Skaneateles Lake out of Mandana 2/23


Given the outrageously mild winter we’ve had, the State certainly could have kept the launch open on this lake, but of course there’s no way to predict these things. The original plan was to fish Seneca Lake this AM for pike and salmon/trout, but a last minute weather forecast check showed that the forecasted south winds had turned into northerlies. I don’t like winter fishing on Seneca out of Watkins with North winds gusting into the teens! It’s not fun.

We’ve done a disproportionate amount of fishing on Cayuga this winter, so we decided to hit Skinny for rainbows/salmon. Mike and I brought fly-rods as well as some gear – it turns out all we needed were 4 fly outfits and about 5 or 6 flies max. We started around 10: 30 am. Launching at Mandana was simple. A couple perch guys had gone out before us, but we never saw another boat out while we were fishing. The pure joy and solitude of winter fishing is hard to beat!

I had easy rainbow trout fishing on this lake from the fall through spring for quite a few years on this lake (check out the reports from 2005 till around at least 2008.) At least it felt easy. I never caught a lot of fish, but I caught them consistently. Over the past few years, I’ve struggled a bit more out here. I know the habits of the rainbows, but they’ve shamed me. They’ve become unbuttoned or I just haven’t hit them. I’ve done less fly-fishing and focused more on jigs, since that’s what I generally have clients do. And the flies catch more trout. But jigs are fun and good for more variety. Mike has fared better, but he’s more of a recent convert to the rainbow fishing here and he mainly fly fishes this lake.

It wasn’t easy today. The water temp was 38 degrees and it snowed a bit while we were out. It was cold. Winter rainbows are lethargic. They don’t chase flies well. They just pounce on them. After about two hours Mike got a hit. I might’ve had one, but wasn’t sure. After working a favorite stretch with my Type 4 Sinking line (on a 6 wt rod) I felt some weight and set into a very nice rainbow. It fought more like a lazy lake trout, but I was still quite relieved to get the 23″+ fat female rainbow into the net. We took a few shots and let her go. My beginner fly-tying students will get a kick out of seeing the (easily tied) woolly bugger in this beauty’s mouth!

A run down the lake provided some salmon action from mostly juveniles – the usual short hits. Mike connected with a “keeper” of 15 1/2″ that he released. They look like cigars and we still can’t believe that size of a fish is legal across most of the state, but they are. It would take two or more of those to feed an adult! While working a 5′ to 10′ shelf, I had a definite hit, and made sure I kept stripping the fly in – and after two more strips -whammo, a silver female rainbow over 22″ long was on (using my intermediate line and olive bugger!) Great digging fight! This fish was tongue hooked and looked to have already spawned, so I kept it for dinner (actually “dinners” since this fish will feed me for at least 3 to 4 nights.) On the north end of the lake I dropped a fish that appeared to be a fat laker in the low 20″ range – but there aren’t any fat lakers in this lake 😉 so I’m sure it was a dull colored rainbow. But it got off. We wrapped up around 5:45 pm. Decent day, but we worked hard for our fish. My hand is blistered from all the fly-casting. I do feel a sense of redemption on these rainbows that have mostly made things tough for me on this lake over the past few outings!

The rainbow I kept was a healthy fish. It had already spawned. A stomach check revealed a lot of digested food (apparently insect related,) one zebra mussel and not much else. Spring runs of rainbows this year will likely be very poor. With all the warm weather we’ve had, along with the rain, I’d guess many fish have already spawned and are back in the lakes. The rest will likely do so over the next month. Photos of the rainbows will be up shortly. And don’t even think about launching at Mandana without some waders or a boat you can drive up onto your trailer! It’s a shallow sloping ramp.