Most anglers have a personal list of tried-and-true places they like to fish. On the one hand, such lists are great because success on these trips, while never a sure bet, are better than average (or they wouldn't be on the list). Favorite places also have the advantage of making for an efficient trip: you already know how to get there and should have some idea about what might or might not work in terms of rigs and techniques. Even so, scouting new places can also be rewarding, and with any luck will ultimately result in a longer list of favorites.
New York's anglers who want to begin planning their 2015 fishing forays have plenty of options to consider. To help focus your efforts (and hopefully save you some time) we've collect three suggestions for each month of the year that have a reasonably good chance of providing good fishing. Here's a look at 36 proven hotspots in the Empire State that should be on any fisherman's New Year's wish list.
Lake Ontario Tributaries, Steelhead
Winter fishing for Lake Ontario's legendary tributary steelhead heats up this month in major rivers and most small feeder creeks where open water may be found. Try salmon eggs and the many artificial variations of this proven bait. And, as with all steelhead fishing, bring some patience: Although some fish strike instantly, others may ignore 100 casts in a row. Fish low in the water column, particularly with eggs, and stay in contact with your bait well enough that you can react quickly to soft "pick ups" by the fish.
Other options: Tiger muskies abound in the Western Region's Finger Lakes. Use big, lively shiners or large, brightly-colored jigs to fool these colorful predators. Or, head for Long Island Sound for big pollock using crabs and clams.
Thompsons Lake Trout
Some great winter trout fishing awaits intrepid anglers armed with the gear and know-how for a successful day on the ice. Use worms or small shiners to entice big trout in ponds and coves near inlets and outlets.
Other options: Lake Ontario is the place to be for giant yellow perch. Drop worms or shiners to varying depths until a school of hungry fish is found, and then drop all lines to that depth for non-stop action all day. Or, head for Lake Erie and jig for big walleyes along the Interstate Route 90 corridor.
Oneida Lake, Northern Pike
Syracuse-area anglers know that winter is prime for big Oneida Lake northerns, which may be taken until March 15. Big, colorful jigs bouncing just over the weeds will bring them in, as will big, lively shiners fished just under the ice in weedy shallows. Be sure to cut a big enough hole in the ice.
Other options: New York City's popular Central Park ponds should produce some great catch-and-release bass fishing starting this month. Work small jigs or rubber worms slowly along shore or just off the bottom. Head for the Hudson River north of the George Washington Bridge to get the jump on early-season stripers. Eels, tins and giant plugs fished along current seams will produce good results.
Salmon River, Trout
All eyes are on the Salmon River this month for trout, steelhead and salmon. The best hotspots are heavily fished but patient anglers will find room to cast salmon eggs, flies and small lures to king-sized specimens.
Other options: Lake Erie's yellow perch provide good fishing this month from shore or boat. Fish live baits and small lures early and late in the day or go when overcast conditions prevail. Delaware River shad fishing should begin heating up soon. Traditional shad darts and similar small lures are the ticket for these paper-mouthed migrants.
Catskills Trout Streams, Trout
Now's the time to head for the fabled Catskills, where trout fishermen have been fishing these legendary streams for over a century. Nymphs and high-riding dry flies are the most productive offerings, though streamers and wet flies also produce good catches.
Many of the more famous streams are fished hard by serious anglers and although they are great trout streams, the fishing takes patience. Come equipped with a wide variety of flies in different sizes if you are fly fishing. And be prepared to match the hatch, particularly in the evening. May marks a period when trout are beginning to see more and more terrestrial insects. Some, like grasshoppers, are worth expending some energy to strike, even for a big fish. Even fish that have never seen a good grasshopper or cricket imitation will know it's something to eat.
Other options: Head farther north into the Adirondacks for some of the best small-stream brookie fishing in the East. These aggressive little char will take nymphs, streamers, dries and wet flies with abandon starting mid-month. Bass fishing in Lake Erie will begin to heat up as well. Use jigs and crankbaits on shore or drift live bait in water depths to 40 feet and more.
Niagara River Smallmouths
The famed Niagara has more going for it than its legendary falls. Some of the biggest smallmouths in the state are taken from shore or boat by anglers casting spoons, plugs and deep-diving crank baits into pools and tailraces where big bronzebacks abound. Some fish will also be relatively close to shore, where tube baits and even soft plastic jerkbaits will be in range of the fish. Longer casts are sometimes helpful in the clear water.
Other options: Lake Champlain's renowned landlocked salmon fishery begins to come alive this month. Deep trolling or drifting with bottom-bouncing jigs is the way to reach these popular June targets. Trout fishermen will want to try the famed Batten Kill if only for the pure tradition of it. Dry flies are the order of the day, of course, but don't be afraid to switch to nymphs or woolly buggers if the trout prefer to feed below the surface.
Hudson River Stripers
Still one of the best striper rivers on the East Coast, the Hudson is known for producing fish in the "cow" class (over 40 pounds) with some regularity. Eel rigs, deep-diving plugs and big, gaudy saltwater flies will do the trick when cast into shore or trolled along current seams and structure-based rips.
Other options: Finger Lakes muskies are the topic of the day in July. Cast noisy topwater lures or lively shiners into weedy coves or slow troll big wobbling lures over channels, drop-offs and deep holes. St. Lawrence River smallmouths can be taken from shore or boat upriver from the Thousand Islands area using traditional spinners, plugs and crankbaits. Allegheny Reservoir largemouths are also on the agenda this month. Work shoreline cover, rock piles and sunken structure with Texas-rigged rubber worms or splashy spinnerbaits.
Thousand Island Muskies
Late summer is the time to be on the St. Lawrence near the Thousand Islands chain. Muskies over 50 inches are considered average-sized here, and record-class fish are taken every year. Live bait specialists use big, lively suckers or panfish for bait, while big lures cast or trolled close to weed lines also produce lunker muskies. When a muskie decides to eat something, he is unlikely to be put off by the size of his dinner — matching the forage is always a good idea, but you seldom have to worry about your bait being too big.
Other options: Southern tier small ponds and coves are the ideal place to find bullheads and catfish this month. Use worms, dead or cut bait, chicken parts or beef liver fished directly on the bottom. Hit the Delaware River and other major flows for big pike and pickerel. Fast-moving spinnerbaits and other top-water splashers will attract the attention of these toothy predators.
Lake Ontario, Salmon
Fall deep trolling on Lake Ontario often produces some of the biggest fish of the year. This is a big lake and the salmon are often well off shore, so the fishery requires a boat that can handle fishing under Great Lakes conditions. Effectively this means that the fishery is charter-boat territory for most anglers, but the fleet is large and most captains are well prepared for a productive day on the water. If you've never tried it, you owe yourself a trip. Captains will know how to get on the fish, but you should come with clothing sufficient for a variety of weather conditions, from sun to storm.
Other options: Spend an enjoyable day fishing Long Island's Connetquot River for big browns and rainbows. It's fly-fishing only and each angler is assigned a "beat," but the fishing is worth the trouble it takes to get in line. Try the Mohawk River near Schenectady for some great fall smallmouth fishing. Access is easy via walkways and trails and the fishing can be first-rate in September.
Lake Ontario Tributaries, Salmon
Fall is prime time for catching big salmon in the Lake Ontario tributaries. Look for big fish resting in deep holes and tailwaters and ply them with salmon egg sacks and brightly colored imitation flies or lures.
Other options: Long Island Sound is the place to be for big bluefish this month. Fish from shore, casting jigs and plugs or try drifting big cut baits. Boaters should focus on currents seams where big blues and stripers rove in schools just off the bottom, slashing at tins, big jigs and heavyweight spoons.
Long Island, Blackfish
Hit the ledges and rocky shelves along shore for big blackfish (tautog) using big crabs and clams on heavy-duty tackle. This is a bottom fishery and anglers can expect to lose some terminal gear in the rocks and weedy pockets where the biggest fish congregate.
Other options: Steelhead become the order of the day for cold-season anglers on Lake Ontario's tributary system. Good fishing from shore or boat can be expected all winter using egg sacs and bright-colored lures and flies. Rig for fish in the 10-pound class (although bigger specimens are possible). Or head for Lake Erie for some serious late-season yellow perch action. Big schools of same-aged fish cruise near shore this month, providing plenty of action for bait fishermen and jigging enthusiasts. Use sonar gear to find fish, and then drop lively shiners or sparkly lures into their midst.
Lake Shallows, Pickerel
Nearly any of New York's small ponds and lake coves contain good numbers of hungry pickerel, which are easy pickings for anglers using 3-inch shiners or jig-and-grub combinations. The best fishing will be over weed beds, channels and drop-offs close to shoreline cover.
Other options: Wait for safe ice and then head for the Finger Lakes, where abundant bluegills and yellow perch await eager winter anglers. Fish close to shore over weed beds and rubble using small shiners, worms or tiny jigs. Celebrate year-end fishing with a trip to the St. Lawrence River for northern pike through the ice. Use big, lively shiners or brightly-colored jigging lures to attract hungry December northerns.