Santa may be arriving early for anglers seeking a bite presence rather than wrapped presents.
Both the steelhead trout and the yellow perch fisheries are warming up, if not on fire, on Great Lakes and inland waters. Feeder streams still need a better flow, but those creeks and rivers that provide trout access are seeing a nice run of steelies, with some bonus species in Lake Ontario feeders.
Perch and other panfish have schooled tight enough so that boaters can enjoy a solid catch in one area – once a good school has been located. Schooling movements can be hot at varying depths, especially for bluegill and crappie schools in late fall.
While boaters working weed edges at 8- to 10-foot depths are seeing nice sizes of ‘gills and “calicos” take grubs and blood worms, another boater could be dropping crappie rigs (banks of leadered hooks) in 15- to 20-foot drop-off areas and getting good numbers with live minnows.
Warm waters with good clarity make the steelie search challenging but productive. Both boaters and shore casters go micro to trick trout right now. Most lakes and streams are finally well below 50 degrees and movement is mainly salmonid stock moving up stream. However, this heat has kept smallmouth bass (now out of season in most areas) active in streams, rivers and along the shores of big and smaller lakes.
Ice fishing might not be an area activity until the New Year, but savvy trout anglers are working terminal tackle offerings of small jigs and single-egg setups akin to things a hardwater angler might drop into a hole in the ice.
Baitfish presence has not shifted considerably, but water clarity in the lower river has changed feeding, and more importantly biting, patterns.
River currents are loaded with 3- to 4-inch alewives and small rainbow smelt, which might suggest running banana baits (Kwikfish and MagLips) on a boat drift or casting spinners and spoons from shore. Both work. But successful boaters and shore casters are doing better with smaller baits in Niagara’s clear waters.
“Most” anglers “are going micro,” said Capt. Chris Cinelli of the single-egg options of yarn, vinyl and other mini baits that trout pick up while consuming spawned eggs moving down current. Cinelli also noted that steelhead have taken over in the catch count. Lake trout remain in the river but their numbers are well below the steelie bite and take.
Bigger feeders prevail in the steelie search, with brown trout showing in better numbers than usual. Clarity has forced egg drifters to drop both terminal tackle sizes and line weights to draw steelie and brown bites.
Time of day has been important for pier casters – when wave action cooperates. Mornings and evenings vie for the better bites on incoming trout. But some of the nicest runs up stream at both Olcott and Oak Orchard have been at odd hours of the day.
The perch bite at Wilson, Olcott and the Oak depend on runs of pike and trout, but the Irondequoit Bay perch fishery is entirely out in boat country. Schools move up and down the east side of the bay, showing 10 down to 25 feet at times. Minnows are a must.
Snowless days and relatively warm weather has boaters wondering why they winterized so early. What few boaters who can get onto the lake with minnows have seen some remarkable sizes and numbers at depths either side of 56 feet between Sturgeon Point and Cattaraugus Creek. Boaters throughout the summer and early fall have seen mixed odds for big-fish and limit catches, but, like the deer take this hunting season, reports of trophies outnumber heavy harvest counts.
The 2015 Lake Erie perch fishery is an echo if not a clone of the late 1980s catching patterns. Look for a detailed summation of the Erie’s past and present perch prospect on the Dec. 27 Sunday Outdoors Page.
Erie’s feeder fishermen see similar outcomes as anglers along Lake Ontario’s streams. Bigger feeders retain water flow, clarity is more like January conditions, and the smaller the baits the better the bite.
Casters off the breakwater at Cattaraugus Creek are seeing trout movement throughout the day. Up stream, steelies can be found up to the Springville Dam, but work the curves, oxbows, pilings and open pockets where trout might feed as well as travel.
• The New York State Winter Classic Fishing Tournament series begins Jan. 1, with statewide contests and local events at Honeoye and Chautauqua Lakes. For details, call Tim Thomas at (585) 330-0494 or visit intrlcassic.com.
• Captain Bob’s Outdoors Winter Fishing Derby begins Jan. 2, with a new steelhead division, a catch-and-release feature and other changes. For more details, check with Steve Hawkins at 407-3021 and look for a detailed notebook item about this derby on the Sunday Outdoors Page.