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Friday, February 23, 2024

Getting the Most Out of Your Lake George Life

How to enjoy the summer like a Capital Regionite.

The excitement of battling a bruiser bass or the exhilaration of a leaping salmon on your rod is something everyone should experience. Enthusiasts often travel hundreds and thousands of miles to far-off places, saving vacation time for a year to do what Capital Region anglers can do within an hour. Lake George in September offers these thrills, and two special events (The King George Fishing Derby and The Lake George In-Water Boat Show) are aligning and will keep you inspired well into the autumn. Lake George has a teeming population of both smallmouth and largemouth bass. The transition to lower water temperatures starting around Labor Day stimulates more action from the fish, and significantly less boating traffic returns the ownership of “Queen of American Lakes” back to the anglers. Bass aren’t the only species on the prowl, lake trout start schooling up in tight pre-spawn packs, and really start biting. The landlocked salmon, though, are what gets everyone truly excited! These battling beauties fighting ability is epic, but their coloration during spawning season is something you’ll always remember.

The Derby
The Fourth Annual King George Fishing Derby will take place September 15th and 16th taking advantage of the awesome fishing conditions. Four divisions of fish will have prize structures; largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, lake trout and landlocked salmon. There are separate youth divisions as well.

There are conservation efforts employed on Lake George to keep the fish biting. Captain JJ, one of the organizers of the Derby and operator of Rod Bender Charters is active in stocking and advancing preservation efforts on the lake. He has an intimate knowledge of the lake and in collaboration with other stakeholders has improved lake salmon fishing; making this derby even more exciting. This year, continual digital updates will be available on the derby’s website, engaging anglers of every age and keeping participants up to date on the competition.

Joey Greco of Justy Joe Charters and entertainer Rich Ortiz, both local experts on fishing the waters of the North Country, are a wealth of info and tips. I met both guys at Fish307 at the Lake George Outlets which is a great place to ask questions and get expert knowledge.

Greco is enthusiastic that the landlocked salmon population on Lake George is headed in the right direction. The past few seasons have provided anglers with some fantastic fishing. The rush of a savage tug on your line and the fight to get the fish in the net is what we live for on Lake George, and this season’s fishing has been outstanding for all species.

Catch the “Big One”
The salmon fishing has improved over the past couple of years, and we are seeing a variety of age classes which tells us that each stocking is experiencing levels of success. These fish are very unpredictable and nomadic by nature and often will be found in different areas day to day. We find covering water by trolling our best strategy day in and day out. While trolling at speeds around 3mph we like to run a variety of spoons and stick bait presentations on very light line as these fish are line-shy in our notoriously clear waters.
We stick with only Sampo snap swivels, so we can change lures often to find a pattern for that day. We tend to concentrate on shiny, metallic finishes on bright sunny days, and darker painted colors on overcast conditions. Speedy Shiners are a local Adirondack, and Lake George favored spoon and is a consistent producer every year. Trial and error are the best way to find your personal preferences.

Find the bait, and you’ll find the fish! It can’t be stressed enough. We know that if we are marking gobs of suspended bait in a certain area, the predators are there as well. Bug hatches can also show up on the screen as “balls” which are also a preferred food source for the salmon. These are obvious indicators that you are in the right area. Early in the morning you will find fish up high regardless of water temperatures and watching closely for bait “dimpling” on the surface can tip you off on a pre-dawn surface bite.

The Rig
Adjacent to the derby, The Lake George In-Water Boat Show will be in full swing on the weekend of the 15th and 16th. If you are in the market for a new boat, looking to rent or just want to give some TLC to your current rig, head over for expert advice and test rides. Impressive, state of the art pontoon and pleasure boats of all shapes, sizes, and speeds will be at the show. Many of these Lake George marinas have fleets of high-quality rentals to help you reel in the winner in The Derby…just make sure you call ahead to reserve.
Jigging for Lake Trout has become a popular technique on many lakes during the open water season. With the creation of GPS “spot-locking” technology on MinnKota trolling motors, these fish can now be targeted all year using the same tackle you would take ice fishing. I prefer a medium action spinning rod spooled-up with 15lb braided line and a leader of 12lb. fluorocarbon spliced in about 30ft. Assorted jig head sizes can be used depending on depth and the presentation the fish happen to like on any given day, but generally ½oz to 3oz is typical. Tube style plastic baits in white are fish catchers. Finesse plastic minnows and jigging spoons will all produce fish, and I often apply smelt oil to my baits to stimulate the bite.

The key with this technique is locating fish from 60-120 feet, being able to stay relatively close to the school. Using your electronics, you will want to watch the “lift and fall” of your bait, and hopefully, the fish is chasing your jig around as if it were a fleeing baitfish. You can position over these fish and drift, anchoring also is plausible, but the new technology of electric motors that locks you over your fish has revolutionized the ease and effectiveness of this tactic. Experiment with different baits, sizes, and retrieval speeds until you find what gets the fish in the net.

Many people know Rich Ortiz as a sensational entertainer, though he’s an absolute bass assassin who has had a storied career, becoming part of the Costa pro-staff along the way. He’s a masterful sight fisherman whose plan for The Derby is to target early fall pattern big largemouth schooled up in 30+ ft of water with weed beds or other significant structure. He says that typically, you can find good numbers of smallies in the same areas. He is competing to win the largemouth division knowing it can be highly rewarding, but sometimes challenging to find the mature largies to win.

My friendship with my father was anchored in our shared love of fishing derbies and maintaining boats together. You can replicate this experience with your family on the weekend of September 15th and 16th on Lake George with the King George Derby and the Lake George In-Water Boat Show. If you can’t make it up that weekend, just remember… memories of fishing and boating the lake can be made throughout late summer and fall deep into November.

Follow Joey or Rich’s advice, or find me at Surfside on the Lake in the evenings during the Derby to talk strategy. I know you will be hooked on local lake fishing

Gravlax Traditional Nordic Cured Salmon
—Courtesy of Jerrod Vila

1 Salmon fillet (skin on and can be any size)
Coarse Kosher Salt Sugar
1/4 cup Fresh Dill, finely chopped
Zest of 2 Lemons
2 Tbs Juniper Berries
2 Tbs Peppercorns
Various other fresh, finely chopped herbs depending on your taste (Rosemary, Thyme, Tarragon, etc.)
Splash of Vodka or Scotch or Lemon Juice
For Dijon Cream Sauce:
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
1/4 cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp Whole Grain Mustard
1/2 tsp Ground Mustard
1 Tbs Fresh Dill, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and set aside to chill.

• Remove all bones from fish.
• Mix enough sugar and salt in a 1 to 1 ratio to completely cover fish.
(Aim for a total weight of the mixture equal to half of your fish weight.)
• Coarsely crush juniper and peppercorns either with the back of a knife or in a mortar and pestle.
(If juniper berries are unavailable, substitute in more peppercorns.)
• Combine all dry ingredients. Add in the liquid in small quantities, stirring after each addition, until the consistency resembles damp sand.
• Lay a piece of plastic wrap down and line with a thin layer of the mixture the size of your fillet.
• Place the fish, skin side down on mixture and completely cover the entire thing with the rest of the mixture. Tightly wrap in plastic wrap, set in a leak-proof dish to collect juices during the curing process.
• Place in fridge skin side down with weight on top. Flip over approximately halfway through the cure, about 18 hours.
• Total cure time is based on taste and level of cure and can range from 24 – 48 hours. 36 hours will produce a nice semi-firm, not too salty, and easily sliceable salmon.
• Once cured, remove the fillet from the plastic wrap and rinse off all curing mixture under running water and pat dry.
• Leave uncovered in the refrigerator for a few hours to let drying fully take place.
• Slice thinly and on an angle, garnish with lemon wedges and fresh dill.
• Serve with lightly toasted crostini bread and the creamy Dijon Cream sauce.

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