Fishing Tips

St. Lawrence River Smallmouth Fishery May Be Best in the Country Right Now

Posted 9/20/2018

Yamaha Pro Brandon Palaniuk Not Surprised at Recent Tournament Results

A year ago when Brandon Palaniuk first saw the 2018 Bassmaster® Elite Series tournament schedule, he predicted it would take a 100-pound catch to win the four-day event on New York’s St. Lawrence River, and the Yamaha Pro missed his guess by less than five pounds. What’s amazing is that he was predicting a weight for smallmouth bass, not largemouths.
“There is no question the St. Lawrence smallmouth fishery is one of the best anywhere right now,” notes Palaniuk, who weighed in 89-2 for the tournament and finished seventh. “Everyone was stunned by the weights we brought in, but actually, I believe the big fish have been there for several years. The timing for our tournaments has just been a few weeks too early.”
The St. Lawrence River – also known as the St. Lawrence Seaway – flows northeast for 700 miles from Lake Ontario across northern New York and portions of Ontario and Quebec before emptying into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. It has been known for its remarkable fishing practically since it was discovered in 1535 by French explorer Jacque Cartier.  
The St. Lawrence has been a favorite fishing destination among bass anglers since 1978 when B.A.S.S.® conducted its first tournament there. During the early tournament years, largemouth bass were targeted rather than smallmouth, because they always weighed more. This year, by contrast, Yamaha Pro Matt Lee brought five smallmouth to the scales the first day that weighed 27-12, the heaviest one-day smallmouth catch ever weighed in during Bassmaster competition. That same day, 52 of the 107 competitors weighed in at least 20 pounds of smallmouth.
“Most people agree two primary factors have changed the smallmouth fishery,” continues Palaniuk, the 2017 B.A.S.S.® Angler of the Year. “They are the presence of two invasive species, zebra mussels and a small forage fish named the round goby. The goby was discovered in the St. Lawrence in 1990 and some predicted the smallmouth fishery would be eliminated because gobies are known to eat bass eggs. 
“Instead, just the opposite has happened. These gobies, which are just three or four inches long, have become the primary food source for the smallmouth. The reason we haven’t caught so many big smallmouth before is because our tournaments have been scheduled just a few weeks earlier, before the bass had completely recovered from spawning.”
Palaniuk, like the majority of contestants, caught his smallmouth on a dropshot rigged with a goby-imitation soft plastic bait. The Yamaha Pro’s heaviest smallmouth of the event weighed more than six pounds and anchored his second day’s catch of 25-12.
“I caught my fish between 18 and 30 feet deep, and I concentrated in spots where I found a combination of large rocks, smaller gravel, and sand,” he explained. “Many of the fishermen did a lot of running from place to place, but I concentrated in a single 15-mile stretch of the river so I could spend my time fishing instead of running. The water is really clear because of the zebra mussels and in places I could see the smallmouth I was catching in 20 feet of water.
“One of the trickiest problems with St. Lawrence River smallmouth,” continues Palaniuk, “is that the schools of smallmouth move a lot. I’m not exactly sure why it happens, because the gobies don’t move that much. The river’s strong current would just wash them away, so they’re always around the rocks for shelter. It’s usually difficult to re-locate the bass, however, because there is so much habitat for them.”
Even so, concludes the Yamaha Pro, there are enough smallmouth in the St. Lawrence to satisfy any bass fisherman, and if a trip to the river can be scheduled between August and mid-September, the biggest smallmouth will probably be biting. Y