had barely settled when another massive commotion near the surface foretold a violent attack. It was over as quickly as it began, as Dave’s entire offering was bit off above the 9inch leader. Imagine the cavernous mouth that was able to ingest a seven inch bait along with the leader. SCORE: Muskies 2 – Dave 0!

The rest of the day proved somewhat melodramatic although incredibly rewarding. As we all approached hypothermia, the fishing seemed to get even better. We caught lots of tenacious northern pike, although I had two really bragging sized pike break off. I attributed both lost fish to my over exuberance as I tried to man-handle them to the boat. Maybe my shivering body was trying to speed things up so that we might take refuge at a nearby marina-restaurant

Hunger finally caused even the toughest of us to give in, and we enjoyed a great meal as well as a needed break at King’s Marina. Massive bacon cheeseburgers served with cheese smothered french-fries topped with hot beef gravy were enough to raise body temperatures and spirits. We said our reluctant farewells to the proprietor who had taken pity on Dave’s frozen hands. He presented him with a pair of neoprene gloves which became the envy of the other three jealous anglers.

We returned to the sheltered bays where largemouth bass became the targeted quarry. I became interested in seeing which technique proved most effective. Jim caught the biggest bass of his life by casting a size 25 crawfish colored Hydra along the emerging Lilly pads. The fish was over five pounds, and while much larger are common in these waters, it proved to be the largest taken this day. Jim caught several other largemouth over three pounds using the same lure. He would cast parallel to the weed line and slowly bring the lure back using a twitching retrieve that caused the lure to veer from side to side.

Dave did well using the Dream Catcher Cayuga Runner, a small popping plug. He caught bass both on the surface and below. The lure is unique in that it can serve both as a popper and a shallow diver. Will however proved the bass champion by pitching a large creature type jig back into the pockets of the shoreline. He is a master of pitchin’ and flippin’ and at some later time we will devote a “How-To” segment on his technique.

Yes, we had a fabulous day fishing one of the greatest waters in our country. We caught over thirty smallmouths, twenty pike, and probably as many largemouths. Fishermen always exaggerate, and I am probably not immune to this affliction. But seriously, fishing should never be about numbers. It is an experience that encompasses so much more – the friendship, the involvement with nature, the challenges, the unexpected, the goof-ups, the stories, the serenity, ……Oh well, you get the picture.

And don’t forget the education! Every day on the water should teach us new things. We all learned something new. I was amazed how each type of water dictated a different optimum technique. Every lure has its place, but there is no magic bullet for all fishing. It should be your goal to acquaint yourself with different techniques so that you always have options. I believe that it makes fishing more fun and indeed more challenging. Pitting our feeble wits against what often seems to be a formidable foe makes the sport exciting and ultimately the most rewarding.

- Don

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