• Seneca Lake Update

    One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is “What’s going on with Seneca Lake?  Why is the fishing so tough over there?”   I’ve gone over this plenty of times before in my articles and on reports.  I’ve had a chance to talk to Region 8 fisheries personnel and I think the fishery is headed in the right direction.

    Crews from Region 8 have finished up their Coldwater Netting on Seneca Lake.  Numbers of lakers netted (abundance of fish – or lack thereof) was similar or perhaps slightly lower than what was seen in 2017.  Overall sizes and condition of lake trout was better than then.   Lamprey scarring was low, however more live lampreys did come up in the nets attached to fish than in the prior netting.

    Natural production is down to late 1970s/early 1980s numbers.  Approximately 10% to 30% of the lakers netted in Seneca Lake were of wild origin.  In the late 1980s/early 1990s wild production was up around 65% to 75%.   Lower wild production is likely a result of high alewife numbers and issues with EMS (thiamine deficiency.)  You can Google that if you don’t know what it is.  Good numbers of 7 to 9lb lake trout showed up.  There weren’t many over 10lbs.

    Fish have been well-fed.  Smaller lake trout have been primarily feeding on sculpin.  Larger fish are eating alewives.  DEC will do forage netting in September.  There were no gobies found in any lakers as far as I know.

    This fall DEC will search for lampreys in the canals and I believe they will do a treatment.  The next treatments of tributaries is scheduled for spring 2021.

    Lake trout stocking has been increased to 2012 numbers.  Additional browns were stocked in the lake this spring due to the zebra mussel infestation at the Rome Hatchery.  The future management plan of Seneca Lake is not likely to include brown trout.  Each Finger Lake is being managed as a different lake (which they obviously are) and will be stocked with the fish that thrive the best there.  Although Seneca Lake has churned out some beautiful brown trout over the past 30+ years, the browns do very poorly there when lamprey numbers are up.   Lampreys are much tougher to control on Seneca Lake than Cayuga Lake, due to the spawning in the canals/deltas and the fact that Cayuga has a low head dam and fish ladder on its one main spawning stream which easily enables lampreys to be removed via hand.

    The good news is that Landlocked Salmon stocking numbers are slated to go up.  If enough fish are available the stocking numbers will be doubled or at least increased by 40% or more.  These fish have thrived in Seneca Lake even when lamprey numbers have been high.  The lack of gobies keeps the salmon up near the surface making for great casting, fly-casting and trolling from the late fall into the following spring.

    DEC still has to crunch all the data on their summer field work, so we’ll have a clearer picture of what’s going on by the time the next diary summaries are published and I’m sure a technical brief or two will show up online sooner or later.

  • Maryland Pike Cakes?

    As somebody who likes to target pike and pickerel as well as eat them on occasion, one of the questions that arises is what to do with those extra scraps and meaty wedges that have those annoying “Y” bones in them.  I don’t like to waste good meat but at the same time I want my dining experience to be pleasurable.  Chomping on a plethora of bones doesn’t sound like fun to me, not to mention that they can get caught in your throat.  Those aren’t my kind of thrills!

    There are boatloads of pickerel in Cayuga Lake as well as Oneida Lake.  They are superb eating.  Boneless toothies are right up there with walleyes, as my client Bill mentioned to me a few days ago – and I wholeheartedly agree.   Over the years we have played around with a lot of fish cake recipes.  I’ve tried ones from “In-Fishermen” magazine as well as others online.  They are all good.  I had a bunch of frozen scraps and it dawned on me that substituting pike or pickerel (or walleye, trout, crappie, rock bass et al) might be worth a shot in a crab cake recipe.  After all, who doesn’t like crab cakes?  Non-seafood eaters are the only people I know that don’t love crab cakes.

    I tried a recipe last week and without a doubt, they are the best fish cakes I’ve ever had bar none.  This recipe came from www.sallybakingaddiction.com    

    You can check out the link online.

    You would take a pound of so of fish scraps – I would run them through a grinder or food processor.  Mix with one egg, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 cup mayo, 2 tsp dried or fresh parsley, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 2/3 rds cup cracker crumbs (I used good oyster crackers and ground them coarsely) 1 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning (gotta have the Old Bay!)  and 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce.

    Blend together.  I heated up a couple large skillets and used some bacon grease.  I like to use a large ice-cream scoop to portion out the fish cakes.  I place the scoops in the pan then use a spatula to flatten them out.  I cooked them around 4 minutes per side using medium heat.   They came out FANTASTICALLY!   The cracker crumbs – especially if left very coarse give the cakes a nice airier texture than you would get by using potato buds, mashed potatoes or bread crumbs.  Great breakfast food or good for lunch/dinner.  Give them a try and see what you think.

     

     

     

     

  • A couple observations regarding gobies, lampreys, salmon and Cayuga Lake

    Lake ecosystems are so complex, it can be hard to connect the dots.  I remember talking to DEC Region 7 Biologist Jeff Robins some years ago about lampreys.  He said that historically on Cayuga Lake, the best fishing for brown trout and landlocked salmon took place right after a few bad lamprey years.

    He had all the historical and anecdotal evidence.  Take a minute here to guess why that might be the case.

    I have thought about this.  At first I figured maybe it’s because baitfish numbers would go up in Cayuga Lake and freshly stocked salmonids would have more to eat.  But upon further contemplation the likely answer hit me.  It’s probably because the larger trout and salmon (as well as some pike) get killed off, so predation via the adult salmonids isn’t a factor – i.e. a much larger percentage of stockies survives!  Makes sense when you think about it.

    We had spectacular landlocked salmon fishing a couple years ago – right after a horrid lamprey year or two.  Since then the salmon fishery has been spotty at best.  And we also have an interesting dynamic going on with gobies and lake trout.

    Vast swaths of round goby were carpeting the bottom of Cayuga Lake over the past 7 or 8 years.  Now many of them have either been eaten by predators or died off (we have had periodic goby die-offs in the late winter/early spring.)  It took Cayuga Lake’s massive lake trout population a few years to discover the “goby bounty.”  Now that the gobies are at a lower level number-wise, we still have large numbers of adult lake trout prowling the shallows throughout the cold water months without a lot to eat.  What do think happens to the freshly stocked salmon and browns that are released at Long Point and Taughannock (both major lake trout meccas)?    Despite Cayuga Lake’s great baitfish population (both alewives and gobies,) we virtually have a Keuka Lake situation here now in the spring when young fish are stocked.  Hungry predators swarming the shallows!  In the pre-goby years, lake trout spent most of April and much of May(when young trout/salmon are stocked shallow) in deep water – 120′ to 160′ or more usually is where I would find them.  Now they have moved up.  The question is will they move back out given the paucity of gobies in shallow this winter?   I’m sure some of you out there can see why I love guiding and studying these lakes so much!  There’s always a challenge ahead and different outcomes to consider. People need to harvest more lake trout – especially these shallow fish.  You can sauté them, fry them, smoke them, bake them, grill them, broil them, make chowder with them and more – your imagination is the limit.  But keeping lake trout should only help the survival of browns, rainbows and landlocked Atlantic salmon.

     

     

  • Roll with the changes…

    Great REO song and it pretty much sums up how I approach guiding and angling on the Finger Lakes.   The only constant I see in fishing most area waterways is change.  And while I’m talking 70s to 80s rock music, the other lyric/song that comes to mind is a quote from Scandal’s “Goodbye to You” – and it goes “I remember the good times baby – now, and the bad times too.”

    When I set up Finger Lakes Angling Zone guide service during the fall of 2004, my thought was that I would focus on fly-fishing for landlocked salmon mainly on Cayuga Lake but also on Seneca and maybe both rainbows/salmon on Skaneateles Lake.  That was going to be a big draw – or so I thought.  My very first guided trip was a great salmon trip on Cayuga that we really had to plan out.  I knew exactly what we needed in terms of wind/weather in order to be able to successfully target salmon on the fly.

    My history on Cayuga Lake salmon fishing at that point in time was a pretty small window.  I moved up here in 1995 from the Rochester NY area.  It took me a couple years before I really understood what was going on with the salmon – in terms of what a great fishery we had here.  I’d first fished Cayuga Lake for bass (with my buddy Terry) back in the late 1980s.  I’d smelt dipped a bit around Trumansburg in the late 1980s/early 1990s.  Looking back on the Cayuga Lake DEC fishing diary summaries, I’d arrived at a very good time in history for the Cayuga Lake salmon fishery.

    I’m not going to get into the complete modern history of Cayuga Lake salmon (though I do have the historical data and have talked with anglers that fished the lakes back in the 1960s and onward) but I’d like to present a picture here based primarily on the diary reports.  Fishing for salmon has fluctuated a lot over the years.  The early 1970s were mostly a time for rainbows and lake trout on Cayuga Lake. Salmon were periodically stocked in the 1950s and 60s and did well (when DEC could find fish to stock.)  Fishing was generally halfway decent in the 1970s, but it had its ups and downs.  The late 1970s were really tough on Cayuga Lake with it taking an average of 7 hours to catch a single legal salmonid!  And that’s back when a 14″ salmon was legal.   The early 1980s were plagued by high lamprey abundance that also decimated brown trout.  The mid to late 1980s were top-notch. The early 1990s saw a marked decline in salmon fishing after a large population of adult lake trout predated on a lot of the other salmonids.  It took an average of 6.6 hours for one of the 94 diary cooperators in 1994 to land a legal salmonid in Cayuga Lake.  That’s tougher fishing than what we saw on Seneca Lake over the past three years!  1995 was pretty good on Cayuga, but the fishing really got hot from 1996 to around 2002 or 2003 – just as I was getting into it.  Since then it has been up and down with hot fishing in 2008, 2010 – 2013 and again around 2016 and 2017.  2006, 2007 and 2014 were noticeably tough years. Had I not known about the history of Cayuga salmon fishing, I would have thought that it had been great “forever” and got really bad not long after I moved up to Trumansburg.

    These fisheries are incredibly dynamic.  In just the relatively short time I’ve been here (and it feels like just a few years, even though I’ve been here now nearly 25 years), I’ve watched as the smelt population dwindled down to next to nothing after the  fantastic runs I witnessed in the late 1980s.   Then around 2012 we had an influx and population “explosion” of round gobies, which changed just about everything again – lakers started roaming shallow during the winter in unprecedented numbers and salmon became bottom feeders.  What’s next?   Who knows, but it’s going to be interesting!   (By the way, many people don’t realize that Cayuga Lake didn’t even have smelt in it before around 1930.  They became abundant in 1946 and then declined in the late 40s/early 50s.  It shot up a lot in the 60s and 70s.   Now they appear to be scarce.  Some people think that smelt were a native specie – they weren’t.)

    My history with Seneca Lake really started around 1980.  The rainbow trout fishing was incredible!  Rainbows would run the tiniest creeks and you could catch a limit of 16″ to 18″ bows in creeks that would dry up two months later.  Smelt runs were fantastic – they’d run “black” where you could net all you’d want to clean in a few big scoops.

    “But I remember the bad times too…”  Lake trout fishing in Seneca Lake was horrible in 1979!  It took an average of 6.9 hours to catch a legal laker or rainbow out on the lake!  And that rate is for close to 100 diary cooperators – many of whom lived around the lake and fished it regularly.   A lot of the guys struggling were not slouches with a rod and reel.  Pike fishing was declining.  In the late 1980s we caught more pickerel in Seneca Lake than pike.  The bass fishing was really good, as was the perch fishing.

    Skaneateles Lake went from being the easiest and best Finger Lake to fly-fish rainbows in (if you know how, where and when) to more of a size fishery that is considerably more challenging.  Numbers seemed pretty good this year in what was once maybe the most stable cold-water fishery in the Finger Lakes.  But threats loom on the horizon with the expanding walleye population and really lackluster salmon action.

    As I write this, it’s close to the end of 2019.  We’re heading into the 2020s.  My guiding has continually had to adapt to the changes.   I wind up buying a bunch of tackle and five years later it’s virtually obsolete for what I need.  My guiding is consistent.  I’ve learned that most clients would rather have high percentage fishing – i.e. have very good odds of catching some nice lakers, as opposed to “rolling the dice” in order to either catch some salmon or perhaps nothing.  (It’s like musky fishing – some people love the high-stakes of fishing all day for a single good fish and others prefer to have more certain odds of catching pike.)  People like the fishing Cayuga is offering now more so than what was happening here in the mid-2000s. They are loving the winter inshore lake trout fishery.  It is close to world class.  Where else are you going to go from November through March and catch good numbers of lakers – basically casting bass lures?  You aren’t doing it in Alaska or Canada – it’s frozen up there!   So I roll with the changes.  When the salmon fishery gets strong again, I’ll be there.  But for now, I ain’t complaining.  The fishing is great.  “I’ll be here when you are ready…to roll with the changes!”

     

     

  • Lake Ontario 2019 onwards – a new paradigm

    What a wild year on Lake Ontario!  By nearly all accounts, spring King salmon fishing was beyond compare along virtually the entire south shore of the lake, from the Niagara Bar east past Oswego Harbor.   Double digit days were common and some anglers experienced doubles and triples on mature salmon in less than 50 feet of water throughout April and May.  Great fishing was had by the pros and recreational anglers alike.

    Flash forward to October and people are wondering where the salmon are.  Runs at the Salmon River have been way below par.  Heavy runs in past years featured hundreds of fish moving through the river over the course of a few days or off and on over a few weeks.  This year people were lucky to see a few dozen or at best maybe 50 fish move through in a day.  And anglers fishing off of piers and in tributaries west of the Salmon River haven’t seen much to get excited about.  According to an article I read in the Buffalo News, guides on the mighty Niagara River have been lucky to catch a King per boat!  Some guides have cancelled their salmon season.

    So what happened?  Did the open water anglers harvest the majority of mature salmon?   Was there a die-off in the lake?  Are the fish still out in the lake staging?  Will we see a big run of Chinook in November?

    I think what happened is pretty clear.

    #1)  We had very hungry salmon out on the lake.   Salmon rarely used to show up during the early season back in the 1980s in any good numbers much east of Wilson/Olcott/Golden Hills.  Over the past few years or maybe decade, hungry salmon have been caught out of Oswego in April and May in good numbers.  Why are they out there?  FOOD!   If there was sufficient bait out west, the fish wouldn’t need to move eastward.  I don’t put this on weather patterns or anything of that nature.

    #2) There’s relatively little bait out there.   Yes, I know that west end (from Rochester to Wilson) charter captains talk incessantly about how much bait they see on their fish finders.  And they catch fish stuffed with alewives.

    a.)  However if there was as much bait out there as they think, why would catch rates be so high?  Well fed fish aren’t going to be as apt to strike lures.  They aren’t going to move into 30 feet of water or less in April searching for bait.  They aren’t going to be chasing small groups of alewives on the surface (like I saw out of Oswego last May.)  They would stay on the west end of the lake.

    b.)  If there was so much bait out there, where are the 35lb+ salmon?  How about just the 30lbers?

    c.)  There are other indicators as well.  Perch populations are up throughout the south side of Lake Ontario.  Typically when alewife numbers are high, perch numbers are low.

    The New Paradigm will likely be as follows:  DEC will not be able to increase stocking on Pacific Salmon given the 29% drop in alewife biomass this year.   With the continuing drop in forage abundance combined with large numbers of wild Kings and good numbers of stocked fish, I would expect this pattern to remain at least over the next few years.  Kings abundant along the south shore of Lake Ontario by mid-May.  Heavy harvest by trollers.  Light runs up the tribs.

    DEC is at a critical juncture here.  If they listen to the skeptics and increase stocking of Pacific Salmon, the entire fishery could collapse.  If stocking were increased, you’d see forage species (alewives) decimated.  The chances of recovering from that are slim.  Charter guys may say, “Well if that happens, we’ll just pound steelhead or lakers.”   Good luck with that.  If the alewives collapse, what do you think happens to those freshly stocked browns, rainbows/steelhead, lakers, cohos and kings?   They get eaten!  They become the bait.

    Take a look back at Keuka Lake with its overabundance of lake trout. What happened there is worthy of examination. During the 1980s and into the 1990s Browns and Landlocked salmon were stocked at good numbers and we had good returns.  Eventually bait numbers diminished and laker numbers went up and those stocked browns and salmon, along with stocked/wild rainbows all just disappeared.   DEC was just feeding wild lake trout.  Furthermore, we had catch rates skyrocket on Keuka a few years back.  We also had small areas of the lake, e.g. around Hammondsport, where if that’s the only area you fished, you’d swear that the alewives were doing well.  There were good numbers of alewives near Branchport and Hammondsport.  That was it.  Then they disappeared.  Lessons can be learned from Keuka Lake!

     

     

  • Cayuga Lake Levels

    Here’s a link to a chart that shows the lake levels that the NYS Canal Authority tries to maintain during the course of the year.  So as I write this on March 15th, 2019 the lake is below target levels.

    The main factor that determines the optimal lake level in the winter is the snow pack in the Cayuga watershed. When the snow pack levels are high, the Canal Authority tries to keep the lake lower than normal in the winter in order to mitigate any potential flooding. Lake levels should be set to rise now.

    Here’s the link: http://www.canals.ny.gov/waterlevels/netdata/cayuga-levels.pdf