There's plenty of late season action for both anglers and hunters in New York. Here are some options to consider.
The big-game hunting seasons are over or fast coming to an end and Old Man Winter is knocking at the door with a promise of several months of cold and snowy weather — but there is no reason for despair. Not for those us who live to hunt and fish anyway.
Despite what some may think, the opportunity to hunt and fish in this state go well beyond Christmas and into the New Year. Where they can be found, open water fishing opportunities continue on a number of species into March and typically before then ice fishing is possible for everything from a variety of trout species to black bass, muskellunge and Northern pike. Fishermen should check the most recent Freshwater Fishing Regulations Guide for regulations in each county or on specific waters but there is no doubt opportunities to wet a line abound right through spring.
But if fishing isn't your bag there is plenty for hunters, too. The season on ruffed grouse, cottontails and varying hare remain open for several more weeks. The same is true for pheasant, bobwhite quail and gray, black and fox squirrels.
Additionally, some of the best waterfowl hunting of the season, including opportunities for sea ducks and geese, will be found once the snow flies and harsh weather sets in. Hunters should keep in mind that season dates and daily limits as well as possession limits may vary on some species depending upon the region so a careful check of the Hunting and Trapping Regulations Guide is highly recommended. But as it is with fishing opportunities there are plenty of hunting options across the state over the next several weeks.
Ice fishing will take over across the state in the next several weeks, if it hasn't already in your area, but fishermen should remember open water opportunities still exit under the General Statewide Fishing Regulations on a large number of waters for a variety of popular species.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are just two viable options. Year-round bass angling opportunities now exist on most waters in the state but keep in mind starting December 1 the General Statewide Angling Regulations dictate all bass must be released and only artificial lures may be used. The regulations, however, do not change the fact that where open water exists some great angling is available. Anglers should be aware there are many county exceptions to the general regulations, especially in Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond and Nassau Counties.
Perhaps one of the best places in the state to fish for smallmouth bass is along the New York shoreline of Lake Erie. The weather is increasingly unpredictable, harsh and uncooperative at this time of year so you have to pick your days, but when things come together some fantastic angling is possible. The last five state record smallmouth bass came from this area with the current record at a whopping 8-pounds, 4-ounces!
In the main lake look for bass in deeper water around bottom structure. Some of the lake's tributaries still free of ice will continue to produce fish as well.
Information on lodging, restaurants and other services is found by visiting www.visitnewyorkstate.net/erie/are.html.
In the middle of the state, some of the Finger Lakes are among the deepest lakes in the country and they freeze late. This is especially true of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. Both offer excellent early winter open water action opportunities for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Seneca also offers lake trout and rainbow trout and Northern pike while Cayuga Lake, which rarely freezes except for the shallow north end, has all these plus brown trout, pickerel, rock bass and some good angling for bluegills and crappie.
Otisco Lake near Syracuse has a maximum depth of just 76 feet but before and after freeze-up offers tiger muskie, both bass species as well as rock bass, some brown trout, bluegills and crappie. Keep in mind walleye can be kept in all the Finger Lakes until March 15. The same is true of northern pike.
Each of the 11 Finger Lakes has something to offer before or after ice up but check the regulations. Some of the lakes are covered by statewide rules while others carry special regulations and have different closure dates, length and bag limits, especially when it comes to black bass, northerns, walleye and the various trout species.
Information on lodging and other services can be obtained by contacting the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance by telephoning (800) 530-7488; or by visiting www.fingerlakes.org.
Along the eastern border Lake Champlain can start to take hold as early as late December. January, however, generally gets the winter season underway. Open water fishermen will continue to find action from shore or afloat until then but once ice conditions are safe fishermen will hit the hard water in droves looking for lake trout, landlocked salmon and perch. In addition, a host of other species, including walleye, northern pike and smelt are also available and popular.
For those unfamiliar with this big lake, helpful up-to-date information on where to fish, bait and other tackle can be obtained from any of the local bait and tackle shops. Big Papa's Tackle in Lewis, (518) 873-6827; Byrd's Country Store, (518) 963-7277 and Champlain Angler Sports, (518) 963-8266 both in Willsboro and Norm's Bait and Tackle in Crown Pont, (518) 597-3645, are good places to start.
Perhaps the biggest draw for open water fishermen at this time of year are the winter steelhead streams entering Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Depending upon the weather, December can be the best month to fish these rivers since most are ice free, especially early in the month. As winter progress ice can become a problem or prevent angling all together on some of the smaller tributaries unless a warm spell or heavy rains open them once again. If that happens, anglers can look forward to some spectacular winter angling. On the larger runs, however, particularly those with hydroelectric facilities such as the Niagara, Oswego, Salmon and Black River, controlled water releases keep long stretches of productive water open well in January.
In Chautauqua County Chautauqua Creek at Westfield and Canadaway Creek in Dunkirk are two worth visiting early this month. Both are small compared to New York's other top winter steelhead creeks but both offer heavy runs, easy access and can be waded or fished from shore.
Good fishing on Chautauqua Creeks will be found immediately above the Route 5 in Westfield but several public fishing rights access po
ints are also available further upstream. Route 5 also spans Canadaway Creek west of Dunkirk. Public access is possible above and below the bridge.
For updated fishing conditions and information on public access areas contact the DEC Region 9 office by telephoning (716) 372-0645
For information on lodging and other services contact the Chautauqua County Visitor's Bureau by telephoning (716) 753-4304; or visit their web site at www.visitchautauqua.com.
Largemouth bass can be caught under the ice in many lakes, though fish can only be taken on artificial lures and must be released. Photo by Al Raychard.
Other productive winter steelhead rivers include Eighteenmile Creek in Niagara County, which has been particularly hot the past few years. The creek offers about two miles of good fishing water, most of which is accessible from Route 78, but the pools at the base of the dam in Burt and piers in Olcott have been hotspots. In between, don't overlook the pools and runs in the area called "Fisherman's Park."
For lodging information contact Niagara County Tourism by telephoning (800) 338-7890.
Dumping into Lake Ontario, other productive and popular winter steelhead hotspots include the Oswego and Salmon Rivers. On the Oswego, there is good fishing with drift baits, flies or lures in the one-mile stretch from Varick Dam downstream to Oswego Harbor at either West Side Linear Park or East Side Liner Park. Access is possible near the dam off Route 48 and on both sides of the river just below the Utica Street Bridge.
Although the entire stretch for the Salmon River from Altmar to Pulaski holds fish, some of the best December angling is generally found at School House Pool in Altmar and in the fly fishing only section upstream of the Route 48 bridge in Pineville. To access the area take Interstate 81 north from Syracuse or south from Watertown and take Exit 36. At the base of the ramp on Route 13 left leads to Pulaski and right leads upriver to Pineville and Altmar.
Before you head out, contact the DEC Region 7 Hotline at (607) 753-1551 for an updated water flow and angling report. The Oswego County Tourism can supply a list of lodging facilities and other services in both areas and they can also provide a brochure on local steelhead fishing opportunities.
At some point hard-water angling will dominate on lake and ponds across the state and most of the larger rivers as well. If not in December, it certainly will by January. New Yorkers have a host of species to test their skills on, from black bass and various sunfish to northern pike and muskellunge to a variety of trout. With more than 7,500 lakes and ponds and 50,000 miles of rivers and streams finding a place to drill holes isn't much of a chore.
In much of the northern region black bass are off limits to ice fishermen but panfish, yellow perch, walleye and northern pike more than pick up the slack. Places like Black Lake Cranberry Lake, Tupper Lake and Roquette Pond and the Saranac Lake Chain, all in St., Lawrence County, are a few perennial hotspots.
For lodging information contact the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce by telephoning (877) 228-7810; or visit the chamber's web site at www.northcountryguide.com.
Over in Warren and Essex Counties, once solid ice is available in early January, Lake George and Schroon Lake are favorite destinations for anglers hoping to catch both warm water and coldwater species, including northern pike and lunker yellow perch in the bays and landlocked salmon and lake trout in the deeper waters of the North and South Basins.
For Lake George travel information contact the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce by telephoning (518) 668-5788; or visit their web site at www.lakegeorgechamber.com. For Schroon Lake contact the Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce, telephone (888) 724-7666; or visit their web site at www.schroonlake.org.
In DEC Region 4, a good bet for yellow perch is Canadarago Lake near Richfield Springs. Walleye are also available. The lake can be accessed from the Utica area by take Route 12 or Route 8 south to Route 20, then east to Route 28 south.
For lake trout action in the region Otsego Lake is hard to beat. Lakers will be in the 25- to 30-inch range, and some larger are possible. Brown trout and landlocked salmon also inhabit the lake.
Travel information for both lakes can be obtained by contacting Copperstown-Otsego County Tourism Office through their web site at www.visitcooperstown.com.
In DEC Region 8 two favorite winter fishing spots in Allegany County are Allen Lake in Allen and Cuba Lake in Cuba. Both offer excellent fishing for a variety of panfish including bluegills and Pumpkinseed as well as yellow perch. But Allen Pond is stocked with surplus breeder trout most years in the fall giving ice fishermen an added bonus and Cuba Lake has walleye, northern pike and rock bass.
In Cattaraugus County, Case Pond in Franklinville, Harwood Lake in Farmersville, Quaker Lake in Cold Springs and Red House Lake in Allegany State Park all offer the same variety of panfish and are also stocked with breeder trout most years. Special county regulations are in effect on the waters with trout, so check for details.
SMALL GAME HUNTING
In case you still have the hunting bug, no need to worry. The season on ruffed grouse continues into February across the state, except on Long Island. Look for the best action this time of year in the evergreen areas and more dense habitats where birds seek cover from the snow and wind
An even brighter prospect is pheasant hunting. The DEC has been releasing roughly 25,000 adult birds in recent years before and during the season at sites on public as well as private land across the state. And although the season has been on since the middle of October in most areas there should still be birds available. The season continues to the end of December in the Southern Tier, all eastern regions and Long Island.
For a list of pheasant release site visit the DEC web site at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9349.html.
Rabbit hunting for cottontails continues through December and January statewide into February over most of the state, but through March in the far north. Most of the state's wildlife management areas offer prime cottontail habitat and many are not crowded this late in the
season. The same is true of varying hare. Seasons vary depending upon the region but in most areas the hunting season remains open through January, if not longer.
If this is not enough to keep you going, the season on squirrel, including grays, black and fox squirrel will remain open through February. The daily bag limit is six. Here again, most of the wildlife management areas with stands of oak and other hardwoods offer good squirrel hunting opportunities.