State-record white bass

Western New York angler Morgan Fonzi shows off the 3-pound, 8-ounce white bass that set a state record. The species also is known as silver bass.

On Fridays we loaded the car for the weekend drive to Port Bay. Irondequoit, a suburb of Rochester, was my other home, the one where I was supposed to pay attention at school. Port Bay was the cottage from Friday to Sunday throughout school; during the summer, it was my paradise hangout.

That was over 60 years ago. Egads!

During the “irrelevant to Chris” academic year it was a weekend jaunt, and has soon as the car was unpacked, I grabbed my metal spinning rod and threw out a CP Swing. My quarry was silver bass, or that’s what I called them. What a fight they gave, and all of mine were released.

My silver bass were small, probably weighing under a pound, if that. When I heard a New York state-record silver bass hit the scales at 3.50 pounds, I was flabbergasted. The picture of the fish looked like the stripers I caught at Montauk.

I wonder if Morgan Fonzi could catch such a monster in Port Bay.

Fonzi, who hails from the Niagara County hamlet of Gasport, was on his way to becoming an electrician before being laid off from Hildreth Electric of Lockport. However, it gave him an opportunity to spend more time with his father, charter captain Joe Fonzi of Thumbs Up Charters. Until last week, Joe’s operation was considered nonessential in the state, and he was unable to operate his charter fishing service for hire.

“It has been awesome fishing with Dad,” Morgan said. “Anytime I can get on the water with him is a good time. It’s always fun spending time with him doing anything outdoors.”

Due to COVID-19, the angling duo was able to spend much more time on the water this spring.

On May 6, they were fishing in the lower Niagara River out of Lewiston, targeting white bass. White bass, sometimes referred to as silver bass, have distinctive, longitudinal lines along the side of the fish that closely resemble striped bass. They are usually found in large lakes and reservoirs, such as New York’s Great Lakes. They also have been found in the Kinzua Reservoir and Chautauqua Lake, as well as favorite spots along the Erie Canal, including Oneida Lake and the Mohawk River. They spawn in the spring, and the lower Niagara River experiences a significant run every May from Lake Ontario. There are good numbers of “silvers” in Lake Erie too.

On May 5, the lower river was the Fonzis’ best option because of some northeasterly winds. They caught steelhead, lake trout, and smallmouth bass, then started catching white bass. They ended up with 25 fish over 13½ inches long, with the biggest being 3 pounds, 10 ounces.

They were not thinking of any state record, though. Rather, food for a friend during this tough time was on their minds.

As they focused on white bass the next day, Morgan caught a couple of bigger white bass using a 5/8-ounce Steelshad blade bait in a gold color.

“I caught the bigger fish the day before on Steelshad blade bait,” Joe said. “I convinced Morgan to switch over from minnows. We were working a back eddy along a ledge that dropped from 13-18 feet. We bounced the blade up and down the ledge.”

The record fish was caught around 3:30 p.m. on a Cabela’s Walleye Prodigy rod with a Shimano spinning reel that had Seaguar 10-pound fluorocarbon leader and Seaguar Smackdown Braided line. It was around that time that Joe suggested to Morgan that he look up the state record on his smartphone.

The record was a 3-pound, 6-ounce fish caught by Robert Hilton from Furnace Brook in Westchester County, a tributary of the Hudson River, in 1992. It was 18½ inches long.

“I always thought the record was over 4 pounds,” Joe said. “We’ve probably broken that a few times through the years. I broke it the day before. I’m glad it was Morgan who caught the eventual record, though.”

Because it was later in the day, they eventually decided to try Tops near their home in Gasport for an official weight because Morgan knew the manager as a former employee. They weighed two fish, knowing that they had to beat the current record by 2 ounces. One came in at 3.46 pounds on a digital scale, just under the required 2 ounces. The second hit the mark perfectly at 3.50 pounds, exactly 3 pounds, 8 ounces.

They had more work to do. They had to verify the species with a Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 9 fisheries biologist out of Buffalo. Chris Driscoll got the call the next day, and he came out to make sure it was a white bass, measure it, and make sure there were no foreign metal objects in the fish. The length of the fish was 18 3/16 inches.

White bass sometimes are confused with hybrid striped bass. Hybrid striped bass are stocked in several states around the United States. However, they have not been found in the lower Great Lakes. Driscoll still needed to make it official, checking the tooth patches in the back of the tongue. Hybrid and striped bass have two patches; white bass have one.

It was a white bass.

After downloading the application form from www.dec.ny.gov, filling it out and having it notarized, they shipped it to Albany. In the matter of a couple days, Morgan received official word that it was, in fact, a record catch.

“I was relieved when I finally received the verification,” Morgan said. “You want to make sure you fill out all the paperwork right and with that little bit of wait time, you never know. It’s pretty cool to have a state-record catch, especially since I was able to catch it with my dad.”

LOC events are a go

During a recent phone call, Dave Chilson announced the Summer LOC Derby will be happening, which is great news for those anglers who were disappointed when the spring tournament was canceled.

For there to be a derby, there is a symbiotic relationship of businesses that need to be up and running. Unfortunately, for the spring derby most fell in the non-essential business classification.

“There needs to be tackle stores and marinas for weigh-in stations and registration outlets; restaurants and diners to feed people; motels, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and campgrounds for people to stay,” Chilson said. “Groceries, fishing tackle, propane, ice and maybe a little beer needs to be purchased, along with all the wholesalers who supply these items. Charters need to be hired, boats need to be bought, and launches need to be open.”

The bottom line, Chilson said, is that derby organizers are confident they can conduct an event in which it is safe to fish.

Chilson said the correspondence he is receiving is phenomenal.

“People want to fish, so I am thrilled to announce the Summer and Fall LOC Derbies are on,” he remarked.

The summer event kicks off June 27 and continues through July 27. There is a $10,000 grand prize for the largest salmon weighed. Additionally, there are $2,500 in weekly prizes — $1,000 for salmon and $500 each for lake trout, brown trout, and walleye.

For a complete list of rules and regulations, and a breakdown of prizes, visit www.loc.org.

Chris Kenyon’s “Outdoors” appears every other Sunday. Contact Chris at (315) 879-1341 or ckenyonrun@gmail.com.

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