Nasty weather in the western Finger Lakes region that dominated news this past two weeks did not dampen interest shown by anglers during a meeting of fishery experts in Lima on Monday evening.
Department of Environmental Conservation Region 8 personnel gathered at the ELIM Bible Institute’s Tab Chapel to recruit new diary cooperators for specific lakes in the area and to recognize the many volunteers who have kept records of their catches on Canadice, Conesus, Hemlock and Honeoye lakes for many years past.
But a two-stage torrential rainstorm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings of the previous week stole headlines about flooded shorelines of these and other lakes east of Honeoye Lake.
During that deluge week we held our annual cottage rental at Honeoye, typically a fun outing for panfish and the releasing of reams of largemouth bass.
The Tuesday torrent hit hard at Penn Yan; we could see the heavier rainfall falling in the direction of Naples and eastward. The Thursday thump made fishing on Friday more a survey of shoreline damage than a check on the bluegill bite.
Nonetheless, brother-in-law Mike Lawson, visiting from Cumberland, Md., and nephew Dale Grooms, up from Westminster, Md., hooked into some sizeable ’gills that often nudged the 10-inch mark.
The more significant measure was of water height. When we arrived, the dock next to a boat lift stood some two feet above the water level. We planned to fish for a while the last day, but Saturday morning had the water level up to just below the dock, the boat lift near its top setting, a chocolate-milk coloration to all lake waters and not a boat in sight on open waters.
We learned later that morning the lake was becoming off-limits for motor boating; water conditions were less than likeable for fish catching. We left the water early that Saturday morning with no winds and waters at a dead calm. Runoff from streams and ditch creeks had lifted the water to heights I had not ever seen during decades on Honeoye Lake.
The panfish spawning cycle was just peaking and the post-spawn bite should be good. But prospects then and for this Memorial Day weekend outings all depend on conditions of the waters. Earlier this past week county sheriffs imposed either no-wake or no-power-boating restrictions on lakes in the western and central Finger Lakes region. Check before heading to any of these lakes this holiday weekend.
Before the “State of Western Finger Lakes” fishery meeting began, Region 8 Fisheries Manager Webster Pearsall thanked all the diary cooperators for their valuable input on warm- and cold-water fish catches. Pearsall cited Tom and Mary Herbst, town of Canadice residents on the southwest shore of Honeoye Lake, for their sheer numbers. The Herbst couple log mainly catch-and-release bass catches in the thousands yearly.
Biologist Matt Sanderson highlighted the basic limnology, water conditions and lake makeup, of all four lakes. Diversity reigns here. Small lakes such as Canadice and Hemlock provide deep-water trout and salmon fisheries; larger but shallower lakes such as Conesus and Honeoye offer good warm-water fishing for bass, walleye and panfish.
Lake depths and watershed areas determine dominant fish species and freezing ice conditions. Sanderson noted watershed areas highest at Honeoye, followed with Conesus, Hemlock and Canadice.
Western Finger Lakes have seen most of the invasive species that had entered Great Lakes waters, but the round goby has only been located in Cayuga Lake.
Biologist Peter Austerman focused on Hemlock Lake’s diverse fishery. At one-third the water surface of Honeoye and three times Honeoye’s depth, Hemlock offers both a deep-water salmonid fishery for brown trout, steelhead trout, lake trout and Atlantic salmon as well as a shallow, warm-water fishery for assorted panfish, bass and a few walleyes.
Austerman also reported on Canadice Lake; smallest but deep and diverse, anglers at Canadice can find crappie and lake trout in close quarters. Lake trout have been stocked there since 1942; rainbow trout stocking began in 1966. But now more browns, about 5,000 yearlings and about 1,500 lake trout are stocked each year.
Special fish consumption advisories are set for this lake, mainly the result of contaminants entering the lake decades earlier. Stories abound. From a PCB-laden transformer dumping to polluted road-surface materials are blamed, yet the fishery remains remarkable and catch rates equal and often exceed nearby lakes.
Pearsall advised anglers to check on consumption advisories but enjoy the productive fishery that exists in this and all other area lakes.
Honeoye Lake got the major focus. “Honeoye is a shallow lake with a large biomass of fish,” Austerman said of the lake that ranks 28th among most-fished lakes in the state. Too warm for trout, the lake has a solid panfish and bass fishery and DEC officials continue a walleye stocking program begun in 1980. Currently, 8.7 million fry are stocked in this lake.
Largemouth bass show the greatest density, with 70 percent of the fish in the 10- to 14-inch range. Black crappie numbers are up; walleye catch counts are down; bluegill/sunfish sizes remain big, but numbers are slightly down.
Sanderson concluded reports with a discussion of Conesus Lake. Anglers can find both large and small fish predators at Conesus. The DEC installed pike spawning beds on the shallow, weedy lake and northern pike production is thriving.
The weeds are also home to smallmouth and largemouth bass, with a weak but present walleye population. The DEC stocking program includes both walleye and tiger muskies. Yellow perch numbers have declined since the introduction of alewives in the 1970s.
The bluegill population has increased since 2004; anglers have seen more numbers than sizes of ’gills at Conesus in recent years.
A self-pay system has been installed for boat launching at the Honeoye Lake State Boat Launch site at the southeast corner of the lake.
Drivers of boats on trailers now will pay $7 (exact cash) per daily launch or with either an Empire Passport, Access Pass or Golden Senior Program payment system.