Massena NY, Fresh Water Fishing Capital of the World?
Chris Flint / Sportsmens Compass Contributing Member/Guru
The Freshwater Fishing Capital of the WORLD?
Overlooking the great St. Lawrence River in the Northernmost section of New York State, Massena has been known for its commercial industry. The St. Lawrence Seaway, Robert Moses Power Dam, Alcoa and Reynolds Aluminum are a few big industry leaders that come to mind when you talk business. Over the years I think commercial industry kept well hidden secret out of sight of most anglers. When I think of Massena, NY I think of four great freshwater rivers which all merge together as one creating one of the most diverse freshwater fishing locations an angler will find. The Grasse River, St. Regis River, Raquette River and St. Lawrence River all meet in Massena, NY and because of this it has created an anglers paradise.
Why make the trip to Massena, NY?
Smallmouth bass for me is the first thing that comes to mind. I have yet to travel to a location where I have caught more fish over the five pound class and I have been to some really great smallmouth destinations. The New York State record for a smallmouth bass is 8 pounds 4 oz and was caught on Lake Erie. Could there be fish of that caliber here? A few years ago during a local team championship Brad Paradis on the St. Lawrence river caught a 7 pound 8 ounce beast! In my time on the river I have seen a few other smallmouth that were close to the 7 pound range. This past season while out fun fishing in the fall and doing some filming with Mohawk Trails Guide Service we were able to break the 25 pound mark with five fish! There is no doubt the fishery is diverse when it comes to smallmouth bass and can be caught several ways. Early opening season you can sight fish the crystal clear waters of the St. Lawrence River watching small packs of giant fish roam shallow flats and roadbeds. As the season progresses you can catch them just about any way you want to fish from throwing topwater in the mornings, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits or if you are a deep water angler you can fish the deep channel edges with dropshot, tubes and jigs. Although depending on the technique you use fish can be caught all season long using any of these lure presentations, the only difference is the number of fish you catch as some presentations are better at certain times of the year.
Largemouth bass are the forgotten fish in our area because if you are a bass angler visiting the giant smallmouth often outshine the bucket-mouth. I can assure you the largemouth should not be overlooked here. Catching largemouth in our area is really not that difficult and they can be found in all four of the rivers. One thing about our rivers is they are not overgrown with grass and weeds so when you come across some of these patches be sure to stop and take a look at them. The many coves and bays along these rivers will often have isolated grass or lily pads and more often than not if you throw a frog up around them you will likely find some great largemouth top-water action. During our local club tournaments through out the year I have also seen plenty of 5-6 pound class fish but anglers rarely target them because of the overwhelming population of giant smallmouth bass.
Walleye, which I think are one of our most beautiful species and also make great table fare can be some of the best fishing you will see in the spring and fall times of the year. They will also be found in all four river systems but they seem to grow according to the size of the body of water they live. For example the smaller bodies of water like the Grasse, St. Regis and Raquette rivers will produce smaller weights and also have a reduced size limit of 15 inches as compared to the 18 inch limit on the St. Lawrence River. If you find yourself on one of the smaller tributaries expect numbers of fish to be caught in the 15-20 inch range. The smaller tributaries have a shallow average depth so when you find the right little deep hole you can hit the mother load of fish stacked in that hole and hungry. As you move out into the St. Lawrence River walleyes seem to take on a whole new meaning. They roam shallow flats in the springtime and can easily be caught on traditional walleye baits. As summer transitions the bite stays above average but anglers will often find themselves in depths of 60-100 feet which can be challenging. When the fall transition starts and the water cools walleye push back into the reachable depths and begin to feed aggressively. The 2015 fall season for me was the best I have seen in year catching multiple fish over the 6 pound class. I also have had friends during this season who report catching fish in the 10 pound class. The fall season on the St. Lawrence River can produce massive schools of fish and anglers can expect plenty of action.
Musky fish on all four rivers can be heart stopping. The New York State Record musky was caught on the St. Lawrence River and weighed in at 69 pounds 15 ounces and was 64.5 inches long. Again these fish grow according to the size of the water they live in so if your goal is to break the New York State record I suggest fishing the St. Lawrence River. The numbers of musky caught on the St. Lawrence will not be as plentiful as what you will catch in the smaller tributaries but if and when you hook on the chances are it will be a giant. If you are ever looking for a charter trip and a chance at a true giant, check out Musky Magic Charter service. If you are more of a do it yourself kind of person I suggest you grab a canoe, kayak or small boat and hit the St. Regis or Grasse river and test your gear on the giants that roam the small bodies of water. A pretty easy fishing technique just pick your favorite big fish lure and throw it as close to the bank as you can. A typical day drift on one of these bodies of water can produce multiple catches along with multiple big fish follows.
Northern Pike or the waterwolf as I like to call them. They also roam all four of the river systems and until recently there had been somewhat of a decline in the catch rates due to loss of habitat. Environmental efforts to help these fish have started turning things around and I find my biggest catches come during the opening season early in the spring. This time of year the waterwolf is pretty easy to locate and anglers should be looking for soft murky bottom with old vegetation. The Northern Pike will push to these areas to spawn and your chance to catch a giant at that time are the best before they retreat back to the deeper water where they get harder to pinpoint.
Now that we have covered the traditional freshwater gamefish does not mean we have to stop there. The sport of carp fishing has been popular for decades in European Countries and recently it has taken off in the United States. A technical sport where anglers often bank fish and spend days at a time waiting for that big bite. I have never specifically targeted carp but with my years of time on the water I have on occasion caught them and I understand why they are becoming a popular species to target. The St. Lawrence River grows carp into the 40 plus pound class and these fish can fight. It is also obvious if you are out on the St. Lawrence River in the spring you will see hundreds if not thousands of these fish in the shallow backwaters starting the spawning process. So if you desire that giant gold fish, Massena might just be the destination for you.
Catfish are rarely spoken about in our area and are probably one of the best kept secrets and they also grow large and plentiful. They are in all four river systems and I have never targeted them. I did recently speak to someone who fishes them regularly and saw some pictures. Those big cats are here. I was sworn to secrecy on techniques and locations and because I have never fished for them I guess you Catfish anglers must come search and find out for yourselves how big they really get! But I promise you the pictures I did see prove that there are some really big cats swimming our waters.
I will finish with Trout and Salmon. It is likely unless you are an avid local angler you might not even be aware there is a chance to catch these fish in Massena, NY. Well add this one to your bucket list if you are a local and did not know it. Springtime around the Robert Moses Power Dam, Lake Trout are often caught feeding on the chopped up fish pushed out through the power dam. Deep clear and cold water can hold these fish near the dam all season long. As fall comes trout and salmon migrate from the St. Lawrence River into all three of the smaller systems. As they make their run they can only go so far before they hit a barrier and can go no further. If you know where to look in these areas you can see hundreds of salmon making a fall migration run. Each year in the fall while on the St. Lawrence River friends of mine or myself will hook into a giant salmon passing through the area.
So do you challenge me… is Massena, NY the freshwater fishing capital of the world? I was just getting warmed up I never mentioned the giant perch, crappie, freshwater drum, long nose gar and there is more! Massena, NY is a travel destination that is also easy on the budget, this area is one of the few places you travel where there are no launch fees, great small diners, family owned restaurants and motels that are spread throughout the area. Information finding can be as easy as stopping at a local gas station and chatting with friendly people who are likely as passionate about the outdoors as you are. So as you sit here during the cold winter months planning your next vacation destination why not make it “The fresh water fishing capitol of the world”, Massena, NY.
Don’t chase your dreams…Catch them!!
Chris Flint FLW Costa Series and Bass Open Pro Angler