St. Lawrence River Smallmouth - with Bonus Walleye: Check Another Trip Off the Bucket List
Updated: Jul 12
Note: Much of this article also ran in the May 19, 2022 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
Fishing guide David Roy splashed our final keeper walleye, a plump fish about 21 inches long, into the live well, then said, “Let’s catch some smallmouth.”
Walleye, a tasty, favored fish for many anglers, can be caught in many waters from Virginia to the Dakotas and Canada. The fish from the colder waters north just seem to taste the best.
Fishing the St. Lawrence River, which separates the United States and Canada and drains Lake Ontario, has been a bucket list adventure for me for decades -- not so much for the walleye but for hard-fighting smallmouth bass.
Roy, who owns St. Lawrence Outfitters launched from Iroquois, Ontario, but we’d be fishing the New York side of the river. Dean Hynes, a Newfoundlander who comes to Roy’s part of southern Ontario to fish and hunt turkey each year, was also in the boat.
Walleye season begins a little earlier on the American side. The fish are in various stages of spawning by early May, having left Lake Ontario to deposit their eggs upstream. Most fish we caught had already spawned. Amazingly, the river was devoid of boats. Except for one other boat plying the same rocky shoreline that fed into farm country, we were the only boat on the water during this first week of the season. Roy intimately knows this section of the river and immediately found walleye in about 35 feet of water. After just a couple of slow, trolling motor passes through the area, we had collected our nine fish limit. We caught many more, with several smaller than the 18-inch minimum, plus a couple that many would consider trophies, up in the 28-inch range. They appeared to have already spawned but Roy believes in releasing these big girls to breed again.
Roy uses medium to medium-heavy spinning rods with braided line with a fluorocarbon leader. I brought my own spinning combo, a new 6-foot, nine-inch, medium-action Johnny Morris Platinum Signature 2000 Series package. I spooled 20-pound braided line, slightly heavier than the line on Roy’s rods.
Rods and anglers received full workouts. After finishing with walleye, Roy headed to water just past the outer margins of the tailrace at a nearby dam, one used solely for water control and not electricity generation. We began consistently catching smallmouth bass ranging from 2-5 pounds. A second move saw us catching fish with almost every cast. It was so constant that Dean and I actually put our rods down a few times to give our hands and arms a rest.
Amazingly, we never changed lures all morning, catching both walleye and smallies on a three-inch, painted yellow/chartreuse blade bait lure, a Silver Buddy, that had a shimmering coating on the side to generate flash. This weight-forward lure had tandem treble hooks with a small bucktail on the rear hook. Whether targeting walleye or bass, you cast the lure, let it swiftly sink to the bottom and then lift and retrieve until you feel the lure vibrating. The fish often hit as the lure fluttered down after a short retrieve.
It was deadly. No one was counting, but I’m guessing we easily came close to catching 75-100 smallmouth bass in less than three hours. “This isn’t the place I go to when I’m in a tournament looking for the bigger fish (which can exceed 7 pounds in the river), but it’s a reliable place to catch a lot of fish,” Roy said.
I’ve fished for smallmouth in a lot of lakes and rivers but never experienced action like we enjoyed on the St. Lawrence. Check another one off the bucket list. Sadly, though, I lost that doctored up Silver Buddy lure in June while fishing the New River in West Virginia.