Fishing with Don Meissner

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Monday, June 16, 2008

As I have so often raved, the waters of the St. Regis, Racquette, and St. Lawrence that flow through the Mohawk Reservation at Akwasasne in upstate New York, offer some of the finest fishing on the continent. I was fortunate to spend another day here with guide William Klute and was accompanied by Jim Ingram and Bill Haenel. It was Bill’s first time one these waters, and after hearing about my last outing, he had some pretty big expectations.

Anytime you have four people fishing out of the same boat, it becomes difficult for everyone to have the same chance at any given spot. Usually the person operating the trolling motor has the best position and invariably someone is going to be stuck with “fourth water”. However, Will is great at making sure that as the day progresses, each person gets as shot at “first cast’. Will is also a great teacher and is constantly sharing valuable tips and experiences. Its one thing to tell someone when they are doing something wrong: Will, on the other hand, never criticizes. Instead, he suggests improvements.

When we arrived at the boat launch, we were greeted with water so muddy that it seemed doubtful that our baits would be seen. Will decided to go downstream to the St. Lawrence and concentrate on largemouths in some of his favorite bays. Here the water would not be affected by the run-off caused from the previous night’s thunderstorms. It was immediately apparent that the weed growth had changed the characteristic of these bays from our previous week’s visit. The increased vegetation cover along with a total lack of wind seemed ideal for a surface presentation.

Will chose a Zoom “Horny Toad”, a soft plastic frog replica that features paddle like legs. The lure is comes with a large single hook that can be rigged weedless by burying the hook point in the frog, much the same as a TEXAS rigged worm. (GO to the video for a how-to presentation of this lure.) I was amazed to see the acion of this lure as it is retrieved through almost any type of cover. As the legs flip up and down, the lure emits a buzzing sound that the largemouths on this day seemed to find irresistible. Bill wasn’t long in taking Will’s advice, and the two of them kept me entertained as I became more interested in watching the water boil as fish after fish came after their tantalizing offering.

Jim remembered the good results that we enjoyed on our last trip with the Dream Catcher “Cayuga Runner”, a hand crafted cedar plug that can be fished both above and below the surface. The hanging treble hook keeps this lure from being weedless, but Jim was able to fish it effectively through areas where I had expected it to become entangled. Fishing behind the rest of us, Jim was able to take several three pound bass that had ignored our offerings.

The key here is that some fish respond to one presentation, while others preferred a different style. It may depend upon what mode they were in at the time. Remember that at any given period, some fish are more active than others. The “Horny Toad” was a steady retrieve lure, whereas the “Cayuga Runner” was more a stop- and-jerk type of bait.

I caught several fish on a “Texas – rigged” Magic Stick. These fish took the worm as it was slowly crawled or dropped along the edge of the floating banks or weed edge. Interestingly, the larger fish seemed to respond to the surface lures, although I did catch several over two pounds. While pike were not as active as on previous trips, Jim and Bill caught several smaller fish that were holding close to the shoreline. For every pike taken, there must have been three that missed the lure. I have observed this on other occasions when fishing similar cover with surface lures. It further illustrates the fact that all game fish strike differently. Pike will often hit from the side or even jump over the bait. They attack with such ferocity and speed, that they often miss the target.

Largemouth bass create a suction by the quick motion of their gills. They are more accurate and are usually easier to get a hook set. Smallmouths tend to swim toward the angler after grabbing the lure or bait, and can be difficult to hook. Other species like lake trout will try to wound the bait and then return later to ingest the hapless or dying victim. Knowing how fish attack their prey better enables the angler to select the proper hook set up.

After several hours of fishing the bays, we returned to the St. Regis where thousands of smallmouths remained stacked in the rapids just below the dam. This is as far as these fish can travel upstream and is the preferred spawning grounds. The water was still the color of chocolate, and I jokingly commented to Will that I would bet one hundred dollars that we would never get a strike. Jim soon proved me wrong by landing a typical two pound bass. He had taken Will’s advice and tied on a white spinner bait. That lure proved to be the only thing that the smallmouth would react to. Either they couldn’t see or hear any other lures. Bill and Jim caught a half dozen decent fish, but Will still had a final trick up his sleeve. “Let’s go back out to the St. Lawrence. There is a shoal that usually holds both smallmouth and walleyes. Besides, the water will be clear” he promised us.

This was my last chance to show off. So far, all three of my fellow anglers were kicking my butt. For years, I have had more success with a 3/8 ounce bucktail jig than any other lure. And yet, as new lures come out, I often find myself buying into faddish trends. Will said that in this clear fast water, a bottom crawled tube was usually the best choice. Jim and Bill were becoming white spinner bait disciples and could not be persuaded to switch. I quietly tied on a black and blue “Louie Barkley special” bucktail and threw upstream. I didn’t want the jig to hit bottom (contrary to popular belief) so I began an aggressive retrieve where the jig was made to hop several feet and then fall back. It probably appeared more like a minnow than a crayfish or bug.

In less than twenty minutes I caught and released five nice bass, one of which was over four pounds. Bill was the only other person to get a strike. However his fish was the trophy of the day, and Bill’s largest bass ever. I am sure that the white spinner bait will now take top billing in his tackle box.

n summary, we had another fabulous day of fishing. Everyone caught lots of fish, but what stands out is that there were several methods that proved effective. I believe that the most important aspect of fishing is in knowing where the fish are. If you can locate them, and you are proficient at a certain technique, chances are that if you stick to it, you will eventually be successful. To see more on this day’s experience, check out the accompanying photos and video section.

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