I hope everyone is having a good Holiday season. I appreciate the cards and well-wishes. I’ve been enjoying my time off of the water after a busy season with a lot of challenges – mainly in the form of precipitation but also with the supply chain shortages (e.g., my axle on my older boat.) Weather permitting, I’ll get back out shortly for some fishing. From what I’ve seen and heard, fishing in Cayuga and Seneca Lakes has been fairly slow for trout/salmon. Some fish are being taken from shore at Taughannock and elsewhere. Water levels are getting back to a winter norm. With another year in the books, I gave Region 7 fisheries a call and headed down to the offices to drop off my diaries. I enjoy chatting with the crew down there.
Every three years one of the major Finger Lakes gets netted for a cold water assessment. This year was Skaneateles Lake. With the walleye “infestation” over there, warm water nets were also set. Eventually I’m sure we’ll see a technical brief written up on the DEC website with the preliminary results of the netting. Some info will surely be presented in the diary summaries too, typically mailed out in April
Preliminary results (again – the numbers haven’t been tallied up, so these are just observations) show that the lake trout population may have declined a little bit. Ciscoes have not bounced back as much as hoped after the last netting. Anecdotal information from anglers also reports the average size of smallmouth bass on the decline as well. I certainly noticed less lake trout and smaller smallmouths this year. We had one or two days with plenty of bass but not many over 13″, whereas in years past we’d see quite a few more 15″ to 16″ fish. There may have been fewer walleyes in the nets. But there are still plenty of them out there.
It appears as though the new walleye regulations over there will start on New Year’s Day. We’re looking at a 12″ size limit, open season all year round and no number limit. The regs are up on the DEC website and anglers can comment on them for another month or two. This new regulation is the right thing to do. Illegal stockings shouldn’t be rewarded with protection afforded to native or stocked desirable species/gamefish. Walleyes can live to 20 to 25 years. Not only will they decimate the trout/salmon populations there, they will also impact the perch and other species. And I am saying this as someone who enjoys catching and eating walleyes. No matter where you fall on this issue, I think we can all agree that some woodchuck with a pail of walleyes and a dream shouldn’t be determining lakes’ fish communities.
I doubt this new regulation will have a major impact on the walleye population over there. But it will help a bit. It’s kind of like killing a lamprey – each lamprey spends around 2 years out in a lake in a parasitic phase. Each one can kill up to 30lbs of trout/salmon in its short life. With Finger Lakes trout/salmon averaging maybe 2 to 3lbs, that’s a lot of fish. So every lamprey you kill does help a bit.
One item of note is that Emily (the biologist managing Cayuga Lake) puts the percentage of wild lake trout currently in Cayuga Lake at 4%. We went from pretty much zero wild production in the latter part of the 1900s, to first seeing some wild fish in 1995. Wild numbers of lake trout increased to nearly 8 to 10% as smelt numbers went down in the 2000s. Enter the round goby in 2012 and wild numbers of lake trout are going right back down again. Gobies can completely wipe out lake trout eggs and fry. The disadvantages of round goby far outweigh the advantages in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there – we have them and will be dealing with them for a long time, if not forever.
Due to staffing shortages, fall fingerling lake trout stocked this year were NOT fin-clipped, so we will be seeing some unclipped hatchery fish showing up in 4 or 5 years. I don’t think that’s too big of a deal since the wild production is down a lot anyways and is basically at an insignificant level. Lake trout stocking will likely be cut a little bit in order to help young rainbows, browns and salmon survive. As long as we have suitable lamprey control (and we usually do on Cayuga Lake), I think this is worth trying. One reason I think that we aren’t seeing a lot of browns despite nearly a double stocking last year is that a lot of lake trout have been marauding the shallows likely looking for gobies in April/May when the young fish are stocked. The decline of dressenid mussels in the shallows due to goby predation and the subsequent lack of shallow gobies in the cold water months should keep a lot more lake trout deep from November through early May. This might help the young trout/salmon. Cormorant control would also help.
There is consideration of some salmon fingerling stocking in some other tributaries of Cayuga Lake like Yawger Creek up by Aurora. Apparently, some were stocked up there in 2012 and the returns were good. Other good news was a young wild sturgeon spawned this year being found in Fall Creek. Sturgeon are thriving in Cayuga Lake!
Not much else to report. Lake biologists are completing their lake management plans, so hopefully we’ll be able to look at those and comment in the near future. Region 7 staff will be helping do more lamprey control on Seneca Lake with Region 8 again next year. Manager Brad Hammers has his hands full over on Seneca Lake. I think he’s doing all he can, and we should start seeing some positive results in the fishing over there soon.
Don’t forget to think about become an angler diary cooperator if you fish these lakes on a semi-regular or even occasional basis. Every bit of info helps with managing these fisheries and you’ll also get a say in future regulation changes as well as many management decisions.
Let’s hope 2022 is a great year on the water!