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.