FisheriesThe Finger Lakes Region of Central New York offers many fresh-water fishing opportunities for all styles of fishing. Whether you want to fish small streams for native, wild or stocked trout, try your luck for one of our many lake species, or test yourself and your gear against some of our pre- and post- spawn lake run fish, you can find it all in this area. Locally, our waterways include the Finger Lakes and their tributaries, numerous small lakes and ponds, and small cold-water freestone streams.
Tributaries (Including Catherine Creek, Grout Creek, Fall Creek, Salmon Creek, Owasco Inlet)Vibrant seasonal spawning runs are a part of this region’s rich fishing heritage. Each Spring and Fall our tributaries see the entry of Land Locked Salmon, Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout looking for space to dig redds and spawn. These pre- and post- spawn fish are aggressive, energetic and a challenge to successfully land. For the sake of this discussion, the Tributaries being discussed will be those portions of the streams between the lake and the first impassable barrier. On Salmon Creek, for example, the “tributary” would be the portion of the stream between Myer’s Park and the Ludlowville Falls. Many of the local tributaries have impassable barriers a relatively short distance from the mouth of the stream. There are, however, tributaries that do not fit into this mold. Fish can run for miles unimpeded up the Cayuga Inlet (above the flat head dam since there is a fish ladder) and Owaso Inlet. These streams are most typically defined by the time of the year and the fish that are running during that period. It is from this perspective that this analysis will proceed. Most local tributaries are closed between January 1st and March 31st of each year. Accordingly, we do not have to be too concerned with winter tributary fishing. There are exceptions to this general rule and they can be found in the NYS DEC Fishing Regulations for the current time period. Those streams open to fishing, and not iced up will generally contain hold-over fish (Brown Trout) from the Fall and pre-spawn Rainbow Trout. These fish can run relatively large and landing 5 – 8 pound fish is a distinct possibility. The water is cold so success will be had for those flies/lures/bait that are weighted and bounce along the bottom. The spring fishing season starts ten days later than the Spring, on April 1st of each year. Typically, crowds hit the water in search of post-spawn Rainbow Trout. Streams can be quite populated at this time of year, with tributaries like Catherine Creek and Salmon Creek shoulder to shoulder at prime runs and pools. The tributaries also fill up with suckers. These fish can break the five pound mark and most are in the two to three pound range. Sadly to say, they fight poorly and after awhile catching them becomes a bit irritating. Eventually, the crowds disperse leaving the streams easier to explore and fish. A few large Rainbows stick around until May. In years where the smelt are running (mid-april) early morning and late evening can see the addition of active, aggressive Land Locked Salmon. Both the Land Locked Salmon and the Rainbow Trout are receptive to white streamers and jigs. The summer comes in with some spectacular fishing opportunities. While the large trout are gone, the bass (small mouths primarily, with occasional large mouths as well) are available and legal to target starting the third weekend in June. These are big lake fish in the streams post-spawn. They are aggressive and fun to catch. In many of the tributaries smaller (9-12 inch) trout will show themselves more frequently. These fish are generally aggressive feeders and can be fun on light tackle. As summer heats up, water temperatures often rise and fishing slows down tremendously in these streams. The fall is the season we all wait for in the Finger Lakes. This marks the time that the Land Locked Salmon and Brown Trout leave the lake and enter the streams for the purpose of spawning. Land Locked Salmon are Atlantic Salmon that have been unable to return to the salt water after their “birth” in local streams and lead the “anadromous” portion of their lives in the lakes. It should be noted that while our Land Locked Salmon are native, their populations are maintained through an aggressive stocking program. Unlike their Pacific Salmon brethren (Coho, King, etc.) Land Locked Salmon do not die after spawning. This allows them to return to our tributaries year after year. The reason we wait for these fish is that they are aggressive and acrobatic. Both the Salmon and Brown Trout will take a variety of flies/lures/baits. The Tributaries, however, are only one of the many locations for fishing in our area.
Finger Lakes (Cayuga, Seneca, Owasco, Skaneateles, Otisco)Uniquely deep and cold, the Finger Lakes offer outdoor enthusiasts a unique fishing experience. Open year round for fishing, shore and boat anglers can target Lake Trout, Land Locked Salmon, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Perch, Walleye, Pike, Pickerel, Sheepshead, Carp, Catfish and a variety of other species. Fishing these large lakes presents a challenge for both the shore-bound and boat-based angler. There is a great deal of area to cover in order to find the fish. That said, there are some general guidelines that can help an angler cover this water. To begin, the key to locating the fish is to understand the topography of the lake. Many types of baitfish tend to congregate around structure, ledges, and weeds. Accordingly, the predatory fish will be located in areas designed to allow them to ambush their prey. For the shore bound angler, this typically means targeting points of land that extend into the lakes, stream mouths or other discharges into the water, off-shore weed beds and ledges where there is a change in water-depth. The easiest way to locate these spots on the lake, as well as determine access to them is through the use of a topographic map. There are comprehensive and accurate maps available for all of the Finger Lakes. They are sold in sporting goods stores, bait shops and the sporting departments of the big box stores. With one of these maps in hand you can locate the ideal spot from which to fish. Again, the key is to locate points, drop-offs, structure and other areas at which bait fish, and the game fish that eat them, hold. The lakes are all relatively large and access can be limited. The boat-based fisherman can move around a great deal and access different areas easily. The shore-based angler may be a bit more limited in access to points, drop-offs, and other locations but opportunities and public fishing rights do exist. The lakes offer year round fishing opportunities for the hardy angler. These opportunities include both ice-fishing and traditional open-water fishing. The Finger Lakes drain in the North ends, and those areas tend to be shallower than the middle and southern areas. Typically, these portions of the lakes freeze over mid-winter and offer excellent opportunities to target warm-water and cold-water species. Remember, when fishing in the winter dress in warmly and in layers.
Small Lakes and Ponds (Jennings, Dryden, Casterline, Misc. Farm)Like the places where many of us learned to fish, our region provides numerous public and private waters on which to look for warm-water species. These warm-water bodies can frequently be found on public land and have a great deal of shore access. These ponds and small lakes hold large-mouth bass, a variety of sunfish, pickerel and numerous other species. These bodies of water include Dryden Lake, Jennings Pond, Waneta Lake and Casterline Pond to name a few. While most of these waters hold warm-water species, few, like Casterline Pond, are cold and deep enough to hold trout. Like fishing the larger lakes, fishing these small bodies of water is most effective when you can target the points, drop-offs and areas of cover favored by bait fish and predators. Similarly, the way to locate these areas can be best accomplished by using topographic contour maps. Many of these maps can be found for free on-line. Just run a search and see what comes up. Fishing in these bodies of water is typically year round with ice-fishing being the only winter fishing option. Fishing can be effective from shore. Some of the lakes and ponds allow the use of kayaks, small rowboats and float tubes, while others prohibit all forms of flotation. Make sure you check the regulations before heading onto these waters. In addition to these public waters, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of small farm ponds scattered across the region. Many of these ponds hold fish. Many see little to no pressure. All it takes, sometimes, is a knock on the door and a polite request to gain access to these waters.
Smaller Public Streams (Cauyta Creek, Enfield Creek, Fall Creek (upper), W. Branch of the Tioghnioga, E. and W. Branches of Owego Creek,Virgil Creek)Numerous small streams cross the Finger Lakes region. Many of these streams drain directly or indirectly into one of the larger lakes, although there are other watersheds that benefit from these smaller waterways. Like most bodies of water in this region, these small streams may hold wild, native or stocked fish. These streams can often be found through word of mouth or on various topographic maps. Most often these are cold water, spring fed free stone streams that are fishable through much of the season. The streams that are stocked generally receive fish in March, April and/or May. While many of these streams are exclusively “put-and-take” others will maintain hold-over populations. This provides the skilled (some would say lucky) fisherman the opportunity to land fish larger than the average stocked fish. These streams can often have relatively remote, difficult to access areas that foster healthy populations of small, wild (and in some cases) native fish. While Brown Trout are the norm, many streams have Rainbow and Brook Trout populations. These streams tend to be relatively small, with runs, pools and waterfalls. Pocket water fishing is generally the rule on these waters, with fish holding in some of the most “unlikely” places. In addition to our cold water streams, there are also many warm water streams. These areas generally hold bass, sunfish and other species that are fun to catch.
The Finger Lakes region is marked by water in all shapes and forms. Hopefully this brief guide will start you on your fishing journeys.Tight Lines, Leon Chandler Chapter of Trout Unlimited