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Bass Fishing Brings Back Memories Of Al O'Marah

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

Ogdensburg's Mike Bell displays large Finger Lakes largemouth bass.

The recent heat wave brought feelings of summer, warmer water temperatures and yet another excuse to get outside. Many people are beginning to break out their gear, pull boats from storage and plan days on the water. In the coming weeks, bass season will open across New York, arguably the most popular fish species targeted in the summer months. Will you be bass fishing this summer? I know I will!

I began fishing for bass at a very young age with my dad and grandfather, and later with my best friend Jim. As a boy, I learned to fish for bass in shallow water with small lures and spoons, and in deeper water with a weighted marabou jig, tipped with a worm or minnow. After the Round Goby arrived, live bait tactics grew frustrating, and we learned to fish bass exclusively with artificial baits.

In my early teens, I was fortunate to spend time with the late Al O’Marah, a retired police dispatcher and Northern New York Bass Masters tournament angler. This is when the bass fever really set in.

Al took me all over the St. Lawrence River, Black Lake, Cranberry Lake and elsewhere with his fishing buddy Steve and his nephew Joey. We spent a couple of summers fishing a great deal together, and I learned a lot from all of them. Al passed in 2011, but he left behind a great legacy that was put in trust with the NNY Junior Bass Masters Club, a youth fishing organization that is still going strong today!

Fishing in the Junior Bass Masters, my love for the sport only grew. While I do not get to spend the whole summer on the river like I used to, I still love to bass fish. I do it from shore, from a kayak and from a boat whenever I can. Over the last few years I have fished bass from North Country farm ponds to the Erie Canal, and from Saratoga to the Finger Lakes. Our state truly has some of the finest bass fisheries in the nation.

In New York, the season opens each year on the third Saturday in June and runs through the end of November. Bag limits are five fish per day. Certain catch and release regulations, and other specific size limits may depend on the area of the state that you are fishing. Be sure to check the state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations for your area.

For the second straight year, the Bassmaster Elite Series is coming to Cayuga Lake, B.A.S.S. announced this week.  Some of my favorite tactics for early summer bass include senkos, spinnerbaits and artificial topwater frogs. I really love fishing with senkos throughout the entire season. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — you really ought to keep senko style baits in your regular repertoire for bass fishing. It’s no secret, and there is a reason for that! Spinnerbaits are a great way to cover water and target more aggressive fish. As for the frogs, topwater fishing is just plain cool! Any and all of these baits will work by itself, but they pair well together. I will often fish an early morning topwater frog, and when I miss a strike, I will follow up with a cast from the senko. For whatever reason it is a really effective combination.

While I have not fished competitively in some time (aside from annual opening-day derbies, of course!), I love to keep in touch and follow along with those that do. There is a whole lot to learn from tournament anglers!

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Michael Bell, an up-and-coming tournament angler out of Ogdensburg. Mike has been fishing seriously for about a decade, and has been fishing competitively for around four years.


Kennedy: What’s your favorite body of water to bass fish in New York state and why?

Bell: Picking a favorite body of water is a hard one, but it’s between my home water, the St. Lawrence River, and Lake Champlain. Both are such incredible smallmouth fisheries (which is my favorite species to target) but each can produce great largemouth fishing opportunities as well!

More online Explore topics from today's column with these resources online: • Kennedy: What has your experience been like bass fishing Cayuga Lake? How is that different from your home waters?

Bell: Cayuga lake was a fun learning experience for me. The vast size and depths of the lake make for a lot of areas where bass are in different phases, just based on where on the lake you are fishing. I fished the shallower north end, which is much warmer, but five miles down the lake I could see a 5-10 degree change in water temperature. I was targeting shallow, spawning largemouth hanging around grass that was growing better than in other places I had found. The lake differs from my home waters in that it is a deep grass lake, as opposed to the swift river fishing and small, shallow lakes at home.

Kennedy: What are some of your favorite bass tactics and how do they change depending on the body of water, depth, conditions, etc.?

Bell: My favorite baits/tactics are the drop shot, along with swimbaits, chatterbaits and spinnerbaits, and the Ned Rig. I feel these are very versatile, and can be effectively fished most of the year, and in most conditions (deep, shallow, sunny, cloudy, etc.). 5150 Plastics has had all of this covered for me. I feel those baits will get you “bit” in most places!

Kennedy: What quick and easy tip would you give the everyday angler or beginner who wants to find success fishing for bass?

Bell: The best tip that I could give to the everyday angler or one just starting to fish, is to try and find some water at a decent depth (5-10 feet), with weeds, rocks, wood or whatever structure you can find, and pick it apart.

When I first started fishing in small rivers I did not know a lot, but if it looked like it held fish I tried it, and a lot of times I would catch something!

You can find Mike and follow along with his outdoor adventures at @nnybassangler on Instagram. I hope you get out and chase some bass this summer! They are abundant, aggressive, humbling, and delicious — America’s fish.


NOTE: Nate Kennedy is a Liverpool resident who works in Waterloo. An Ogdensburg native, he is a lifelong hunter and angler who holds an master's degree in environmental communication from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and heis a 4-H educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. Kennedy loves to write about and share his outdoor pursuits and his column appears the final Sunday of the month in the Auburn Citizen and on this website after it has appeared in the newspaper.

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