Year-end fishing reports are more akin to a mild, mid November than a couple days before New Year’s.
Surface temperatures on the Great Lakes and all inland lakes are at or above 40 degrees, not nearing that 38-and-change reading that flips warm and cold waters to form ice surfaces. Even cooler nights have yet to trigger that turnover.
Salmonids have been making their stream-ward sorties into feeder streams that supply enough water for spawning and feeding runs. Stream waders this past week have had to wait out high, stained waters following rain and melting snow runoffs.
Boaters on the Great Lakes and larger inland waterways have had to cast their fate to the winds. Many an Ontario trout and salmon run, Lake Erie perch and walleye outing or inland lake foray have been foiled by breezes that make fishing difficult if not dangerous.
Bass outings were outstanding everywhere. Warmer autumn waters had bass, especially smallies, working shallow rock piles and weed edges with feeding frenzies that usually slow about the time the statewide season ends on Nov. 30. On recent outings, lower Niagara River anglers have pulled a few smallmouths while trying for trout.
Inland panfish pursuits have been productive well past the mid-autumn mark. Bluegill/sunfish schools often hold along weed edges and around shoreline structures (docks, piers, boathouses, and natural points) until waters drop below 40 degrees. Many a spot which is hot has seen a solitary boater or shore caster get into a late-fall fishery that would have drawn dozens earlier in the season.
Added to the panfish plethora, crappie schools have held closer to shore on many Southern Tier waters and western Finger Lakes that usually are void of “paper-mouths” by the time deer season arrives.
Shore waters have been home to walleye and other larger predators that usually hold in deeper waters. Heavy schools of bait seen particularly in the upper Niagara River, in the Chautauqua Lake shallows and lately in Dunkirk Harbor have drawn walleye into the shallows where they are not usually seen and caught during daylight hours.
New Years fishing predictions could go in many directions. Lake Ontario salmon showed well throughout the year in area waters but not abundantly in feeder streams this past fall. Yet, charter boaters see sizeable schools of 2-year-old fish, which could be good for a 2016 salmon run.
Trout have done the same. Boaters who could not connect with Ontario’s salmon did well on steelies and lake trout throughout the summer. Lake trout, a species of some concern, showed in exceptional numbers around the Niagara Bar and into the lower Niagara River through the closed/spawning season in waters generally too warm for lakers.
Lake Erie’s perch population is far from crashing and sizes remain in the jumbo/slob class (12- to 15-inchers and larger) all around the eastern basin of the lake. Ringback schools have sounded for more than a decade and good numbers have shown in narrower pods and patches in deep waters for the last two to three warm-weather seasons. Catching Lake Erie perch now (on open water and through the ice) is more a matter of searching rather than perching. A waypoint marking hot today might not bring a bite tomorrow.
Walleye prospects have some similarities. The 2014 season had everyone an ‘eyes expert. The 2015 take was from parts of the lake, and better later in the season.
Results of a lakewide telemetry study of walleye have yet to be shared, but trollers took many a reconnaissance run for scant few walleye early in the season and found good numbers later in the year when prevailing wisdom has walleye swimming back to the Western Basin.
Perch prospectors out of Sturgeon Point and Cattaraugus Creek have seen many a suspended bait school and larger-predator readings (walleye and other feeders) while looking for perch bellied to the bottom.
Inland, the Chautauqua Lake walleye fishery is neither afoul nor on fire, just different this year. A small spurt of schooling in the spring led to a scattering of ‘eyes during a banner season for bass and muskies. That typical late-fall, after-dark shoreline run just did not occur. Instead, schools of nice-sized ‘eyes are showing solidly right now at depths of 30 to 40 feet near the north-basin area near Long Point. Vertical jigging has brought the best bite.
Late stocking of trout at both Red House and Quaker Lakes offers shore casters some nice action before ice forms.
With ice-fishing access perhaps weeks away on inland lakes and unlikely on Erie, the lower Niagara River trout run should see good angler numbers. Lake trout season reopens Friday and the steelie run improves with every change in water clarity for both boaters and shore casters.
The Niagara River Roger Tobey Steelhead Contest is set for February 6 at the Lewiston Docks. For details, call 998-8910.
Happy New Year.