The other white meat With a wealth of cold water, habitats ranging from high-elevation ponds to raging rivers and from deep-water lakes to tiny, backwoods brooks, the Adirondack region has historically been considered a haven for trout and salmon. While trout are an indigenous species and remain widely distributed throughout the region, there are far more bass sequestered within the Blue Line’s waters these days. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, bass are actually considered an invasive species, responsible for a vast reduction in the native trout population. Although bass can — and do — co-exist with trout in many Adirondack lakes and ponds, the ongoing and illegal introduction of this highly competitive forager is partly responsible for reducing native brook trout populations to less than 3 percent of their historic range. Evidence of the ability for bass and trout to cohabitate was proven in June of 2009 when Tom Yacovella landed a 5-pound, 4.5-ounce brook trout on Raquette Lake, where there is an abundance of smallmouth bass. The current state record smallmouth bass at 8 pounds, 4 ounces was taken by Andrew Kartesz on Lake Erie in June of 1995. Ironically, the New York Fish Commission was responsible for the initial introduction of bass into the Adirondacks, which occurred on a cold January morning in 1872 when fish culturist Seth Greene released just five dozen smallmouth bass into Raquette Lake. At the time, Dr. James Henshall, a Cincinnati physician and a passionate angler, was promoting the smallmouth bass as a game fish far superior to trout or salmon. He advocated for the broad distribution of the species throughout the country and authored several books on the subject. As trout populations across the state began to show signs of becoming depleted, New York Governor Horatio Seymour ordered that bass would be stocked. Although the state later named one of the High Peaks in his honor, fisheries biologists still curse at the mere mention of his name. After planting the bass, Greene admonished Adirondack anglers with a plea, “If anyone should catch these fish, please put them back.” His request for primitive catch-and-release was heeded. In less than a decade bass were well-established throughout the entire Raquette River watershed and they had been introduced to many local ponds. Satisfied with the initial efforts, Greene continued to trap bass from locks of the Erie Canal and transported them via a refrigerated rail car of his own invention. Eventually, Greene stocked bass all across the state and even used his refrigerated rail car to introduce the Lake Champlain strain of smallmouth bass into the Napa River (Calif.) in 1874. A few years later, bass from Crystal Springs Reservoir provided a source for additional stockings throughout the state. The current California record smallmouth bass of 9 pounds, 13 ounces is likely a Lake Champlain strain.
Photo by Joe Hackett
Due to their extremely aggressive nature, bass provide an ideal target for introducing kids to fishing. They are plentiful, easy to catch and put up a fine fight. Best of all, they are easy to release.