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  • A good reason to keep a DEC Diary for Region 7 on Cayuga Lake

    A lot of anglers, including myself, have been disappointed with the landlocked salmon fishing over the past few years on Cayuga Lake, especially after they did so well there after NY State changed back over to the Sebago strain of salmon around ten years ago.  It’s easy to complain about it, but survival of landlocked salmon throughout the decades has always been variable.  We’d see a good year or two and then some poor years.  The quality of stocked fish, water temperature, forage availability, number of predators – both fish and birds along with countless other factors all can help to make or break a year-class of fish.

    DEC has been experimenting with stocking salmon in the tributaries of Cayuga Lake and directly into the lake itself.  THEY ARE CLIPPING SALMON.  Fin-Clipped fish were direct stocked whereas the tributary-stocked fish were not clipped.  DEC can check fins at the fish ladder in the fall, but this would only offer a small sample size of salmon.

    If you keep a DEC Diary on Cayuga Lake, make sure you check your landlocked salmon for fin-clips.  Mark “no clips” if they are unclipped (do not leave the “fish icon” blank – that would indicate that you did not check it!)   If they’re clipped, you know what to do – circle the fin that was clipped in your fish drawing in the diary.

    If you care about salmon fishing on Cayuga Lake, you should seriously think about keeping a diary – at least while this assessment on stocking locations/strategies is being made.  You do not need to reveal your fishing location in the diary book.  You can just write in “east or west shore” or your launching area (e.g., “Taughannock”) so there’s nothing to worry about in that respect.

    Best way to get into the program is to call the Region 7 office and speak to a fisheries technician or biologist.  I have heard of quite a few people emailing the region and not receiving a response over the years.

  • Booking Trips in the Winter

    I’m happy to say that I am completely booked up this coming week from Wednesday through Saturday – that’s a first for me in February – and this is my 20th year guiding. We’ll see how long the mild weather lasts. I’ve had a decent number of inquiries regarding winter fishing and all I can say is that the best thing to do is look at the extended forecasts.  When a day appears to show fishable weather (meaning something that you’d like to fish in), let me know.  I will typically take a deposit and pencil you in for the date.  If the weather conditions wind up being worse than what we hoped for, or somewhat unfishable, I’ll either refund your deposit or we can sit tight and wait for another opportunity.

    If your availability is minimal, you can send me a deposit and send/text me a list of open dates (typically three or four) and I will put those down on my calendar while watching the upcoming weather.

    Unfortunately, unless I have no inquiries for a date, it is often tough for me to reach out to clients preemptively, although I do try at times.  Oftentimes when the good weather days show up in the forecast, they get snapped up fairly quickly.  So please keep an eye on the long-range (10 to 15 day) forecast and reserve the date.  You have nothing to lose!

     

  • Updates – Moving into February

    I have done some updates on the “lakes” and “species” parts of this website.  Nothing major, but I added some photos of some of the nice fish clients caught last year and some observations for the fishing outlook going into 2024.

    The Rochester Boat Show winds up today (Sunday January 28th.)  Foot traffic was noticeably slower than previous years, despite the nicer weather.  Fortunately, a better percentage of people that showed were there to buy boats or at least take a good look at what’s out there.  It’s always fun meeting new people at the show and I got to spend some time chatting with Jeff Harter, Brunswick’s dealer accounts manager.

    Manufacturing has returned back to normal after the pandemic.  If you order a new boat, it won’t be here in a week, but the longer pandemic-era waits are a thing of the past for now.  I was impressed with Crestliner’s new Hawk line of boats.  They are less expensive than the Fish Hawk series but include many of the great Fish Hawk features – like the spaciousness inside and the wide beam.  Check them out if you’re looking for a new fishing boat and are budget conscious.

    The Fish Hawk continues to improve with the newly designed AP-X hull.  When you are moving at a good clip and make a sharp turn, this hull really “grips” the water better than conventionally designed hulls.  It’s like a double-edged ice-skate.  See why I think the Crestliner Fish-Hawk is best boat and value in its class!   I could run any boat I want, but I’ve had great luck and performance with the Crestliner Fish Hawks going on over 20 years now.

    Mercury Motors also continue to improve as 4-Stroke engines are now becoming the norm, even for large boats that used to have automobile-manufactured inboard engines.

    Now’s a great time to order a new boat if you’re in the market for one.  There are some great incentives out there and Jeff is committed to giving customers the best deals/value that he can.  Contact Skyler (585) 237-5185 X- 103 or Sam over at Silver Lake Marine if you’re looking for a fishing machine this year!

    We shall see how the weather pans out in February and on through to March this season.  So far, it’s looking like we’ll have another fairly mild week before things freeze up again.  Lake levels should be rising quite a bit now.  I took a look at Irondequoit Creek and the Genesee River when I was in Rochester for the boat show and both of them were FLYING high!  There should be some good fishing in “the creek” this week and the river in a week or so.  Those steelheading days are gone for me, but it was nice checking out my old stomping grounds.

    My schedule is wide-open right now and we should see another great spring for deep-water lake trout jigging on Cayuga Lake.  Seneca Lake keeps getting better and better and it should be a good landlocked salmon spring again as well as another great lake trout year over there.  See my forecasts or more accurately, observations, by clicking on “the lakes” portion of this website.  Book now for the best choice of dates in 2024!

  • Heading into the 2024 season

    I just dropped my Angler-Cooperator Diaries off at the Region 7 Fisheries office and had a chance to catch up with some of the staff over there.

    Biologists are aware of concerns/complaints about Cayuga Lake’s salmon and brown trout fishing.  Around 60 to 70 salmon showed up at the fish ladder this past fall and were passed above it.  That’s better than what I thought the numbers would be.  4 or 5 years ago, when the salmon fishing was terrific, they had over 300 salmon at the ladder.  Some different stocking sites have been utilized over the past year or two and we’ll see if they yield better results.  The quality of the fish being stocked is supposedly very good.

    New York hatcheries will be stocking a new less-domesticated strain of brown trout this year throughout the state. It’s hoped that they will retain more “wild” characteristics in the hatcheries.  I know I cringe when I see the freshly stocked brown trout swarm around Long Point’s marina harbor for weeks getting picked off daily by various bird species and lake trout.

    Around 30 new diary cooperators signed up this past year to assist with gathering fishing information for Region 7 lakes.  That’s great!  DEC needs accurate data in order to best manage the fisheries.  The diaries play an important part in their general “picture” of what’s going on out there.  A lot of anglers think it’s important as a cooperator to catch fish, but it’s just as important when you are NOT catching fish.  Some cooperators become disgruntled when the fishing is slow and stop cooperating.  That’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  It makes no sense. There’s only so much that DEC can do, and management changes take time to make.  I contribute a lot of lake trout data to DEC on fin-clips, lengths, catch-rates and so on, but I don’t give them much of a picture on what’s going on with salmon or brown trout out there.  I can’t take clients out to “see how the salmon fishing is.”  If I don’t feel confident in it, we aren’t doing it or we’re going to a different lake.  Some anglers are Cayuga-bound, either through having a place on the lake, or just enjoying fishing over there.  If it takes 12 hours to catch a legal salmon, DEC needs to know that.  That’s the first step in getting some changes made.

    I know cooperator numbers have been low on Owasco Lake for a while.  Other lakes that really could use some participants include Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua Lakes.  Tributary cooperators are also needed in Region 7.

    We have a couple more days with highs in the mid-30s and then we’re off to a good freeze which should help make the ice-fishermen happy.    The State Launch at Skaneateles Lake was locked up just before the last snowstorm. Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka Lakes remain fishable/launchable.  I’ll be at the Rochester Boat Show with Silver Lake Marine on January 26th and 27th.  Time sure flies…

  • Happy New Year! It’s been 20 Years of Fingerlakes Angling Zone – where does the time go?

    I hope everybody checking out this website has a great New Year!

    I thought it might be fun and entertaining to give a little bit of background on my guiding business, since 20 years is a pretty big milestone in any endeavor.

    I was floundering a bit in the mid-1990s in Rochester NY – I wasn’t as thrilled with where I had grown up – in Penfield, as I had been when I was younger.  The development had gone hog-wild over there and the small farm town turned suburb was quickly morphing into Henrietta – which always reminded me a bit of suburban New Jersey (I had a friend that lived out there for a couple years) – i.e., endless shopping centers and congestion. (Our family had lived in Henrietta for a few years before moving to Penfield.)  A short trip to Wegmans used to take maybe 7 minutes by auto, now I’d be stuck in traffic for 25 minutes just trying to go a few miles away.  In terms of work, I had done temp work at places like Xerox, Mobile Chemical, JD Brush (one of the worst temp gigs I ever had…) and elsewhere for temporary agencies like Manpower, Tad and Kelly Services.  Those were all dead-end gigs and as temps, no matter what our background or brainpower, we were always the low end of the totem pole at work.  I worked at a medical billing office for a long time (since High School) off and on and that was a decent job but didn’t offer any advancement potential.  Medical Billing also looked like a huge headache, and my old boss eventually sold the business.  He was always complaining about it.  I wasn’t passionate about any of the jobs – but after all, it’s called “work,” so you do what you must do to earn money.  I sort-of liked carpentry and woodwork but again, I wasn’t super-hyped about it and never really got a break in it (I never met anyone that wanted to mentor me.)  Fishing was my favorite thing to do and my old-time favorite places to fish, like Irondequoit Creek and Genesee River (both mainly for steelhead) had slowed down notably since the 1980s and early-1990s. I was ready for a complete change of scenery.

    I decided to move back home and save money for a year, and then move down to Trumansburg near Ithaca.  I had good memories of the area not just from boy scouts, but also from going smelt-dipping down at Taughannock in the mid-1980s and checking out music at the Rongovian Embassy with friends of mine.  My friend’s father moved to Lodi back in the 1970s and maintained a campground just south of the point (Eagle-Ridge Campgrounds – funny, back then there weren’t really any eagles around!)  Trout fishing and smelting there in the early 1980s left a big mark on me.  Long story short, I worked a bunch of odd jobs – primarily at restaurants, but also some temp-gigs at Cornell and elsewhere before the manager of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Fly-Shop, Tom, had seen some photos of nice lake trout we were catching fly-fishing from shore on Seneca Lake and asked me if I’d ever considered guiding.  That “ear-bug” was the genesis of my guide service.  Funny, I’d never considered guiding before.  What did I have to lose?  I went ahead and got my guide’s license and captain’s license.  At that same time, with total “synchronicity” my favorite Uncle (actually my great-uncle) had passed away and remarkably left me just enough money to purchase a boat package.  I would have bought something anyways, but it might have taken longer and I likely wouldn’t have been able to afford the 18’er I wound up getting.  This was in the fall of 2001.

    Once I bought the 18′ Crestliner with 80 hp Yamaha, I was free to explore.   I had fished like a madman since about 1978 or ’79, slowing down occasionally here and there, and now was at it again, only this time in a boat.  I did quite a bit of boat angling and had experienced fishing most of the water bodies around central New York since the mid-1980s.  I had various fishing buddies and that helped a lot – having fishing mentors is invaluable to shortening the learning curve, although you still have to put the time in.

    I was working in restaurants during the late-1990s and early-2000s.  This schedule was great for finding time to fish.  I started teaching a few Physical Education classes at Cornell starting around 2003 and my boss Phil, was a good angler and also a good influence towards pushing me to guide.  We started fishing some bass tournaments as a team for a couple of years, which really helped my bass fishing.  I spent about a year at Bass Pro Shops in Auburn as well.  Phil was a paramedic as well as Cornell’s Director of Safety.  He suggested a web designer that Bangs Ambulance had used.  This person was too busy, but recommended a friend to me, who wound up designing my website, which went live late in 2004.

    First edition of the Website - I'm finally up and running!

    Once I got into editing my home-page, I started adding a lot more content.  My web-designer Jason, did the little fish drawing on my early logo.  The logo was supposed to be tilted a bit counter-clockwise, but I didn’t like the optics of it, so you can see that the water-line isn’t horizontal.  Nobody cared!

    A little later on...

    I left my cheap little apartment in Trumansburg in 2012 and moved to Lansing.  Around this time I also hired a professional logo-designer to make my logo better and usable for various merchandise.

    More detailed basic Fishing Reports on the home-page

    Until maybe 10 years ago, I felt a need to continually check on pretty much all the lakes I guided regularly on a continual basis, so if I hadn’t been on Owasco or Keuka Lake in a while, it was time to head over there to update my reports.  That amount of driving and fishing wasn’t sustainable; it became draining physically and mentally and it took a toll on my equipment – i.e., my truck, boat, trailer and trolling motor.  And after a while, I felt like I had a pretty good feel of what to expect.  Conditions and fishing success became a bit more predictable.  Keeping detailed records helped a lot with this.  After a decade of full-time guiding, I also wound up with contacts – many of whom were very good anglers, on many of the lakes, so a quick text, phone call or email could provide me with the info I needed – which was generally water temperature, clarity and anything else of significance.

    Clients also tended to favor certain types of fishing.  I thought when I started, that fly-fishing for landlocked Atlantic salmon would be my main draw.  Boy was I wrong!  Even when the fishing was top-notch, relatively few people were interested in taking a winter or cold-weather trip, and even fewer had experience fly-fishing out on the lakes.  I had no issues using spinning gear for them, but even on great years, the casting for them was never super-consistent.  Conditions had to be just right, and they rarely were for long.

    With bass, most guys I’d guide from other parts of NY, PA and NJ would say – “I can catch all the bass I want back home.  What we can’t catch are lake trout.”  So, the bass guiding pretty much dwindled down rather quickly.  I had bass trips on Keuka and Cayuga Lakes where we’d get into some nice bass after jigging lake trout and the clients were asking, “hey, can we go back for lake trout?”  People like catching good numbers of BIG fish and there’s less effort involved angling-wise targeting lake trout.  You don’t have to make precision casts and learn to work numerous different lures.  There’s no getting around all those factors.  I was never a big fan of guiding bass on lakes like Cayuga anyways for a number of reasons – too many tournaments and practicing anglers, casting docks is tough for casual anglers, conditions change often, and it can be tough to stay focused and on bass consistently – to name a few reasons.  With pike, even with the spectacular pike fishing on Seneca Lake from 2006 – 2008, more people wanted lake trout overall, although I did quite a few pike trips back then.

    My guiding “tree” has been pruned back quite a bit since I started.  Back when I started, the typical Finger Lakes guide/charter was a troller – for trout and salmon.  There were a few old-time guides that guided multi-species, but almost always on their respective home lakes.  Not many people were lake-hopping like I was for different species of fish, although I think multi-species/multi-lake fishing was getting on people’s radar.  A couple other guides started right around the time I did doing casting trips.  Nowadays, there are more guides and some specialists out there, so people can hire guides that are fanatics of certain species and are well dialed in.  When I started, I saw the need to be a bit of a “jack-of-all-trades” to provide services that nobody else was providing.

    I’m averaging more trips now per year than before, but most tend towards lake-trout jigging and most are on Cayuga Lake, with Owasco Lake next, followed by Seneca Lake.  I rarely do gar trips anymore.  Pike trips have also been relegated to 5% of my guiding now.  I have a few dedicated fly-fishing clients, but that’s still maybe 5% to 15% of my annual trips depending on the year.

    I will be updating the species and lake profiles shortly.  I may also write an article on how the fishing has changed since I started guiding.  My rates are staying the same in 2024, barring any crazy inflation.  For now, it’s full steam ahead and I’m hoping for another great year!

  • Gift Certificates are available!

    Usually I forget to mention gift certificates until later in December, but not this time!  I have plenty of them and they can be written up for any amount of money.  No need to set a trip date – the recipient of the Gift Certificate can call me at his/her leisure and we can go from there.  Purchases for a half day or full day trip are good regardless of any future price increases.  I plan on keeping my rates the same in 2024 barring any crazy inflation.

    Email me at: JGaulke001@twcny.rr.com  or you can call me at (607)319-0450.

  • Mustard fried fish?

    I had my client Gordon onboard with me a month ago, and after catching some nice perch on Skaneateles Lake, he mentioned wanting to fry them in Panko after coating the fillets in mustard.  I’d never heard of that, but Gordon had done a few guided Lake Erie trips for walleyes, as well as some trips up in Canada, and I guess that’s a very popular method used to fry fish.

    I’ve given it a couple tries now, and I really like it.  A quick internet search brings up plenty on the topic.  I just hadn’t heard about it before.  It’s very simple – basically take your fillets and coat them in mustard; you can use plain old yellow mustard or Dijon or any kind you like.  After that, dredge them in Panko or whatever coating you choose to use.  I tried a mix of bread and cracker crumbs with yellow mustard the first time I did the recipe.  Tonight I used Dijon mustard and coated the fish with an instant mashed potato mix.  The latter method worked better for me.  It’s important to let the coated fillets air dry on a rack so you get a nice seal on them.  Otherwise, you run the risk of everything coming off in the skillet.

    Online recipes claim that you don’t taste the mustard after frying the fish.  I found that to be somewhat “truer” with the yellow mustard, but that cooking attempt of mine didn’t go well – I did get a lot of the coating peeling off in the pan.  With the Dijon mustard, I could taste it, and it was great.  It didn’t overpower my mild walleye fillets.  It’s a super convenient way to bread fish for frying, and it’s easy to see why these guides use it.  No need for egg wash and multiple dipping with flour and so on.  There’s no need for any seasonings like salt, pepper or even lemon juice.  The mustard imparts a nice mild flavor to the fish.  Gordon told me that the main reason the guides use the mustard is that it gives the fried fish a nice yellowish, golden color.  That’s true as well but do it for the flavor and convenience!  It’s a great method and one that I will keep experimenting with.

  • Lake Trout Recipe

    One question I get asked an awful lot is, “how do you like to cook lake trout?”   I never have a set answer for this question.  I fry them, grill them, smoke them, make chowder and so on.  There are a lot of ways to prepare them.  First off, I’ll say that I probably eat more lake trout than any other freshwater fish, primarily since I guide them throughout much of the year.  If a client of mine has kept what he wants or is primarily a catch and release angler or  if we get an injured fish or one around a size that suites me – say 20″ to 24″, I’ll often keep it.  Of course I love eating walleyes, perch, crappies, salmon and other species as well, but lake trout are my bread-and-butter fish.

    I’ve been swinging by a lot of Amish and Mennonite farm stands lately and trying to purchase vegetables in season.  Whether you grow it or buy it, a lot of us wind up with more zucchini than we know what to do with.  What I’ve been doing recently is sautéing sliced zucchini in olive oil and adding in whatever other vegetables I have around with it:  peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and so forth.  I’m basically making a variation of ratatouille.  I add in some salt and pepper and a few crushed hot pepper flakes and cook everything down.  I then add in chunks of lake trout and cover the pan for around 5 minutes.  This cooks the fish perfectly.  You can top your plate with some grated cheese and/or lemon juice and voila, you have a delicious, nutritious meal.  I’ve really gotten into preparing fish this way this summer and it’s also delicious with any other firm white fish like halibut or ling cod.  Of course you can do it with chicken or seafood as well.

    Fresh vegetables sauteed with lake trout!

  • Ranger Fiberglass Boat For Sale!

    My client Tony Cardwell has a fantastic, and I mean fantastic RANGER boat for sale.  He bought it around 5 years ago and as he’s been getting older, it’s something he just isn’t using much.  Here’s what he’s selling in his own words:

    2018 50th Anniversary 2080MS Angler with dual axle Ranger trailer, Keel protector, raptor wheels, deluxe boat cover, mooring cover, retractable trailer tie downs, 250 Mercury Verado Pro, Minnkota Ulterra 80, Lowrance Hook-7 and Lowrance Elite Ti 5, transom saver, life vests, anchor, walk through windshield, fenders, bike seat, rod holders and rail clamp style set of six, original price.  Boat has about 80 hours run time.  New equivalent Ranger boat is about $95,000.  Located in Cresco, PA 30 miles south of Scranton. $59,995.  Anthony Cardwell (570) 656-2469.     Email:  ajcardwel@yahoo.com

    Ranger #1

    Ranger #2

    Ranger #3

    Ranger #4

    It goes without saying that this is a killer boat for big water like the Finger Lakes, St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, Oneida Lake and more.  I’ve known Tony for a long time and he takes great care of things.  He did not use this boat much, as mentioned in his description!

  • Cayuga Lake Algae Bloom is underway!

    It looks like the Grinch has arrived a week to ten-days early this year!  I’ve heard from a couple sources that a mid-lake algae bloom has just started.  There is a sign at Long Point State Park warning about it.  Friends were on the lake today and also noticed it.  The south end remains clear.  My friend/client Ryan reported 4′ of visibility up around Dean’s Cove, which is good.

    There’s plenty of information about HABs online.  I’m no expert on it and there’s no reason for me to talk about it apart from the fishing, the main question being:

    How does it affect the fishing?   

    My answer is this – It makes fishing much more unpredictable.  That’s it. I could leave it at that.

    Lake trout don’t know what an algae bloom is.  The algae bloom is concentrated on the surface of the lake.  The lake trout don’t come in contact with it – as far as I know.  (By the way, I wouldn’t hesitate to eat a lake trout caught during a bloom.  They are in the cold water below – not swimming in the algae.)

    The algae really affects the light penetration.  My feeling is this – if the bite would have been slow or tentative without any algae around, with the algae, it may be downright brutal.  What might be a 2 to 3 fish morning for a good jig fishermen can turn into a zero fish day.

    As a guide, I have a responsibility to my clients to try to get them into some good fishing – the best fishing I can find for them.  I prefer to move trips to other lakes if I can.  That being said, a slow day on Cayuga Lake can be better than a good day elsewhere, but I have to do what makes the most sense.

    I often get texts from clients while the bloom is going.  They’ll usually go like this:  “Hey, just wanted to give you a report.  We’re on Cayuga up at so and so area and have landed 9 lakers so far.  The algae hasn’t hurt us at all.”  That’s great, but from one day to the next can be a complete 180, and nobody wants to get skunked or have a brutal day out there if they could help it.  Guided a full-day during a tough bite with a bloom is tedious.

    The severity of the bloom will often dictate the effect on the fishing.  A friend of mine jigs for rainbows using his live-scope sonar.  He does just fine during the bloom.  If you troll, you may not miss a beat either.  For jigging, sometimes the morning will be a complete bust, but we’ll get a bite-window once the sun gets high overhead.  The algae is just another variable that goes into the sometimes-complex formula of fishing success.

    If you have a rental or cottage on the lake, I would probably just go out and fish and see how things go.  Play with different colors of jigs.  The black jig has been killer for us at times during the bloom.  For me, I much prefer to move trips to another lake where I do not have to deal with the added variable of the algae!  Different strokes for different folks.

    Sign up at Long Point as of yesterday 6/25

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