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The Goby and the Bass


After mowing the lawn in front of the camp, I took out my snorkeling mask last weekend to cool off and check out the river bottom near the dock. We have a drop off (from about 15 to 30 feet) that is usually a hiding place for smallmouth bass to contemplate their next meal. Sometimes a pike or carp will wander over to take a look at the underwater landscape as well. A bit of my own Wild Kingdom of the St. Lawrence.

As I took a closer look at the shallow area near the ridge I noticed a dramatic change in the makeup of the fish species. The rocks are still covered with weeds and zebra mussels. However, what used to be a playground for rock bass, sunfish, and yellow perch was now invaded by the goby, a strange looking fish that was brought over from the Caspian Sea in the bilge water of the freight ships that make their trek through the Seaway. With an oversized head, hard jaw, and brown and white markings, the goby looks like something that might be related to a sea robin. As a bottom dweller, they are fiercely territorial. Apparently, the other fish that used to occupy our shallows have found out how territorial.

Like the zebra mussel, I was aware of the presence of this new invasive species to the Thousand Islands through fishing. Initially, the first ones I caught were behind Ironside Island a few years ago. Lately, it seems like they are the new “bait thieves” (a word that used to be reserved for the rock bass and sunfish). After doing some research, I came to find out that they have quite an appetite for such a small fish (a large one is between 8 to 10 inches). As an egg-eater, the goby will invade the nests of the game species in the St. Lawrence. This includes perch and smallmouth bass. Because of the appetite, small fry are also vulnerable prey. As a territorial species, the native darter in the St. Lawrence has been largely driven away. 

For many, this may sound like a very ominous issue. When the species was discovered in Lake Erie during the 1990’s, many predicted the collapse of the bass fishing and peripheral industry. While similar sentiments were predicted here in the Thousand Islands, the discovery of the goby as bass bait has often produced fish species much larger and stronger than seen in many years. The goby is now the principal diet item for the smallmouth bass.

The debate will linger as to how to control the goby from potentially exploding in population, whether that would be from external/chemical means vs. the natural control (as bass bait). Like many other large bodies of fresh water, there are certainly areas in the river that are less effected than others. However, the long term viability of the river as a fishing destination on a larger scale will need to be examined. While there are certainly many larger bass, are the quantities at levels prior generations enjoyed? We have seen the effect of bird species on fish in the St. Lawrence (cormorants), let’s hope the gobys impact is not as severe.

By James Rappaport, Indian Point Road

Originally from Connecticut's Farmington Valley, James Rappaport is a strategic management consultant for various publishing, radio, and cable television ventures as well as contributing writer for several media outlets.   This is Jim’s third article for TI Life.  He began his writing at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, where he was a feature writer as well as a managing editor for the Hill News. His work has also been featured in various news outlets, including the Stamford (CT) Advocate and The New York Observer. Jim is a resident of Indian Point in the Town of Hammond and northwest Connecticut.

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Comments

Dan Spencer
Comment by: Dan Spencer ( )
Left at: 10:39 AM Monday, August 17, 2009
James - Enjoyed your article - I agree with your observations on the Round Goby and the Small Mouth Bass. I have also determined that the Yellow Perch are eating them and as a result we are catching some very large perch - up to 14 inches. I have also observed that the Goby keep to areas where the bottom is firm. When fishing with worms or small minnows, fish areas with soft bottom and you will avoid having your bait stolen by Gobies. Dan (Fishing Guide)

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