June 17, 2022
By George Fiorille
The New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) made a number of changes to the fisheries rules and regulations in an effort to simplify the laws around the state for 2022. Among the most notable alterations was bumping up the opener of the bass season to June 15 from the third Saturday in June.
Thomas Russell, an avid bass angler, is sure glad they did.
Russell, a resident of Albion, N.Y., caught a smallmouth bass weighing 8 pounds, 5.8 ounces while competing in a team tournament held at Cayuga Lake on June 15. Pending certification, the fish will break the New York smallmouth record, which is currently 8 pounds, 4 ounces and shared by two anglers. Andrew Kartesz set the record with a Lake Erie smallmouth in 1995. Patrick Hildenbrand tied the mark in 2016 with a Lake Ontario catch.
Besides landing the potential state record fish, Russell and his cousin Eric Sullivan won the Finger Lakes Open Partner Trail event with a 5-fish limit of smallies that weighed an astonishing 30 pounds, 15 ounces. They earned a $1,850 payday for the win.
Russell’s trophy fish was caught on a dropshot rig using a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow in white pearl while utilizing 12-pound test line. Russell said the fish came out of 8 to 10 feet of water.
After weighing in the fish and posing for photos with it, Russell released the giant female back into the lake. Russell plans to have a synthetic reproduction made of the fish.
The DEC has not officially announced the record as it’s believed the scale used to weigh the fish for the tournament was being certified. Once that process is completed, it’s expected Russell’s fish will assume the top spot on the list of supreme smallmouth catches in the Empire State.
Cayuga Lake has seen several of its fish species experience a growth spurt of sorts over the past decade or so. This is believed to be as a result of round gobies entering the lake through the New York State Barge Canal System. The gobies originally entered the Great Lakes from European ships that dumped their ballasts in Lake St. Clair. After the invasive species established themselves in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, they made their way through the Erie Canal into Cayuga and neighboring Seneca Lake. Gobies are now also found in other systems around New York, including the Mohawk River, Hudson River and Lake Champlain.
Sawbellies and alewives are also prevalent in Cayuga, but the gobies have provided another significant forage base for smallmouth to feast on and in turn, the smallmouth have been packing on weight. Russell and Sullivan aren’t the first duo to collaborate on a 30-pound limit at Cayuga. In May 2019, Chris O’Brien and Casey Smith posted a 30.92-pound total in a catch-weigh-release tournament since it was held prior to the state opener.
Cayuga is the largest of the Finger Lakes stretching almost 40 miles long. It’s 3 1/2 miles across at its widest point and has area as deep as 435 feet. The northernmost 10 miles of the lake is a bass fishing haven with plentiful vegetation and cover.
Over the past decade, Cayuga has been one of the top bass lakes in the Northeast. A leading bass publication rated Cayuga 13th best in the Northeast and it has hosted a number of major bass tournament, including the Bassmaster Elite Series on several occasions. Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour is slated to visit the lake for an event in August.