What’s swimming in the county’s rivers and lakes? We asked Dobbs Ferry’s Ken Hashimoto, who’s fished in Westchester waters since 1983 and is a contributor to westchesterfishing.com, for the county’s most common scaly residents.
Length: 18 to 30 inches
Striped bass live up to 30 years in the ocean. In late February/early March, 5 to 7 million travel from the Atlantic to the Hudson to spawn. In the ’70s, their population had diminished to critical levels but has returned to an acceptable number. While the smallest striped bass fishermen are allowed to keep north of the GW Bridge is a mere 18 inches (about three pounds), very large females of upwards of 40 pounds, unflatteringly called “cows,” are sometimes caught. Wild striped bass sells for $18.99/lb at FreshDirect.
Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass
Length: 9 to 24 inches (both largemouth and smallmouth)
Green in color, largemouth bass swim in nearly every body of water in Westchester. While the northern variety doesn’t reach the massive sizes of its southern relatives, hardcore bass fishermen catch specimens in the six- to seven-pound range. Smallmouth bass are brown and are more rare in Westchester. They make their homes in larger and colder lakes and reservoirs, especially those with some depth (Cross River, Amawalk, and Kensico Reservoirs).
Length: 6 to 10 inches
Also known as rock perch, goggle-eye, or red-eye, rock bass is a freshwater sunfish. Similar in appearance to smallmouth bass, rock bass dine on smaller fish, insects, and crustaceans. They can be found in nearly every pond, river, and lake throughout the county, including quite small village ponds. Rock bass are surprisingly unflustered by the presence of humans, living under lakeside docks and near swimming areas. Children can catch them easily with worms.
Black and White Crappie
Length: 8 to 12 inches
The easiest way to tell these sunfish family members apart is by the number of dorsal spines: black crappies have seven to eight spines while white have up to six. Although shaped like sunfish, they have large mouths and feed on smaller fish. Fishermen target them in large lakes and reservoirs, especially New Croton and Muscoot in April, when large crappies come into shallow water to build nests.
Length: 8 to 12 inches
Nearly all Westchester waters have black bullheads, a small catfish that is hardly a picky eater, living on nearly anything from grains to insects to dead and living fish to crustaceans. Nocturnal, they prefer to chow down at night. Quite slimy and difficult to handle, they must be treated with care: their pectoral fins and first dorsal fin have sharp spines that can hurt.
Length: 15 to 26 inches
This small member of the pike family is rather crafty, a freshwater barracuda. Easily identified by the dark chain-like pattern on their greenish sides, chain pickerels sit in shallow water motionless, until they shoot out like a rocket to grab a fish. These fish are considered good eating by many (the meat is white and flaky with a mild flavor). But beware the many tiny bones.
Length: 12 to 30 inches
Walleye can be found in some north-county reservoirs. Why the name? Their eyes are large and glossy, and, like those of cats, reflect light. This “eye shine” is the result of a light-gathering layer in the walleye’s eyes that allows the fish to see well in dimly lit conditions. A good thing since the walleye is an active night feeder, munching on fish almost exclusively, which is good news, given that its mouth is filled with sharp teeth.
Length: 18 to 47 inches
Carp, first brought from Germany in the late 1800s, is today one of the most commonly found fish in the United States, and Westchester is no exception. Its ability to withstand turbid waters as well as take oxygen from the water surface make carp a resilient survivor. Carp can get enormous, but catching one between 10 to 20 pounds isn’t difficult.
Yellow and White Perch
Length: 6 to 12 inches
These are easy to hook and taste pretty good fried. The white (actually, silver) perch is a member of the temperate bass family and tends to be larger than its yellow brother. It also grazes 24/7, while yellow perch dines during daylight hours only.
Length: 12 to 18 inches
Every spring in advance of April’s trout season, the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation stocks the Croton, Mianus, Saw Mill, and Titicus Rivers with rainbow trout, native to the West Coast. Their meat is tender with a mild, somewhat nutty, flavor.
Length: 16 to 24 inches
Perhaps the most common trout in our area, though not native to the U.S. (they were brought in from Germany in the 1800s), brown trout have replaced the native brook trout in many New York State waters.
Length: 18 to 27 inches
A native of our state, the lake trout, the largest member of the trout family, thrives in the Kensico Reservoir in Valhalla. The largest one caught at the reservoir weighed 23 pounds.