The Goby factor at Oneida Lake

Goby are a favorite of smallmouth, and their introduction has helped the smallies increase in size.

This week’s St. Croix Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Mossy Oak Fishing will mark the seventh time Chad Pipkens has fished Oneida Lake. From his first tournament until now, the Elite Series pro has noticed several changes, but one of the most impactful is the presence of goby. 

Round Goby, which are listed as an invasive species, are a bottom dwelling fish that have infiltrated several Northern waterways including Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and Oneida Lake to name a few. The goby became a favorite snack of the smallmouth quickly and it shows in the bags brought to the scales.

“When we first started coming (to Oneida) in 2012, you’d have a really good chance to win if you had 16 pounds a day. Now, 16 pounds a day isn’t going to win. It will be more like 17 to 18 pounds,” Pipkens said. 

In a fishery like Lake Champlain where the smallmouth eat solely perch, Pipkens has noticed the bass tend to have bigger mouths and are longer. In fisheries like 1,000 Islands and the St. Lawrence River with goby, the bass are short and stocky with smaller mouths. 

“I think that is how they change over time,” Perkins said. “The bass here on Oneida, some of them are long because they were chasing shad and stuff, but the difference is they are thickening up and starting to take the true goby football shape.” 

Last year’s Oneida winner and local Bill Perkins remembers a time when Oneida Lake was known for topwater and Alabama rig smallmouth fishing. Now, the smallmouth hardly have to move to get an easy meal.

“Years ago, we used to come here and throw a ton of Alabama Rigs and topwater stuff,” Perkins said. “It seems like, much like in Lake Ontario, they put on an extra half-pound or quarter-pound per fish. It has made the bass lazy, I will say that. You don’t see them chase as much. I know there are guys who do in the fall, but those gobies make the fish lazy. They have potato chips on hand and they don’t have to get up off the couch. It is a love hate.

The trade off is the smallmouth have gotten bigger and many anglers in the pre-tournament meeting said they have noticed as well.  

“I’ve seen guys say Oneida is dead and the place is tough,” Perkins said. “It makes the bag weights bigger but they don’t have to bite. They are full. It is harder to trick them into biting.”

Pipkens also noted that the smallmouth relate to cover differently than they did when goby weren’t present in the lake.

“Before, if you fished rock, you were going to catch 11 or 12 pounds at best,” Pipkens said. “The big fish were only around grass where the perch were. Now it is a mix. Some of those bigger fish are relating to rock too and some of the others around grass. So you can really do a little of both and have a chance of catching a good bag.

“With the gobies, there is rock that doesn’t need grass around it.”

Because of the growing smallmouth bellies, anglers like Garrett Paquette, Coop Gallant and a lot of others will solely be focusing on smallmouth instead of the quality largemouth that also swim in Oneida.

“In years past, largemouth fishing was a good option because they were 3 pounds or better most of the time,” Paquette said. “Now the smallmouth are that size. For me, I might as well smallmouth fish. It is something I am more comfortable with and you will still have a chance at the quality fish.”