Owasco Lake 3/27


After talking a bit to Jeff Robins (biologist from the NY DEC) earlier this week, I decided to give Owasco Lake a try today to see what I could find. Owasco has been a bit of an enigma over the past year or two. Air temps were very cold this AM, so I took my time and was on the water by 11:30 am. A lot of boats were out – I think they were all perch fishing. No word on the bite.

There have been some excellent smelt runs on the Owasco tribs thus far this spring (during the warm spell we had.) I started my laker search around creek mouths. The problem was that the cold nights have the creeks spewing out very cold water – much colder than what would attract smelt and lakers. So not surprisingly, I struck out there. I marked a lot of bait (?) and possible lakers in the southern 1/3rd of the lake out from around 120′ to 160′ of water. I’m almost certain that the baitfish were smelt. If the marks were lakers, there were loads of them, but I’m skeptical of that. I couldn’t buy a hit on anything. Fish didn’t move for the jigs much at all – except maybe to avoid them!

I checked some of the usual winter/early spring areas where I generally mark alewives and lakers and didn’t find much of anything! It was very weird. Surface temps are around 37. I jigged using light tubes cast around shoreline structure – working out to 22′ to 23′ or more water. I also worked 1 and 1 1/2 oz jigs in the depths out to around 170′ – the deepest water I found. Never had a touch! I marked lakers but they were very negative today for me.

Some interesting ecological things appear to be happening on Owasco Lake. DEC netting this past summer showed more smelt than alewives. I was skeptical of these findings – not that I doubt the DEC, because I don’t, but simply because we’ve always marked plenty of alewives and never found smelt in laker stomachs here. Keep in mind, that I’ve only fished Owasco Lake since 2002. But I don’t think I was marking many alewives today. There were some, but they were scarce. Alewives tend to show up as bait balls. Occasionally I mark them stacked horizontally, but what I was marking today was all horizontal bait. Charter Captains I’ve talked to have told me that smelt tend to “mark” horizontally. They usually don’t ball up significantly in a vertical manner from what I’ve heard. Now I may be wrong on this. From the DEC nettings and my observations today, I have to believe that alewife numbers are very low on this lake. I spent HOURS motoring through the depths from the south end all the way up to the north end and marked very little bait wise that appeared to be alewives – certainly no major schools. I definitely marked some lakers from 100′ on out. But no major alewife schools. It appears to me that a lot of lakers are feeding on smelt and these fish are concentrated in the southern 1/3rd or even 1/5th of the lake. Of course, one person can only do so much. It’s possible that alewives were laying along the bottom of the lake or just in areas I didn’t check out. But over the past few years I’ve usually made an early trip out here and marked a lot of alewives deep around the Wykoff/Long Point area. That area was pretty barebones, apart from a few laker marks.

Smelt fed lakers – this could be interesting here. Shades of Maine and the Adirondacks! I think these lakers might get larger than alewife fed fish. I’d also think the high smelt population here would keep natural laker recruitment down – which has been the case on Owasco for years. I think Owasco is the only Finger Lake that has virtually zero wild lake trout. Smelt movements will likely be different than alewife movements – since they have different temperature preferences. Jigging may get harder too (we’ve worked hard for every jigged fish here over the past 2 to 3 years) though I’m sure we’ll always have lakers on alewives here. Alewives will likely bounce back soon as well, especially with the current lack of predators on this lake (there are walleyes and lakers, and very few rainbows/browns.) I will be back here once water temps get into the mid to upper 40s. Probably around mid to late April. I don’t plan on doing any laker jigging trips here until I figure out what’s going on, and even then, I may not! We’ve had too many inordinately difficult trips here over the past 2 years. Keuka, Cayuga and Seneca are all better bets for guided trips. I’d rather do Canandaigua than Owasco at this point in time.

Stay tuned – things will get interesting! By the way – smelt fed pike get VERY BIG too. So do walleyes….