February 02, 2016
The truth is, any New Yorker who doesn't already know a good place to spend a fishing vacation this year is either not much of an angler or else is so swamped by work or family issues that he can't drag himself to the water's edge.
Yet, everybody needs time off, now and then. Would it help if we did the preliminary field research for you? It so happens that we outdoor writers spend a good part of work time flipping through pen-and-pencil notes, reading tourism brochures and carefully scanning digital grip-and-grin photos that might make an article or two.
In the next few pages, we'll review 36 prospective angling get-up-and-go trips. You might discover some thought about fishing for years, and perhaps a couple of others that you never thought of before.
Whether you like hot-weather fishing near home or a mid-winter trek to a friend's favorite ice-fishing spot, you are certain to be intrigued and ready to look some more. As always, let us start at the beginning.
Honeoye Lake, Bluegills
If you live in West-Central New York, and want to get a mess of eating-size fish for your freezer, dress snugly and head for the Finger Lakes chain, which is a pan-fishing paradise. The best bet is Honeoye Lake, which is simply loaded with 7- to 9-inch-long bluegills. You'll find it southwest of Canandaigua in Ontario County.
OTHER OPTIONS: A good second choice is Butternut Creek, a nice brown trout stream which can be fished year-round from the U.S. Route 29 crossing at LaFayette north to the Conrail railroad crossing near East Syracuse. Also, if the weather is cold enough to produce solid ice, hard-water pike fishing should be very productive in the St. Lawrence River bays and creek mouths between Clayton and Alexandria Bay in January.
Walleyes, Oneida Lake
Assuming safe, sturdy ice, the estimated 400,000-plus adult walleyes in this lake located about a half-hour drive north of Syracuse will have plenty of angler traffic, but the majority are after panfish in the lake's shallows. You want to target walleyes, which school up and give chase to bait in the 30- to 40-foot depths of the lake.
OTHER OPTIONS: Crappies of dinner-plate size roam just below the surface of Perch Lake in Jefferson County, and 4- to 8-pound northern pike are also present. For some big lake trout, check with the DEC regional office in Raybrook for current information on Piseco Lake. It's off Route 8 in Hamilton County.
Steelhead, Lake Erie Tributaries
Contrary to what you read in outdoor publications, the fastest fishing for New York steelhead these days is not found in Lake Ontario tributaries. For now, at least, you are more likely to enjoy multiple hook-ups with the jumping jewels of the Great Lakes in Lake Erie spawning streams.
You will have your very best shot at catching and releasing several steelies in a single day if you focus on any or all of the following Chautauqua County tributaries of Lake Erie: Cattaraugus Creek, Canadaway Creek and Chautauqua Creek.
All three flow through Chautauqua County, but you will need a Seneca Indian reservation non-resident license to give some of the better water on "the Catt." You will need to buy a non-Indian license to enjoy the virtually non-stop waves of rainbows that are typical for March.
OTHER OPTIONS: Sometimes, the steelhead run goes sour due to heavier-than-expected runoff flows. Many Western New York anglers see that as a signal to get after a mess of crappies in Chatauqua Lake, near Jamestown. You may find safe ice or patches of open water in the shallows.
Bring a variety of tackle, to make sure you're prepared for the seasonal changes. Safe ice is a must, however, at Lake Champlain, at the opposite end of the state. If you head for Champlain, you will usually find smelt and/or lake trout on the bite.
You can get the tasty smelt by using tiny ice-fly jigs. Since there's no limit on the species, you can save a few smelt for laker bait.
Rainbows, Naples Creek
Some of the big rainbows that spawn in Naples Creek at the south end of Canandaigua Lake are 8- to 11-pound monsters. Catharine Creek, which flows into Seneca Lake at Watkins Glen, holds is own versus Naples and has even better fishing some years.
Other Finger Lakes tributaries have fishable spawning runs, too, including Grout Brook, a feeder of Skaneateles Lake; Owasco Inlet, which is the main spawning ground for Owasco Lake rainbows; and Cayuga Inlet, one of several productive spawning grounds which flow into Cayuga Lake.
OTHER OPTIONS: For those who appreciate wild brook trout, late April isn't too soon to do some culvert fishing along the back roads of the Tug Hill plateau in Oswego and Lewis counties. The fish you encounter won't be lunkers, but you should be able to collect a couple big enough to fry on a cast-iron skillet.
A completely different fishing adventure awaits you in the lower Hudson River, as thousands of big striped bass leave the salt to spawn in fresh or brackish water.
Post-Spawn Pike, Conesus Lake
State fisheries biologists have netted pike weighing 20 or more pounds from Conesus Lake in Livingston County on many survey expeditions, and the best time to tussle with such monsters is during the first week or two of the season, early- to mid-May. The south end is the chief pike spawning ground and therefore the likeliest spot to try.
OTHER OPTIONS: Otisco Lake has limited public access, but if you can find a spot to cast stickbaits after darkness — such as the causeway, an old roadbed that nearly bisects the lake near the Otisco Lake Marina — you might connect with a 6- or 8-pound walleye. Trout fishermen, meanwhile, head for the Catskills in May to match the mayfly hatches in Willowemoc Creek and other famed waters.
Lake Erie Walleyes
Not a few old-timers thought the walleye fishing in Lake Erie was as good as it gets last spring and summer, and they're looking for a repeat performance in 2016. Both the Central and Eastern (New York) basins of the lake have been productive in recent years.
OTHER OPTIONS: You have a great chance to catch your biggest smallmouth bass yet if you give Chaumont Bay a thorough try, but make sure you have a wind-worthy boat to rely on. The waves can pick up in a hurry on this Lake Ontario embayment, which is just north of Point Peninsula in Jefferson County. Another bouncy bit of water, the Niagara River Bar, lately has been rewarding persistent anglers with Atlantic salmon, in addition to the more common Chinooks and cohos.
New York City's Reservoir Bass
Most of the lakes that are linked together in Westchester and Putnam counties to provide drinking water for Big Apple residents offer fine fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Croton Reservoir may be the best of the bunch, as 8-pound bucketmouths and 6-pound bronzebacks call it "home."
OTHER OPTIONS: Another top-notch spot for bass fishing is the Barge Canal section of the Mohawk River, between Herkimer and Schnectady. Plenty of elbow room and some smallies of 4 pounds or better are the attractions, and it can be fished from shore as well as from bass boats. In the Saranac Chain of Lakes in Franklin County, northern pike are on the prowl, especially at dawn or dusk.
East Branch Delaware Trout
Trout fishermen who like a big challenge and even bigger rewards will love the way summer makes the brown trout behave in the East Branch of the Delaware River. The low, clear water and the heavy hatches of tiny Baetis mayflies and swarms of flying ants force even expert fly-fishers to be at their best.
OTHER OPTIONS: Syracuse-area fishermen love fishing for three species of sunfish — pumpkinseed, bluegill and red-breasted — in Tully Lake, which is south of the city via Interstate 81 and the Tully exit. Plenty of largemouths are available there, too. Another hot spot in hot weather is the Seneca River including Cross Lake. Toothy critters, including northern pike and tiger muskellunge, hide out along bends, undercuts and weed beds.
Pacific Salmon, Salmon River
The Salmon River in Pulaski and Altmar should be on every angler's short list, not that I'm trying to increase attendance during the annual fall spawning run of Chinook and coho salmon, brown trout and the occasional Atlantic salmon. The fish bite best in the second half of September, but tens of thousands will be crammed into the deeper pools when the run peaks, around Columbus Day.
Simple flies made of yellow-, red- or orange Estaz chenille or similar material are effective salmon-takers when fished on the river bottom.
OTHER OPTIONS: When Lake Ontario tributaries are pounded by hordes of anglers, other trout waters around the state are lightly fished, even though their resident browns and brookies are feeding. My favorite autumn stream is the West Branch of the Ausable River between Wilmington and Lake Placid in Essex County.
The Isonychia bicolor mayfly hatch brings big fish to the surface but the scenery itself is worth the drive from Syracuse in late September. If you are awed by the fall foliage but prefer lakes over streams, consider a trip to Schroon Lake in Warren County. It is justly famous for both lake trout and northern pike.
Muskies In The 1,000 Islands
The only question worth asking about the muskellunge fishery in the 1,000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River is not whether to go, but when. I was guided to my best muskie by river legend Myrle Bauer of Clayton one sunny October day, but some experts prefer November or even early December. Whenever you go, be sure to buy a Canadian license so you can fish across the mid-river international border with Ontario.
OTHER OPTIONS: Sodus Bay in Wayne County Bay is frequently admired for its northern pike (average size about 6 pounds) but these voracious predators are seldom bothered in October. Another underrated fall fishing trip is a junket to the Bouqet River at Willsboro in Warren County. The water below the Willbboro dam and fish ladder is excellent for landlocked salmon.
Oak Orchard's Big Browns
The mouth of Oak Orchard Creek, at Point Breeze on Lake Ontario, is a gathering space for whopper trout headed for spawning gravel downstream from the Waterport dam in Orleans County. How big are these fish, you wonder? Twenty-pounders are possible, though 10-pounders are more likely.
OTHER OPTIONS: Lake trout in Skaneateles average around 16 inches but 5- or 6-pounders join the smaller fish on the gravel points of this beautiful fishing hole. Use egg sacks or small jigs to catch yours. At the east end of Long Island, the bluefish will slash any spoon that swims within their reach.
Trout in Oswego
Real determination is the key to catching steelhead in most New York streams, as the winter weather in most Great Lakes tributaries tests the angler's endurance. In the Oswego River, which flows through the city's downtown, you can enjoy the luxury of walking to the diner for a cup of Joe when your fingers are about to all off!
OTHER OPTIONS: Many lakes in New York have excellent fishing for yellow perch, but Keuka and Seneca lakes, both part of the Finger Lakes chain, are the best of the bunch. Seneca Lake is my pick for number one because it never freezes over, which means its 13- to 16-inch jumbo perch can't be targeted by ice fishermen.
You'll need a trustworthy boat and outboard to go after a limit in the winter months. When the perch won't cooperate, try trolling for landlocked salmon off Salt Point, on the west shore just north of Watkins Glen. If you have the right spoon or streamer fly, you might hook two or three dozen leaping salmon in an afternoon. What a great day that is to end a late-year vacation!