Panfishing in New York's Grafton Lakes State Park
Panfish often get derided by anglers as being "kids fish" or something that is best tossed back. The lure of the lunker bass or trout has blinded these folks from some really fun fishing and good eating. Ironically, many of those same anglers will enthusiastically go ice-fishing for other smaller fish such as yellow perch. Panfish not only are "kids fish", they are also fun for the adult and delicious on the dinner plate (they are as easily filleted as perch). If you ever find yourself vacationing in Upstate New York or Western Vermont, consider coming to New York's Grafton Lakes State Park for some good old-fashioned pan-fishing.
Grafton Lakes State Park, is located about 20 minutes outside of Troy, NY in New York's Capital Region and is along the way if you're traveling to the Adirondacks or the Green Mountains. Open for day trips, the park has several ponds – the largest of which is Long Pond which has a very large maintained swimming beach with 5 separate swimming areas, boat rentals, picnic areas, and other modern amenities. Motorized boating is prohibited so you'll need to leave your bass boat behind in the parking lot. If you are traveling with a family or group that contains some non-anglers, Grafton is a very good spot to consider for a day of relaxation. For the angler, the park is a smörgåsbord of fishing opportunities.
The trails around the ponds are well developed and many are handicapped accessible. The end result is quality paths for anglers to utilize in order to fish from shore – where one can hook into stringers-full of Bluegills, Pumpkin Seeds, and Rock Bass. Black Crappie are rumored to be in the lake but the author has yet to hook into one. As an added bonus to panfishing, trout can be caught all year long. Rainbow and Brown Trout are stocked and can be kept as long as they are 12" long. There is a 3 trout daily limit, however. During the ice-fishing season, Yellow Perch are plentiful. Bass can be caught all year long with artificial lures but can only be kept during bass season.
Utilize the trail system around the ponds to find a suitable location for panfishing or rent a row boat. Look for structure but the panfish seem to prefer the weed beds near rip-rap and boulders. Having said that, there is almost no location on Long Pond where decent sized panfish can't be caught. The best rig to use is the good old bobber and hook but there are some tricks that might increase your catch. Use a slip bobber and attach your mainline to a 18" 4 or 6lb-test mono or flurocarbon leader on to which you've snelled a #6 or #8 hook. A sinker can be placed on the leader to help minimize tangling during your cast and to help the bait sink faster. Casting is simpler with a slip bobber than with the clip variety and depth can be easily adjusted should the fish not be biting where you've set your bait. Bait-keeper hooks seem pretty effective but the newer styles will almost certainly be effective.
The best bait to use are nightcrawlers – which can be purchased from almost any of the local convenience markets. Break off approximately 1/3 of the nightcrawler and hook it at least twice on to the hook and cast out as far as possible. If you use a weighted slip bobber, you should be able to cast well past any weed beds and into open water – where the trout might take notice. Take your time and slowly jig and crank your bait back to shore — pausing to let the bait have time to settle. Pay notice to where you start feeling strikes – this will be the zone you'll want to start casting to. There is no point in casting 20 feet into the lake if you only need to cast 8 feet! If, after 30 minutes, you haven't had any strikes, try adjusting the depth of your bait. If a front is about to or has moved through the area, you may want to consider casting further out and setting your bait deeper.
Hooking the fish is ideal for children. Panfish will often "catch themselves". Once the bobber submerges, take up the slack in the line and start reeling in! Those little fish can put up quite a fight! Make sure your drag isn't too heavy so that you don't rip the hook out of the fish's mouth. Keep a stringer handy because once you've hooked into one, there is almost certainly more nearby.
Grafton Lakes State Park is open from 8am to dusk all week long. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, there is a parking fee of $6 if the swimming area is close and $8 if it is open. Plan ahead. Make sure you have a valid New York State fishing license! Both resident and non-resident licenses can be purchased at sporting goods stores and Wal-mart and children under 12 can fish free. New York allows 3 hand lines but it is unlikely you'll need more than one. Should you decide you want to fish one of the ponds other than Long Pond, they are easily accessible as well. Additionally, there are nature trails and abundant wildlife for the family to enjoy. If you're a angler, though, you'll probably be looking at the shoreline.