Seneca Lake out of Watkins Glen 1/12 + 1/13


When I started Fingerlakes Angling Zone in 2005 (technically late 2004,) the first guided trip I ever did was a mid-March fly-fishing trip for Landlocked Salmon on Cayuga Lake. It went incredibly well. I have always felt some of the best fishing in the area ranges from the months of November through March, yet surprisingly, very few people take advantage of that fishing window – especially January, February and early March. I haven’t spent much effort touting this fishing, since I do enjoy my “off season.”

Why fish in January or February? The normal legitimate excuse is that it’s too damn cold! That is no longer valid. With “climate change” or global warming or El Nino or La Nina – whatever you want to call it, the last 10 to 15 years have featured temperatures often ranging into the 40s and 50s even during the typically coldest months of the year, like from December through March.

What about the fishing? Isn’t it better in April and May? The fishing varies in the winter, just like it does during the spring, summer and fall. Sometimes it’s phenomenal, sometimes mediocre. But there are several advantages to mid-winter fishing, and they merit consideration:

* Landlocked salmon are often concentrated and in predictable areas. They are also often still in very good condition. As the winter wears on, they use up more of their fat reserves.

* Pike are in some of the best condition of the year – they are still feeding a lot and putting on weight before the spawn. Wait until the opener in May and you’re almost always targeting post-spawn pike -usually males that are often skinny and beat-up. Pike are also concentrated. Once they spawn, they linger for a little while, then migrate back to their “residential areas.”

*There are fewer anglers out and ZERO jet skis, sail boats and pleasure boats. It’s just fishermen – serious fishermen! And it is beautiful out there!

What about the fishing reports? They don’t often seem that impressive this time of year. Sometimes angling is tough in the winter. I respect people’s time and money and always try to work with anglers in terms of picking the best lake, day and time for the fish we want to target. Of course nothing is 100% predictable, especially the weather, which often is the number one factor affecting angling success. But with that in mind, having alternative species and patterns can go a long ways towards insuring a successful day.

Keep in mind, that when I’m on my own, or fishing with one of my buddies, we are in relaxation mode. Cigars are often lit and we kick back and take our time. We aren’t big numbers guys; I get zero thrill out of landing or attempting to land “insert number here” fish. Neither do my buddies. If I’m jigging lakers and catch 5 or 6, I often put away the laker gear and try something else. If I’m catching a bunch of salmon I might tie on a new fly pattern and see if that works. The only time we really go for numbers is during derby-time. For me and my friends, it’s about patterning fish and the thrill of discovery. Sure, we will double back over groups of fish, but we don’t sit around milking areas ad-nauseum. I lay back on the normal guiding intensity. I also spend a lot of time trying “new” areas and exploring.

I will say, however that winter fishing isn’t necessarily super easy. Very few fish come without effort, and patience and determination are a must. This isn’t a time of year for very casual anglers – but it’s great for passionate fishermen, whether experienced or not.

Anyways, it was a big thrill to finally do a couple guided trips in January and have some other prospects interested in some trips. Here’s how things went:

1/12: Met Ali and her brother Mike at Watkins around 7:40 for our 1/2 day trip. A lot of boats went out on the lake today and goose hunters were out in droves around the lake’s south end. We started with pike fishing since I thought that would produce the best action. Ali really impressed me with her casting – she was better than 95% of the anglers (read: guys!) that I guide. She caught the first pike within around 20 minutes on a stickbait. Mike started hitting fish pretty good with a spoon and managed some nice fish including a 29″, 30″+ and a 23″ to 24″ pickerel.

Conditions started getting better for salmon as the AM progressed and we switched tactics and areas. Again, Ali got things rolling with a salmon around 16.5″. She and Mike doubled up – this time with Mike catching a dink and Ali getting a sublegal brown. As we worked our drift Mike hooked a solid fish. After a spirited battle and a few thrashes at the surface I slipped the net under the full bodied gorgeous 23″ landlocked salmon. We took a quick photo or two and released it (all fish were released today.) We tried our drift one more time and I saw Mike’s rod doubled over. I knew he had a very good fish. After a strong fight I netted a FAT brown over 24″. Probably 6lbs+. Great way to end a super day. It’ll be hard to top this day, but that’s alright! Stickbaits produced the salmonids.

I fished on my own a bit after the trip, moving up the lake and fishing completely different areas(homework.) I landed a salmon around 14 to 15″ and did some pike fishing. A couple nice pike found my spoons!

1/13: Met Ron and Matt at Watkins just before 8 am. They’ve been coming out with me since around 2007 or so and I always look forward to our trips. The lake was a ghost-town compared to yesterday, with only a few boats out and one other one at Schamel’s launch. Creeks pumped in a lot of muddy, cold water into the lake and the south end was a muddy mess. Every blind had a hunter or two or three taking advantage of the day.

We targeted salmon to start, though conditions were marginal. We drifted through one stretch with no action. Switching to pike didn’t prove much better, though I knew the weather conditions were best for northerns. After a couple hours of hard fishing Matt hooked and lost a good pike on a swimbait.

I had a feeling we’d be in business after that and despite the strengthening winds the guys did a great job on the pike once we found them. Two areas proved to be very productive and the guys had two doubles! It was shades of the great pike action from 2007/2008, except the fish were bigger, but somewhat lesser in numbers. The guys wound up landing around a dozen, mostly gorgeous northerns averaging around 29″ to31″ with fish up to 34″ long. Most were very healthy looking, though a couple showed signs of some fin-rot and the virus that wiped out so many fish a few years back.

We tried more salmon action later, with Matt having a follow from a small one, but that was it. Overall some excellent pike action. All fish released again today. Hot pike lure was a Lunker City Shaker fished on a Sworming Hornet jig head. Water temps ranged around 42/43 degrees.