Updated: Nov 30, 2020
To be upfront about it, this post will be less about the fishing Tom and I experienced that day, and more about the toxic, weed killing chemicals that were dumped into the lake while we were there.
Upon arriving to the public launch around 6:30am, Tom and I were greeted by a couple of friendly bass fisherman, who were trailering a nice looking bass boat (I can't remember what kind, I'm a kayak guy). They asked us, "what made you decide to come HERE today?". We didn't know exactly how to respond other than telling them we wanted a challenge on an unfamiliar body of water. Tom had never visited the lake before, and I've been on Zoar only a couple of times with good friend Joe Jacobowitz on his boat.
Long story short, these guys informed us that the lake was being treated with weed killer that day. Great. The treatment was supposed to start around 7:30am. The bass boat guys were there to film the boat dumping the chemicals with a drone, and they planned to make a video to share on social media. The reason for this, to get horsepower behind a petition to stop using dangerous chemicals to "right" an ecological "problem". The chemical is known as Diquat Dibromide, and it is a toxic herbicide.
Tom and I reluctantly decided to fish anyway since we both drove an hour from our respective corners of the state, and I was sort of interested to see this chemical boat in action. For the record, I'm a fairly chemically sensitive person. I'm very effected by synthetic smells like harsh cleaners, soaps, perfume, air fresheners, etc. So I was a little nervous about this stuff they were about to dump into the water and into the air. I didn't know what to expect, or what potential level of danger was associated with being exposed to this stuff pretty directly. I've fished lakes that have been treated with this chemical or similar chemicals before, but I don't ever remember being there the day they did the treatment.
We left the boat launch and went up the lake. For those that have never been to Zoar, it is a large impound of the Housatonic River. It is long and riverine, with tributaries, deep water, and interesting structure with hard bottom. It's daunting, and has a reputation for being a bit stingy as far as the fishing goes. Tom and I started on the shady side of the lake, hopeful for some surface action and smallmouth chasing bait high in the water column. We were unsuccessful in our efforts, but we did see several smallies corralling bait. We kept our topwaters and unweighted Zoom Flukes nearby, but starting noticing bass and bait from 18-24' on our fishfinders. Tom has an insane setup on his Pro Angler 360, two 12" Garmin units, with one running Panoptix full screen. So yea, you could say he has a bit of an advantage over my Elite 7 Ti2. He was rewarded with the first fish of the day, a solid smallie that hit a Hula Grub.
Not much longer after that, while deadsticking a Fin-S fish on a 1/8oz jighead, I got smoked. Too bad I forgot to tighten the drag on my ultralight setup, and didn't get a good hookset. It felt like a good one too. We were getting bit here and there, but they were rather soft, non-agressive hits. I finally connected with a fish on a Ned Rig, just a little smallie of about 12".
We kept moving up, picking away at all the structure and marks we were seeing on the fishfinder, but weren't finding much in the way of cooperative bass. I decided to try a small Damiki Vault bladebait. Blades are more of a winter bait, and that was exactly why I tied it on. I thought to myself, "these fish haven't seen a bladebait in a minimum of 5 months, and maybe have seldom seen one during the summer, or at all". I took a long cast, parallel to the drop off, and let it hit bottom. It got hit immediately, but I missed the fish. The next couple casts were more of the same. I finally connected with a fish, but I could tell it was small. So small that I questioned during the "fight" if it was even a fish.
Now we know what has been pecking at our offerings meant for smallmouth bass all morning... and they weren't all white perch. There seemed to be an eclectic mix of panfish all in this one area, including but not limited to yellow perch, rock bass, bluegill, pumpkinseeds, and redbreast sunfish. These fish were right on the bottom, and I can only assume they were feeding on zebra mussels or smaller fish that were eating the mussels, because if I wasn't bringing up a fish, I was bringing up shells off the bed.
At this point the wind started really picking up out of the northwest, and we decided to make a big move. There is no running and gunning in a kayak, so we moseyed further up the lake, stopping on various eye-catching spots for a cast or three. Tom restored my faith in this trip with a solid smallmouth, again on the Hula Grub, in only about 6' of water. The bass inhaled Tom's offering, and I rushed over with my trusty forecepts. It was deep, but not down the gullet. Skin hooked way back in the roof of the mouth. I was able to pop the hook gently, and the fish was released and swam off strong. That fish told us what to do for the rest of the trip.
We continued to pick away at the wood, weed and rock combination in about 6-10'. I stuck with the tried and true Ned Rig, and began picking away at the smallies. Most were on the less impressive side, but Tom and I both got a couple in the 2-2.5 lbs. range, which from what I am told by those who frequent the lake is a "good fish" for Zoar. As we fished through the spot and seemingly caught, missed, or lost every fish in the area, we decided it was time to head back down the lake. We were miles away from the launch and hours past when we thought we would be off the water.
On our trip back down the lake around 3:00pm, we heard this very loud motor around the corner inside one of the coves. It