February 22, 2012
No matter what town, city or county an Empire State angler calls "home," he'll find a dazzling assortment of fishing holes in easy driving distance. In fact, the most daunting rod and reel challenge most residents face is deciding which body of water to fish, and when.
Well, we at New York Game & Fish have coming up with an itinerary that lists three top angling destinations for every month of the year, starting with January. Readers who look between the lines will also find the sort of suggestions that transform fishing trips into catching trips. Here we go!
Whitney Point Spillway
The stretch of the Otselic River immediately below the Whitney Point Reservoir in Broome County fills up with 1 1/2- to 6-pound walleyes after heavy autumn rains or winter thaws. Access this hotspot from a parking area off Route 26. Don't forget your slip bobber rigs. To verify local conditions, check the Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 7 weekly Fishing Hotline, at (607) 753-1511.
Look for jumbo jacks schooling on the big flat, in 30 feet of water, off Lewis Point.
Lake of the Isles
Located on the east side of Wellesley Island State Park in the 1000 Islands, Lake of the Isles is actually a bay, one packed with panfish that inhale ice-fly jigs.
The state-record norlunge was caught in the Tioughnioga River in 1990, but most of the monster New York tiger muskies taken since then came from Otisco Lake, at the east end of the Finger Lakes chain. Tom Boice of Marcellus hauled a world ice-fishing record specimen, weighing more than 27 pounds, through the frozen surface at "the Narrows" a couple of winters back. Two other 20-pounders were caught that same week! Big shiners are the favored bait for such fish.
Like many cozy bays along the Lake Ontario shore, Braddocks Bay near Rochester is home to big schools of over-wintering perch from ice-up to ice-out.
The steelhead bite is red-hot from the state parks below the falls all the way to the mouth of the awesome Niagara. Preferred baits are golf ball-sized spawn sacks, bounced on bottom.
Long Island creeks
Upstate fishermen who think of white perch as pesky bait-stealers would be astonished to see the crowds that flock to dozens of small, brackish water creek mouths along the Island's south shore. They're seeking white perch that often weigh 2 pounds and measure 15 inches long.
The "Cat," a short drive north from Dunkirk, draws New York's densest runs of steelhead, but cloudy runoff water can make it difficult to fish. Your rule of thumb should be, dark water, dark fly; clear water, bright fly. If you want to fish the best water on the creek, be sure to obtain a required permit from the Seneca Nation Indian reservation at Salamanca.
Seneca Lake grows slightly bigger perch, but you can't beat Keuka for numbers of 12- to 14-inch jumbos. Perch school according to year-class — by age and size, in other words — so keep moving until you find the round-bellies.
Before the Great Lakes tributaries were converted into steelhead factories, fishermen in search of trout trophies on the opening day of the season swarmed to the south end of Seneca Lake and Catharine Creek. Yesteryear's 12-pounders are seldom seen, yet "Queen Catharine" still gives up plenty of 3- to 8-pound spawners to her loyal followers.
Actually, the mouth of the Black River at Dexter is one of many great places around the rim of Lake Ontario where you can catch a mess of tasty bullheads on warm spring nights. All you need is a can of worms, a light spinning rod and a forked stick.
Typical of New York's put-and-take trout waters, Nanticoke Creek is easily accessible along Route 26 near the village of Maine inBroome County and has plenty of deep holes to hide stocked and holdover browns.
Best bets for May, June, July and August are on page two
Guide Tony Buffa calls the intense conditions that prevail in the lower Oswego River during the first several weeks of walleye season "combat fishing." A tight circle of boats pull alewife-imitating stickbaits through the strike zone, over and over; and some tangles are inevitable. Shore casters are crowded, too — as you would expect when the reward is a walleye of 10 to 14 pounds!
Middle Hudson River
Up to 1 million stripers are expected to spawn in the Hudson this year, from the river mouth to the dam at Troy, but in May the biggest concentrations of fish are usually between Kingston and Catskill. Use your sonar to find large flats near creek mouths, and watch for swirling fish, too.
As pike finish their spawning chores, they'll linger on weed lines to ambush bite-size prey fish. It's hard to beat a minnow under a slip bobber, but try a hair jig with a trailing twister tail, too.
Tubby bucketmouths in the 3- to 5-pound range are routine just before and just after the opening day of bass season on Conesus Lake, just south of Avon in Livingston County. Tube jigs are the ticket for bass here, but don't be shocked if big pike bite off a jig or two.
George is one of a very few lakes in New York where you can reasonably hope to hook a 6-pound bronzeback.
Rules that prohibit motors over 10 horsepower or trailer-launching of boats guarantee peace and quiet on this panfish paradise in northern Cortland County. Expect plenty of 8- to 9-inch long bluegills along with pumpkinseeds and red breasts which are nearly as large.
If the darned things weren't so slippery, you really could walk across the Seneca River on the backs of carp. But that's in June, when spawning peaks below the dam in downtown Baldwinsville. They typically bite better in July, after egg-laying.
Catches of 30 to 40 largemouths per day are common at Nicks, located in a state campground at Old Forge. No motors are allowed, so it's a canoe, row boat, float tube kind of place.
A free permit from New York City's Department of Environmental Protection gives shore fishermen a shot at some of the best crappie spots in the Catskill and lower Hudson regions. Boating access is a thornier regulatory issue, spelled out in the state Freshwater Fishing Guide.
West Branch Delaware River
While most rivers slump during the "dog days," the West Branch below Deposit stays cold due to steady releases from the base of the Cannonsville Reservoir dam. Browns and rainbows rise regularly to small sulfur- and olive-hued mayflies.
One of the state's most versatile fishing holes, Black Lake will fill your stringer with other species if the walleyes aren't biting — but they are, more often than not. Bass, muskellunge and assorted panfish are viable second-choices.
The pike that pigged out in the upper St. Lawrence River in May usually treat anglers to a repeat performance in late August. Minnows fished along deep weedlines should do the trick.
September, October, November, and December on page three
Great South Bay, Long Island
They are not "sea trout," as they're called down South, but the weakfish living in Long Island Sound are splashed with spots and taste a bit like the real thing. In September they can still be caught close to umpteen beaches around the Island, including the area off Captree State Park (east end of Jones Beach) and the Fire Island National Seashore.
West Branch Ausable River
No trout stream anywhere is prettier than Essex County's Ausable, and it's in its prime when the leaves are turning and Slate Drake mayflies are hatching.
Tournament anglers will tell you it often takes a 20-pound stringer of bronzebacks to win events on Chautauqua.
One of our more unusual autumn shore fisheries is found at Skaneateles Lake, where anglers cast worm-and-marshmallow bait combos to connect with rainbow trout that average about 18 or 19 inches long but sometimes top out at more than 2 feet long and weigh 5 pounds or better.
That slick water above the falls is home to many 50-inch water wolfs, but make sure your boat motor is 100 percent dependable.
Upwards of 40,000 chinooks and who knows how many anglers converge in Pulaski and Altmar each autumn. The salmon will clobber simple egg flies or, if you prefer, spawn sacks containing five or six treated eggs each.
Oak Orchard Creek
The browns in Orleans County's Oak Orchard Creek, are big. How big? In the Oak, when an angler shows off one that's "10" or "15," he's talking pounds, not inches. This is clear water sight-fishing for a colorful spawner that could be the trophy of your life.
St. Lawrence River
Many think the next world-record muskellunge will be caught soon in the 1000 Islands or near the Massena power project, farther downstream. Such a monster would measure 60-plus inches and be about as stocky as a fire hydrant.
The fall bite in the Finger Lake that stretches south from Auburn features lake trout, schooled on the bottom in 80 to 100 feet of water and downright suckers for white jigs.
In late 2010, a catch of 30 or more salmon was commonplace at the south end of Seneca Lake, but you had to launch a boat to get your share. Bank-fishers were out of range, but anglers who were trolling scored consistently with spoons and stickbaits.
The most underrated steelhead river in the East may be the Genesee, which flows through downtown Rochester.
If the weather is seasonably cold, fishable ice can cover the bay by mid-December; while mild conditions offer opportunities to fill your boat with perch fillets.