6/8 + 6/9 Owasco/Cayuga
6/8 Owasco at Emerson Park/Cayuga Lake out of Union Springs
Had a mixed up start to the weekend. About a month ago I received a call from Will, who told me he was heading to Lake Champlain for pike and wanted to try different pike fisheries across the state on his way over from Florida. He did some research and settled on Silver Lake and a couple Finger Lakes. I told him which lakes were good and what conditions we would need. Then I never heard back from him. He’d mentioned the week he was going to be here and roughly what dates he wanted. I had a trip booked for Saturday and then a delayed cancellation. So I was ready to enjoy a weekend off and visit a winery that a buddy worked at Friday night. Lo and behold my phone rings and Will left a message reminding me of our trips that he thought he had booked. He never booked them. Thankfully I had the full weekend open (it’s the only weekend I had a Saturday and Sunday open in June.)
Will had a rough trip up. He had an axle fail on his boat (which he drove up) and that delayed his trip a bit. It isn’t fun losing a tire on the expressway when doing 70 mph! He also drew a complete blank on Silver Lake. A local who was pike fishing also reported zippo there. So fortunately we were able to do the dates, which wound up being full days.
Our conditions for pike fishing were not good at all. I’ve rarely if ever had truly great or even good pike fishing here in the Finger Lakes during the summer on windless, sunny, bluebird days. I’m talking really top-notch – getting a half dozen to a dozen or more solid fish with glassy conditions out there (i.e. zero wind), not a few bonus pike while bass fishing. Sometimes early AM and late PM can be good. But to do 8 hours plus can be tough. Pike are ambush/lie-in-wait predators. They are also crepuscular (low-light) predators. In addition, the bite can get tough once water temps shoot up into the 60s and alewives start moving in. Some pike will even feed at night on alewife driven fisheries (any avid nighttime walleye caster can usually tell tales of catching nice pike on Conesus or Owasco Lake at night.) It’s a different ball game on Champlain, Sodus Bay, Black Lake and even the St. Lawrence River, but these have been my observations on the Fingers. Champlain and Black Lake have a tannen stain and are murkier. Pike feed well all summer on Lake Champlain and double digit days are the norm up on the north end.
I figured a 5:30 am start would be best on Owasco. Will was tired and went with 6 am. By the time he arrived (his GPS didn’t help him much) we were underway and where we needed to be by 7 am. After about 10 minutes of casting he connected with a nicely proportioned 29″ northern. But that was it. Once the sun got up and wind died so did our bite. We tried some finesse stuff and bass fishing. He nabbed one 13″ or 14″ smallmouth on a fluke. We tried laker jigging and marked fish but didn’t get any. With DEC cutting back laker stocking here a few times and virtually no natural reproduction (plus a huge surplus of bait,) lakers here are pretty well fed and aren’t as aggressive as they are on Cayuga or Keuka. Why they hit so well on Cayuga despite great bait fish numbers I believe is more related to how concentrated the fish are – similar to what we used to see on Seneca at Geneva and Sampson during the 2000s and early 2010s.
So after knowing about Will’s struggles with this trip we decided to pull up and head to Cayuga for pickerel. Will wanted action on this trip. He gets plenty of nice pike on Champlain, so he was eager to try pickerel. We had solid fishing during the calm, sunny midday conditions. A little wind came up and he nabbed about 8 or 9 pickerel and had plenty others on. I worked my favorite spoon while he had a cigar and nabbed a 21″ largemouth that unfortunately had some weird slime issues and didn’t fight that well.
Will had been around lakers before but never caught any. He was thrilled knowing we could catch them. Fortunately they were hitting good and he nabbed three in short order. Solid fish. I thought Seneca might be a good call for today but he wanted to go back to Cayuga for pickerel. There has been some good pike action on Seneca on the right days in the right areas but most avid anglers I have guided, when pressed would rather tangle with 30 to 40 pickerel than 8 or 9 pike. Not all anglers, but many.
6/9 Cayuga out of Union Springs: So we met at the launch at 6:30 am and headed for a good pickerel area. Bass are spawning all over Cayuga Lake and it isn’t hard to spot the beds and it certainly isn’t hard to spot the bass boats targeting them. I do not enjoy bed fishing. I don’t mind working a fluke or senko around the beds but I’ve never been a big bed fisher. I came of age fishing New York State when bass seasons were closed during the spawn so it has never felt right. Anyways the pickerel action was superb! He had consecutive casts with fish hitting. These aren’t the 17″ Keuka or Skaneateles pickerel, these are fish averaging 19″ to 21″ (oftentimes hitting 23″ or more though we didn’t find any that big this time.) They hit very hard, fight good, jump, hit by the boat and are a pain in the butt and at times downright scary or dangerous to dehook. They have the evil look of a barracuda in their eyes. That’s more or less what they are – pike, pickerel and muskies are the freshwater versions of “Cuda.” Overall it was a great pickerel day with around 10 landed and another 15 to 20 that got off at the boat.
Laker fishing was slower than yesterday. The thermocline is forming. Will was thrilled with his 29″ fish that probably was over 9lbs. He had a few others hit but that was the only hookup.
Over the past three days I’ve seen a lot of mechanical boat issues at area launches – Yes, it’s that time of the year, but it doesn’t have to be. I saw guys with motors that wouldn’t start, broken springs that required a flatbed tow and bearings that failed. You can avoid bearing failure by buying a nice jack (Sears has a great one) and cranking up your trailer and giving the tires a spin. If they sound smooth and quiet, you should be good to go. I give mine a spin every month or so. The great guys at Barrett Marine taught me that. If you hear grinding, better get that trailer into the shop ASAP. Trailers with brakes will make a whooshing sound when you spin the tires. The trailer spring issue can be prevented by regular inspections. Mechanical motor issues are best taken care of by going to a reputable service center. I think it’s a great idea to support a good local mechanic but I do hear a lot of horror stories about some places that can’t ever seem to fix things right the first, second or third time. That’s why I go to Silver Lake Marine.
Congrats go out to all around nice guy and Angling Zone alum Jimmy Castle for his 1st place in the laker division award during this weekend’s Canandaigua Lake Trout Derby. Jigging produces big, award winning lake trout year after year! Don’t believe it? Just see who won the Seneca Memorial Derby this year. Over the past SEVEN years of that derby THREE Grand Prize Winners have been caught on jigs! The vast majority of people fishing that derby are trolling with downriggers, pulling copper or fishing live bait. Jiggers are a small percentage of the derby participants. I could name another dozen or two jiggers that placed high in divisions ranging from lakers to browns over that same seven year time-frame.