• Cayuga Lake’s Lake Trout Population – How big is it?

    One thing I’ve often wondered is, “how large is the population of lake trout on Cayuga or Seneca Lakes?  DEC hasn’t done any population estimates on these lakes in decades, but I did come across some older information which may be enlightening.  Dan Bishop’s Master Thesis, published in January 1996 gives us a few clues.  The paper that I have a copy of is entitled “EVALUATION OF THE EXPERIMENTAL SEA LAMPREY CONTROL PROGRAM IN CAYUGA LAKE, NEW YORK FINAL REPORT.”

    Chart of Lake trout population estimates through the 1980s - by Kosowski, Engstrom-Heg

    We can see here that the lake trout population on Cayuga Lake fluctuated from lows of 6,000 in 1981 and 1982, to highs of around 20,000 adults in 1989.  Anecdotally, I believe that the population on Cayuga Lake hit even greater highs in the mid-1990s, so it may have gone up to 25,000 or more adult fish.  Seneca Lake ranged from lows of 6,000 to 7,000 adult lake trout in 1980 (when lake trout fishing there was awful), up to highs again around 23,000 adults in 1987, before it tapered back down again.  I would guess that the Seneca Lake lake trout population went up again in the late-1990s due to wild production.  It tapered down sharply after the 2011/2012 lamprey population highs.

    Indicators now suggest that the Cayuga Lake lake trout population is very abundant, so I would guess that we are somewhere around 20,000 to perhaps 25,000 adults.  That’s about one adult lake trout per every 2 acres of lake.

    During the course of the year, I think more fish are being harvested now – from late-March through April and into May than at any other point during the year.  The population needs to be brought down somewhat and given the numbers of anglers targeting lake trout now, we may see that happen.  The lake will be gill-netted by the DEC this summer, so we should have some idea of how abundant the lake trout population is by then.

    The bottom-line is that, if you think Cayuga Lake is currently loaded with lake trout, you are correct!

  • DEC confirms Round Gobies in Seneca Lake

    We all knew that they were coming.  It was just a matter of when. I received confirmation from Region 8 DEC that gobies were confirmed in Seneca Lake.  A well-respected angler sent DEC some photos of gobies.  He had caught a perch and it spit two of them up – one which was still alive.  There were rumors of gobies being in Seneca Lake before – during the Memorial Weekend Derby 3 or 4 years ago (or perhaps longer – I don’t remember), a landlocked salmon was brought in that had a goby or two in its stomach, but I hadn’t heard anything since then.  I’ve cleaned some salmon, pike, browns and lakers over the past few years over there and didn’t encounter any.

    For readers of this website that may not know, Seneca and Cayuga Lakes are part of New York State’s canal system, so they are navigable all the way out to Lake Ontario and the Atlantic Ocean – both via the Great Lakes and the Hudson River.  That is why fishing guides on Seneca and Cayuga Lake (along with Oneida, the Barge Canal, Onondaga Lake and other attached (i.e., NAVIGABLE) waterways need to have a U.S. Coast Guard license to guide them.  That is also why Seneca and Cayuga Lakes have lampreys, whereas the other Finger Lakes don’t.  It’s also why these two Finger Lakes have more species diversity than the others – fish like sturgeon, drum, channel catfish, gar, bowfin, white perch and so on can swim into these lakes via the canal system.  The Seneca River is the outlet of Seneca Lake and there are some locks and little waterfalls (and Van Cleef Lake) in between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, so there were some obstacles – they couldn’t just swim over.  It took time for them to negotiate these obstacles and build up enough of a population to where they were detectable.

    Given the goby invasion (or “infestation”) of Cayuga Lake and Oneida Lakes, what can we ascertain or predict will happen over on Seneca Lake?

    Below are my thoughts – positive and negative.

    First the Negative:

    1.)  Some native species like sculpin will be outcompeted by gobies.  We may see the same with bass fry and other gamefish fry.

    2.)  Gobies are voracious attackers of fish eggs and larvae/fry.  Expect smallmouth bass and lake trout to potentially take a big hit here.  Wild lake trout now constitute around 33% of Seneca’s laker population. These numbers may diminish.  Stocking increases can offset any hits to the wild lake trout population, however bass are not raised or stocked in NY Waterways, other than for starting up farm ponds.  Smallmouths will take a hit here, just like they have on Lake Ontario, Oneida Lake and Cayuga Lake.

    3.)  Fish like landlocked salmon are great fun to catch up near the surface of the lakes.  It makes them fun to fly-fish. With thousands of gobies on the bottom, these fish will not be looking up until the waters warm and alewives (which they seem to prefer over gobies,) move in.  That’s my #1 personal bummer here!  I LOVE fly-fishing for salmon and this will likely ruin the late-fall/winter bite.  At least I can fly-fish lakers on Keuka now.

    4.)  Gobies are a relatively new invader to the United States.  We may not know the consequences of their presence for decades.  It took researchers literally 100 years before they realized what alewives did to fish populations – between thiamine deficiencies and predation.  Smelt also negatively impacted a lot of native species.  We likely won’t REALLY know the full impact of the gobies for years.  Scientists think they can be a vector for contaminants, but I don’t think that has materialized yet, apart from the botulism issues on Lake Erie.  As far as I know, we haven’t seen contaminant numbers go up in fish yet.

    5.)  Gobies are big bait stealers.  They will clean the bait off of your rigs intended for bass, bullheads and panfish.

    The positive:

    1.)  Growth rates and condition of fish that prey on gobies will go up.  We likely would never have seen the NY State record smallmouth bass come out of Cayuga Lake if not for gobies.  Yellow perch, trout, salmon, pickerel, pike, drum, sturgeon and other species gobble up gobies.

    2.)  A diet of gobies might help the thiamine levels of salmonids that feed on them.  Of course, any gains may wind up being offset by predation on the eggs/fry by the gobies.

    3.)  I’ve never eaten a goby, but people from the Eastern Hemisphere have told me that they are very tasty.  Once gobies got into Cayuga Lake, the color of the meat on lake trout became more orange/red.  I’m not sure if the flavor changed much, but the appearance sure did.

    4.)  Gobies may buffer the effects of cormorant colonies.  Cormorants eat a ton of sport fish.  They just love eating fish – I’d rather them eat alewives and gobies.  This may help save some trout, bass and panfish in the long run.

    5.)  Gobies will take the zebra/quagga mussel population way down.  No more cutting your feet on mussel encrusted rocks.  Gobies will devour those mussels quickly.

    6.)  We may see some fun shallow winter-time lake trout fishing on Seneca Lake.  On Cayuga it really only peaked for a few years, but ever since then, more lake trout now roam shallow than did pre-goby.

    My list may make it look like gobies are a net positive.  I do not know.  I wish we didn’t have them.

    Here are some differences between Seneca Lake’s fishery and Cayuga’s.  Cayuga Lake has a much larger (aka “denser”) lake trout population than Seneca.  I really don’t expect the epic nearshore bite here anytime soon.  Of course that “bite” on Cayuga Lake happened maybe three or four years after the goby influx.  With Seneca Lake’s lake trout stocking numbers going up, we may see that crazy fishing in a few years.

    There are a lot fewer anglers targeting bass on Seneca Lake than there are on Cayuga.  Don’t be surprised if somebody really “shakes things up” with a catch of some massive smallmouths and/or largemouths over the next few years on Seneca Lake!   It could happen.

    Perch numbers have been down for a few years on Seneca Lake.  I attribute that to the massive alewive population.  Once the alewives get knocked back (by lake trout) and the perch population comes back, we may see Seneca Lake’s perch fishing revert back to some of its former glory.  The gobies seem to have helped Cayuga Lake’s perch fishing.  Perhaps the same is true for Oneida Lake.

    Brown trout love eating gobies too.  Maybe we’ll see Seneca Lake’s brown trout bounce back a bit.  If DEC can keep the lampreys down, this could happen.

    Whether the gobies are a net negative or positive is a moot point now.  They’re here – whether we like them or not.  We just have to hope for the best.  DEC is doing a lot of research on Seneca Lake this year (sheer coincidence with the goby confirmation) and we’ll likely learn a lot by the end of the year.  Make sure you sign up to keep a diary over there with DEC, if you plan on fishing there!



  • Silver Lake Marine New Service Center Celebration

    Just got back from the ribbon-cutting ceremony over at Silver Lake Marine. The weather stayed about as perfect as could be hoped for, given that it was April 1st. and a massive cold front was forecast to move it.   The turnout was fantastic!   A great time was had by all and Quinn Bellamy (the President/owner of SLM) went far above and beyond in his generosity and hospitality.  I’ve never seen another business run quite like Silver Lake Marine.  It’s no wonder that they are the largest Crestliner dealer in the northeast and have, for four years running been Western NY’s only Top 100 boat dealer.  Mike, who works in the service department told me that over half of Silver Lake Marine’s customers drive from over an hour away!  This is for service as well as buying boats!

    I enjoyed a few Pilsners from Silver Lake Brewing Company, some terrific baked goods from For the Love of Flour Bakery and a great Pot roast poutine lunch complements of Diner on the Run Food truck.  WGZR – Channel 2 Buffalo helped to promote the event.  We had the regional country music station broadcasting live from the event.  Many other local businesses attended and had booths to visit.

    People showed up early! I brought a couple photo albums and a laker jigging rod set-up

    Food Truck!

    The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

  • Region 7 Diary Highlights/Lowlights

    It was sure nice to get our Region 7 Diary Summaries in mid-March!  Over the past 4 or 5 years, they’ve shown up in mid-April.  In the old days, biologists would get summaries and books out to cooperators in early March, before the season got underway.

    Here’s some of the pertinent info:

    Cayuga Lake  Cold water cooperator numbers are pretty good at 42 anglers.  That’s not bad.  Lows since the mid-1990s were 25 anglers in 2016 and highs have been up to 101.   I encourage a lot of my clients to participate.  The drawback of that, is that a lot of them are lake trout jiggers and that can skew catch numbers towards lake trout.  If you target non-lakers – i.e., rainbows, browns and salmon, you should consider signing up so the results show some balance.

    Lake Trout were 96% of the salmonid catch.  That is NOT GOOD!  When laker numbers are that high proportionally (assuming that this percentage is indicative of the proportions of various salmonids out there), they are at a level that impacts the survival of the other salmonids.  Lakers are notoriously cannibalistic.  They will eat a lot of freshly stocked salmon and browns as well as rainbows down-migrating from Cayuga Inlet.   We will likely see lake trout stocking reductions in the near future.  DEC aims for 65% lakers and 35% other salmonids in the creel.

    Salmon numbers were poor as were brown trout numbers.  Rainbow numbers weren’t bad.  People need to harvest more lake trout out of Cayuga Lake.  We’re seeing some encouraging numbers of young browns thus far this year.  Hopefully we’ll start seeing more young salmon too!

    Warm water cooperator numbers were low with 10 anglers.  The most the program has seen has seen in the past was 14.  If you fish Cayuga Lake for bass, pike or pickerel, consider keeping a book for DEC.

    No pike were reported in 2022 by cooperators.  I’ve noticed perch fishermen picking up more bonus northern pike on Cayuga Lake’s north end.  The south end pike numbers seem to be way down.  That’s a shame, but at least people can’t blame them for the poor recruitment of young salmonids.

    Smallmouth numbers were pathetic!  Only 3 were caught.  Targeted catch rates were .006 fish/hour.  That’s awful.  DEC did spring electro-fishing for “centrarchids” (bass/bluegill family species) on Cayuga Lake in 2022.   They caught 338 fish over three nights including 54 largemouths and ONLY 2 SMALLMOUTHS.  Next time you hear somewhat touting how great gobies are for smallmouth bass, keep this in mind!  In every other major Finger Lake that doesn’t have a goby population, the smallmouths are thriving.  So conditions have clearly been good to excellent for smallmouth bass spawning success and “recruitment” (to the fishery.)  I think smallmouths in Cayuga Lake are going to play a very minor component in the future.  I hope I’m wrong.  DEC will be doing more surveying this year.  Sometimes fish like smallmouths are tough to capture, but this corroborates what I’ve seen and heard regarding Cayuga Lake’s smallmouths.  I have a friend that got into a large school of smallmouths last spring – but that was just one group.  Anecdotally, a lot were on beds including some young fish, so hopefully this is an aberration.  However DEC noticed a “lack of small fish, there were very few one-year-old fish.”   Blame gobies!  This lake used to be loaded with young smallmouth bass.

    Owasco Lake:   Only 7 cold water cooperators participated last year.  That number needs to go up!  You can use your Cayuga book on Owasco Lake.  Lake trout were 90% of the salmonid catch.  Rainbows are trending upwards and averaging 20.9 inches long.  Only 4 browns were reported.  They are on the rebound in this lake.  Relatively few people seem to be fishing this lake.  When I guided here last year, at most I’d see 3 or 4 other trout fishermen out.  It’s a great lake to fish for trout – especially in the summer and fall.  With Cayuga Lake being so good, I understand the light pressure here, but it’s a great lake to fish for a change of pace.

    Warm water fishing here was very good. Only 4 cooperators participated in 2022.  It took an average of 1.4 hours to catch a legal gamefish.  Smallmouth numbers/fishing was excellent!  I would agree with that – we had a great guided trip here for smallmouths last year.  We had nice bass on virtually every major area we fished.  Walleye numbers finally appear to be declining here.  That will help the browns and rainbows big-time.

    Skaneateles Lake:  Sixteen cooperators sent in books in 2022.  Lake trout averaging 17.7″ long dominated the catch.  They were 91% of the salmonid lake catch.   Rainbows were 7% of the catch averaging 18.6″.   We saw the lowest rainbow trout catch rates since 1976.  You can thank the idiots that dumped walleyes in the lake for that!  Only 7 salmon were taken, averaging 20.8″ long.

    Warm water:  Eleven cooperators participated in the program.  Smallmouth fishing was excellent here as usual, although the sizes run small.  Eight walleyes were landed and two of those were released (for some reason.)

    Otisco Lake:  Only 11 cooperators participated in 2022.  Fishing was generally excellent.  Walleye ran to 24″ long.  May was the best month for catching them and most were caught by shore fishermen.  DEC did some netting here and had a TREMENDOUS 22.4 walleyes per net!   (White perch still dominate the nettings in terms of abundance.) Five walleyes per net would suggest a high abundance, so this lake appears to be loaded with walleyes at this point.  Tiger Musky fishing was best in July, which kind of surprised me a bit.  The targeted catch rate of Tigers on this lake was 1 every 7.2 hours.  They averaged 31.1″ long.  Bass fishing was excellent here, but most of those were caught in May during the “pre-season” when they are pre-spawn or spawning.  I would like to see the numbers from the regular “harvest” season.

    There’s a lot more to unpack in these reports.  DEC usually posts them online within a few months.  I just pointed out a few items of interest.



  • Region 8 Cold Water Diary Reports are in! Silver Lake Marine Open House!

    Silver Lake Marine will be having an open house on Friday March 31st from 3 pm to 8 pm and then on Saturday April 1st from 10 am until 8 pm as well.   There will be new boats on display/for sale, local vendors, a food truck, craft beer and other refreshments available.  Door prizes will also be awarded.  This is being done in part to celebrate the opening of the new service center.  I’ll be hanging out there with the SLM crew on Saturday.  Feel free to swing by, check out some boats if you’d like and talk fishing.  There’s plenty of room inside the service center in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.   Come see for yourselves why I’ve trusted Silver Lake Marine going on close to two decades for now.  They are worth the drive!

    REGION 8 COLD WATER DIARY REPORTS are in!  First of all, I must say that cooperator numbers are still way too low!  I’ve been harping on this for years now, but if just 5 to 10% of the people that frequent my website would sign up and help with data collection, DEC would be much better off.  Whether you jig, troll, still-fish – whatever, your data really helps!   At its peak in 1994, the Seneca program had 152 participants – now there’s 22!  That doesn’t provide a good picture of what’s happening on the lake.  Obviously the fishing overall for salmonids was better back then, but even if you just fish the lake a few times a year, every bit of data helps. Three cooperators this year logged just one trip!  But it’s data and the more, the better.

    Catch rates improved during 2022 on Seneca Lake.  It took an average of 3.1 hours of fishing to land a legal salmonid, compared to 4 hours the year before and 5 hours in 2020, so things are on the upswing for sure.  Lakers were 77% of the total catch.  36% of the lake trout were wild fish, so as I’ve mentioned before, wild production declined over the past three decades but is still holding at about a third of the catch.  Some browns and rainbows showed up, but the catch was still dominated by lake trout and landlocked salmon.  Focusing a lot of stocking on brown trout here has not proven productive – at least not in recent years.  No word on the biggest of each species but the average weights of fish weighed was encouraging.  DEC will be doing a lot of field work on Seneca Lake this year, including surveying black bass and yellow perch.  Hard to believe that NY State never spent anytime monitoring the perch population on what was arguably the best perch lake in the United States for decades for monster ringbacks.  Better late than never!

    Keuka Lake’s fishery for lake trout has been holding steady for a long time. Interestingly, the diary program here just marked its 55th year in existence! It’s still only about 1.3 hours of fishing time on average to land a legal salmonid – which in this case is a lake trout 99+ percent of the time!   Twenty-three cooperators participated in the program in 2022.    The peak number of cooperators was back in 1995 with 81.  Four cooperators over here only logged one trip for the year, so like I said, even if you don’t fish much, every bit helps!  (FWIW – I ice-fished over here three times last year – had a great first trip, an “ok” second trip and a fruitless third trip.)  I will be fishing this lake a bit more this year.  I liked what I encountered two weeks ago.  Only 2 rainbows were landed by diary keepers.  No browns or salmon have been reported by diary keepers since 2020.  40 walleyes were netted during the perch netting that took place here last year.  Walleyes were present from various classes and ranged up to 23 inches long.  One was caught by a diary keeper.  Cisco stocking hasn’t been much of a success thus far, but numbers stocked have been below targets and DEC is working with Cornell to try and figure out some ways to increase survivability after they are stocked.  Smallmouth bass and yellow perch numbers here are excellent.  The size of the perch is impressive too. It’s a great lake.

    Canandaigua Lake:  I fished this lake once last fall with John Sander and we caught a couple lakers.  Eighteen cooperators contributed information to DEC this year.  The number of cooperators has ranged from the upper teens to twenties over the past 20 years.  In 1976 they had 63 cooperators.  Anglers averaged 1.2 hours to catch a legal lake trout.  Seventeen percent of the lake trout taken were wild fish.  Average amount of time to catch a legal rainbow trout was only 1.5 hours!  This lake remains a terrific rainbow trout fishery and all the rainbows are wild fish spawned mostly in Naples Creek and its tributaries.  They averaged 18″ long.  Some browns were taken here – also running 18″ on average, but numbers still remain poor given the stocking numbers.  DEC is hoping that the switch to a new strain of brown trout will help them prosper in this lake.

    My guess is that we’ll see our Region 7 Summaries show up in mid-April.  Once I get mine, I’ll put up any findings I find interesting along with my take on what’s going on.

  • Ready to roll!

    I just returned from Silver Lake Marine with my brand new 2023 Mercury 115 hp 4-stroke motor in tow.  Skyler (in sales) was nice enough to give me a Silver Lake Marine coffee mug, which can go right alongside all of my Angling Zone mugs.  I’ve been off of the water for 2 months, taking care of various odds and ends.  Now I’m ready to roll!  This was probably the longest fishing lay-off I’ve had, maybe ever in my fishing history.  It can be nice to step away from things on occasion.  Last year was very busy and I dealt with a lot of issues towards the end of the year, that have now mostly been resolved.

    I was hoping to motivate for some shore fishing, but that didn’t happen.  As I mentioned in my last post – I have a lot of hobbies that I really enjoy, which keep me busy.   I am happiest when out fishing in my boat, as opposed to shore fishing, which I did for years and years.

    The ice fishing looks to be just about done for now.  I saw 2 people on the north end of Silver Lake and one shanty on the south end.  The ice does not look good and anybody heading out locally over the next week is definitely looking to compete in this year’s Darwin awards.  Open water was starting to show along shore and most of the ice was looking opaque and airy.

    The weather in the foreseeable future looks good for open water angling.  I have a guided trip on the books shortly, so regular reports should be resuming.  Nearly all launches are open on Cayuga Lake right now – even Union Springs.  Now’s the time to book landlocked salmon trips and deepwater lake trout trips.  My schedule is fairly open, although most Saturdays in April are booked.  Pike season remains open for another month or so, until March 15th.

    Silver Lake Marine will be having an open house of sorts on April 1st, celebrating the opening of the new repair shop.  It’s a beautiful facility!   More details to come as I get them.  I’ll be there hanging out; It’s my understanding that there will be a food truck along with beers from the Silver Lake Brewing Project.  I will be there to answer any fishing related questions or just talk fishing.

    The New Merc and my new mug!

  • Rochester Boat Show and other items

    This week starting Thursday at 11 am, is the Rochester Boat Show.  I’ll be there with Silver Lake Marine on Friday afternoon into the evening and again throughout the day on Saturday, usually getting there around 11 am.  Looks like we’ll be upstairs this year.  As always, you can get great deals on boats/motors – generally the best deals of the year.  Boat dealers throw in perks and there are manufacturer incentives as well.  I’m happy to answer any basic questions on the boats/motors and their fishability.  Staff from Silver Lake Marine, along with reps for various companies can answer technical questions.

    Even if you’re not planning on buying anything this year – it’s a fun diversion from the winter.  Food and drinks are available.  There’s also stuff for kids.  It’s a great way to kick off the cabin fever.  Parking is a cinch at the Rochester Parking Garage (at the Chamber of Commerce) and you’ll never need to step outside – you can just walk over across the skyway to get to the show.

    You will find other brands there and can compare and contrast boats as well.


    My truck spent last week in the body shop getting a new grill and a few other items.  They were destroyed thanks to a Bambi run-in last April.  Our deer population in Tompkins County remains huge, and I always tell clients to be extra-cautious while driving around here – especially in the early morning, late evening and nighttime hours.

    I’ve been enjoying my time off of the water.  Sometimes it’s good to just take a break, and that’s what I’ve been doing.  Some people eat, drink, sleep and breathe fishing – that’s great, but that’s rarely ever been me for long periods of time, although I’ve had my moments.  I have a lot of interests and other hobbies that keep me busy and also keep me enthusiastic and focused when I do hit the water.  I’ve been going at this sport starting in 1976 and really fired up full-steam in 1978!  That’s a lot of time on the water.

    I expect to be ready to roll within two weeks with a brand-new motor – I’ll likely find out more this weekend.   The weather will probably be more conducive to ice-fishing over the next couple of weeks anyways.

    Dates are starting to book-up.  Now’s the best time to reserve dates for this year.

    New York has a very diverse number of fish species.  The state can be divided into different watersheds and these are what determined a lot of population “assemblies” over time since the glaciers.  A lot of people wonder what kinds of fish are in the Finger Lakes.  One tremendous online resource is the Atlas of Inland Fishes of New York State.  You can link through this via the NYSDEC website.


    There’s a lot of cool history here!  For example, the last (scientific) record of a burbot in Canandaigua Lake was in 1974.  They were reportedly common there in the 1930s.  One was recorded in Cayuga Lake back in 1875!  Want to know about the different lamprey species?  It’s all in here.  Only one type of lamprey in NY is parasitic.  You can read about pickerel being moved around, and what species really are native to the region.  If you ever caught or saw some weird fish in NY State, you’ll find them here. If you want to catch a white catfish or a quillback to add to your species list, you can see where they exist.  It’s a great resource and best of all, it’s free online to peruse.  Did you know that American eels actually got into Keuka Lake in the 1800s via the “Crooked Lake Canal?”  That’s the failed canal that was built between Dresden on Seneca Lake and Penn Yan on Keuka Lake.  Of course, the eels disappeared a long time ago on Keuka.  It makes me wonder how lampreys weren’t able to colonize Keuka.  Thankfully, they didn’t.  Although word was that the Keuka Outlet was too polluted historically to support lamprey.  You’d also think there would be other species of fish that originated in Seneca Lake and then swam over to Keuka Lake and I’m sure there are.

  • New Directions in Finger Lakes Management

    Readers of DEC Press releases, local newspapers and outdoor publications may have noticed that New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has been embracing some new fishery management concepts.  Recently, DEC has been more proactive in their management of Lake Ontario salmonid fisheries.  They’ve always been somewhat proactive, for example, when they cut chinook salmon stocking numbers after Lake Michigan’s bout with BKD.  Stocking numbers of salmon and trout are now being adjusted based on weights of mature salmon and lake forage levels.  The lake basin has been divided into different “zones” with differing objectives/stocking strategies.

    We’ve also seen statewide surveys and reclassification of inland trout waters.  We’ve seen trophy panfish waters designated in different regions.  The state’s brown trout strain has been changed in hopes of bringing some new genetics and hopefully more wild characteristics into the fish.

    These changes are long overdue and I’ve heard we’ll also being seeing esocid (pike, pickerel, musky) regulations/management looked at in the future as well.  There have been advancements in fishing technology (live and surround sonar, ice-fishing mobility, GPS and so forth) which have made anglers more productive on the water.  With those advancements in harvest capabilities come the need for more stringent regulations – e.g., size and number limits.

    In the Finger Lakes, we’re also seeing some new management strategies.  From the 1950s (and perhaps before that) leading into the 1990s, it was all about diversity.   The more variety, the better – so lakes like Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka were all stocked with lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and landlocked salmon (lake trout stocking was stopped around 1970 in Keuka Lake due to large amounts of wild production.)  Canadice and Hemlock Lake had rainbows, browns and lake trout.  Smelt were introduced into some of the Finger Lakes earlier in the 20th century.  Landlocked/Atlantic salmon stocking was tried in Owasco Lake, Canandaigua and Hemlock Lake.  Brown trout were stocked in Skaneateles Lake.  Rainbows even went into Conesus Lake in the 1960s.  If you go back even further, fish like lake whitefish were stocked throughout the Finger Lakes.  Even muskies were once stocked in Cayuga Lake!

    Some of these efforts succeeded, some failed – but it was seen as a positive to get a bigger variety of species, a.k.a. angling opportunities in the lakes.  With invasive species becoming established in our waterways, as well as mostly successful pollution control efforts and plenty of hindsight, it’s become fairly obvious to anglers (I’d hope) and fisheries biologists, that each lake has characteristics that favor certain species over others.

    New Finger Lakes Management plans are being drafted this year (they’ve been in the works for a couple of years now.)  We will be seeing more lake-specific management plans.  Anglers will benefit from stocking practices that make the best use of the available fish.  I can think of a few good recent examples:

    Brown trout are most susceptible to lamprey attacks, thus they will likely never thrive for any real duration of time in Seneca Lake, given how hard it is to keep that lake’s lamprey population under control.  Seneca Lake has two large streams/delta areas where lampreys spawn.  Lamprey control is easier (though still a major effort) on Cayuga Lake.  We have seen some huge browns come out of Seneca Lake over the decades, but not with any consistency.  Browns do much better in Cayuga Lake.

    Skaneateles Lake’s landlocked salmon have not provided anglers with much consistency over the years.  With plenty of walleyes now inhabiting that lake’s depths, salmon could better be utilized elsewhere.

    On the positive side, landlocked salmon have done much better than brown trout in Seneca Lake – so we may see more salmon stocked over there.

    Rainbows have great spawning success over the decades in many of the Finger Lakes tributaries.  Eggs hatch soon after spawning – they don’t have to winter over like brown trout and salmon eggs.  Rainbows are also less susceptible to thiamine deficiency that the other trout/salmon species.

    Lake trout thrive very well here in the Finger Lakes.  They are a native species and evolved in these lakes.  They will always be the main salmonid in our coldwater Finger Lakes.

    I’m happy to see fisheries departments doing more warm water research.  It’s important to see how bass, pike, yellow perch and other species are faring.  Bass are targeted heavily throughout the Finger Lakes and we need to make sure we have a handle on how they are doing in spite of numerous tournaments, invasive species and various diseases.

    Maintaining a DEC Diary helps with fisheries management.  I’ve beaten this “dead horse” for years, but I don’t appear to be getting through to many people, given that diary cooperator numbers are still too low.

    Here’s the link:



    I’ve had a few people reach out to me and tell me that they never received a call back or a book from DEC.  Your best bet is to talk to somebody over there. With covid and hiring/staffing issues, it’s easy for a message to get lost in the shuffle.

    Region 8 (Keuka, Canandaigua, Seneca, Canadice, Hemlock Lakes) Contact: (585) 226-5343.  You can ask for Dan over there.

    Region 7 (Cayuga, Skaneateles, Owasco, Otisco Lakes) Contact: (607)753-3095Ian is a good person to ask for over there – he can be reached at X-254.  

  • Keuka Lake Fisheries Update

    DEC’s Region 8 Fisheries staff have been spending a lot of time on Keuka Lake this summer.  Next year they’ll be on Seneca.  In both Region 7 and 8, the DEC generally rotates their lake nettings/surveys of the Finger Lakes on a 3- or 4-year basis, depending on the region.   As more variables appear, surveys are getting more comprehensive over time.  (An example would be DEC setting sturgeon nets on Cayuga Lake or Region 8 looking at perch populations on Keuka Lake.)

    Bass guide Jon Evans has told me that the lake’s smallmouth bass population appears to really be thriving this year with numerous 3lbers around.  A few years ago the bass fishing had become tougher there as the alewife numbers diminished.   Friends and past-clients who target lake trout on the lake have had varying success.  I had reports of quick limits in 90 minutes and other reports of tougher fishing.

    Here’s what I’ve heard from DEC (any mistakes or inaccuracies below are mine):

    Ciscoes:  Cornell and DEC have been working hard trying to determine the success of this program.  Evidence from implanted transmitters (in some of the ciscoes) suggests that many of them are dying when first stocked.  Whether this is because of predation or something else is unclear, but most are not living past 90 days.  A few yearlings have managed to survive past a year.  Ciscoes will still be stocked in the near future.  There has been some talk about raising them to a larger size and then releasing them (e.g., as yearlings) but no determination has been made yet.  One cisco was found in laker nets this summer.  That fish survived over 90 days in the lake.

    Alewives:  Thus far zero alewives have been encountered either in lake trout stomachs or in nets.  Forage netting will be conducted in September.  I would guess that some will turn up then.  My friends catching trout in Keuka Lake have not seen any alewives in trout stomachs either.

    Yellow Perch:  Some anglers have complained about poorer perch fishing on this lake.  DEC is doing some netting for perch this coming week.  Perch are now the main forage species in this lake for lake trout.

    Lake trout:  Numbers of lake trout appear to be 4 to 5 fish per net lower than in prior years, although I don’t think all the numbers have been calculated yet.  This is a bit of a mystery, since numbers were high just a few years ago.  Some cannibalism is likely taking place here amongst the lake trout population.  In Skaneateles Lake forage is scarce and once a lake trout gets big enough to be able to eat larger forage, they can get to be trophy sized.  We may see something like this happen here (those are my thoughts) -numerous small 15″ to 18″ lake trout, a few slightly larger specimens and then every so often somebody catches a 15lber or better.  Another reason lake trout numbers might be down is that they could be feeding a bit out-of-temperature, due to the lack of food in the colder parts of the lake.  Fish may be suspended higher in the water column and avoiding the nets.

    Lake trout are surviving on eating mysis shrimp, occasional sculpins and perch fry.  Mysis numbers are good in Keuka Lake.  The condition (aka “plumpness”) of smaller lake trout is surprisingly good here.  Larger 4 to 5lb specimens appear to be skinny.

    Bass:  Spring electro-fishing data suggests that Keuka Lake is amongst the top 90% of bass fisheries in NYS.  DEC found some big largemouths here as well.

    Walleye:  As many of you know, this species has turned up in this lake (likely as a result of an illegal introduction) at times over the past decade.  No walleyes were found in lake trout nets this summer.  DEC is receiving more and more angler reports of walleyes showing up in Keuka Lake. As a comparison, walleye numbers were relatively low in Skaneateles Lake for decades before finally increasing exponentially.   A large walleye population in this lake would really put a lot of pressure on the forage base here.  What would they eat?  Probably panfish, perch fry, young bass and whatever else they could eat.  Stocked and wild rainbow trout would certainly suffer even more than they already do here.  Stay tuned!

  • Seneca Lake

    One of the questions I get asked most often is, “What’s going on with Seneca Lake?”  Unfortunately, when I had this new website created a couple of years ago, my old articles disappeared during the transfer.  I’d already asked my web designer to do a lot by saving and reposting all my archived reports, so I didn’t feel like having him try to dredge out my old articles.  Maybe I can find some on archive.org.  Anyways, I had quite a few thoughts on Seneca Lake issues, history and management.  I’m not going to rehash much of it here, but with the Region 8 Diary Reports arriving in my mailbox yesterday, I have some thoughts on what we’re looking at in the future on Seneca Lake.

    The most noteworthy event on the fishing on Seneca in 2021 was that the most abundant species caught by diary keepers was landlocked Atlantic salmon.  This was the first time in the program’s history (which goes back to 1973) that lake trout were not the dominant species caught.  Although this may seem like good news to a lot of salmon aficionados, it really isn’t.  Yes, there was some pretty spectacular salmon fishing on Seneca Lake last winter and spring, but most of those fish were in large groups and they averaged 17″ long.  They were also fairly beat-up by lampreys.  Furthermore, the fishing seems to be much slower this year.  The salmon fishing does help illuminate the potential that Seneca Lake has and has shown in the past of having the makings to be a top-notch salmon fishery – right up there with Cayuga Lake and Lake Champlain.  But when you have 50% of the annual catch being lake trout – and if this is any representation of the salmonid population, there isn’t enough of a lake trout stock in the lake to buffer the impacts of sea lamprey.


    I have a copy of Dan Bishop’s report entitled “EVALUATION OF THE EXPERIMENTAL SEA LAMPREY CONTROL PROGRAM IN CAYUGA LAKE, NY.”   It’s a very interesting read.  I don’t know much about the history of this line of research which studies the dynamics of species interaction between lake trout, browns, rainbows, salmon and lampreys, but clearly this might be the definitive thesis on how to manage a fishery with all the aforementioned variables.

    The takeaway from Dan’s findings is that in a fishery that has lampreys, if your proportion of lake trout in angler catches (say by year’s end as an aggregate) is roughly 60% of the overall salmonid mix, and you have sufficient lamprey control, you should have a fishery that produces trophy fish and satisfied anglers.  Trophies were considered lake trout over 25″ long and salmon/browns/rainbows over 20″ long.

    If the fishery has too many lake trout, the lake trout will wind up eating the young stocked (and wild) lakers, rainbows, salmon and browns.  With too few lake trout, the lampreys will attack and kill many of the non-lakers.  Seneca strain lake trout (which are probably the majority strain of what we have throughout the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes, including Lake Champlain) have coexisted with lampreys for at least 160 years and have shown the best ability to survive lamprey attacks when compared to other lake trout strains.  The lakers, being a bigger fish on average out in the wild, tend to draw lampreys to them, which winds up saving the other salmonids.  Brown trout are the most susceptible salmonid to lamprey attacks.  If you have a lot of lampreys, you will not see browns over 2 years old, and sometimes not even many 2 year olds.

    As an aside, you’ll often hear anglers and charter captains in the Great Lakes talking about wanting to cut back lake trout stocking in order to protect the forage base.  If all lake trout were to disappear tomorrow on Lake Ontario, lampreys would annihilate the chinooks, cohos, steelhead, browns and Atlantic salmon in short order.  Yes, some of those fish would survive, but the fishery would basically be in deep trouble.

    I am hoping on Seneca Lake that we have “weathered the storm” so to speak.  Despite heavy stocking, relatively few brown trout appeared to have survived over the past year.  At least some made it.  There was a slight spike in rainbow trout caught as well.  The lakers were at an all-time low.   A friend of mine has done very well on small lake trout while pulling copper over the past year.  I marked a lot of what had to be small lakers last time I was on the lake (last week.)  Stocking numbers went up in 2020 and those fish will start recruiting to the fishery in 2023 (i.e., becoming catchable.)

    Anglers sometimes report lampreys attaching to their transoms!  We had that happen last fall up by Geneva.  Those are adult lampreys that are close to the end of their lives.  They will run up the streams this April/May, spawn and die.  The hope is that once those fish are gone, the number of these parasites out in the lake will be much lower.  Spring rainbows running up Catherine Creek this year mostly had healed wounds.

    We may find this year to be another very tough year on Seneca Lake, but with plenty of lake trout set to mature throughout this year and next, we’ll have a better lamprey buffer.  We’ll also see the alewife numbers start to go down.  Fewer alewives will help yellow perch spawning success.  It will also make the lake trout more aggressive and catchable.

    So, what’s fishing well nowadays on Seneca Lake?  Pike action there has been very good to excellent over the past few years.  Lamprey control should help these fish start reaching more memorable sizes – like over 30″.   Smallmouth bass fishing has been good on Seneca Lake too.  Some big fish are around and there are lots of small smallmouths available too.  Largemouth bass are becoming more common, with some very nice specimens being caught lake wide.   Perch remain slow and their numbers are certainly down.  (Given the 30 to 100 boats that have been pounding Cayuga Lake daily over the past month, I wonder how long Cayuga Lake will keep churning out the perch? That’s another issue.)

    Thankfully we still haven’t seen round gobies on Seneca Lake – at least not apart from maybe one or two reported.  Gobies have been a disaster everywhere they’ve shown up.  Smallmouth bass populations are really taking a hit because of these noxious pests.   In Ohio, Lake Erie smallmouth fishing during the spawn has now been made illegal from May 1st to June 30th.  Bass numbers are going down.  Oneida Lake smallmouth fishing has declined precipitously over the past couple years.  Lake Ontario hasn’t produced a massive class of smallmouth bass in over 15 years despite favorable environmental conditions.  Cayuga Lake’s smallmouth bass fishing is awful.  Yes, you can catch trophies on all these water bodies, but the numbers are way down.  Guys used to catch upwards of 40 to 50 smallmouths a day on Cayuga Lake back in the 1990s.  Those days are long gone.  Sooner or later the bass fishing world will wake up and realize that these little pests may be the worst thing to hit bass populations ever.

    This year may wind up being the toughest year on Seneca Lake we’ve seen since 2015.  The large numbers of salmon in the diaries last year obscured how bad the lake trout fishing was.   But that being said, in 2023 we should see a big improvement overall in the lake trout fishing on Seneca.  Hopefully we’ll see it this year, but it will be another year before the increased lake trout stocking numbers start showing up in our catches.

    If you want to help keep DEC abreast in what’s going on and you fish Seneca Lake at least a few times a year, sign up to become a diary cooperator.  You can click onto these links for more information: