Wednesday is April 1, the annual opening day to open-water trout fishing season in New York. Here in northern New York, April 1 is basically still late winter most years, and this year is no exception.
While this has been a long brutal, winter, our area trout streams aren't in bad shape, all things considered. Yes, they are very cold, but probably not much colder than usual.
Because we have had a gradual, slow snow melt, stream levels are below normal for late March. That means streams will be fishable, though you will want to wear some long johns under the chest waders if you dare to go into the water.
We are expected to get some rain toward the end of the week, which may change things.
I drove up to the Plattsburgh area over the weekend, and saw plenty of ice fishermen still out on the hardwater. Ice is still thick on many lakes and ponds, but the late-season pull away from shore has begun and there will be weak spots to contend with.
I'm guessing Sunday's incident on Lake Champlain, where a family went through the ice, won't be the last accident we hear about.
-- Don Lehman
The calendar says late March, but if you look at most of the lakes around here, they look like it's still January.
Temperatures in the single digits the last couple of nights have kept ice hard, and many waters -- including Lake George -- still have plenty on which to fish. Guys on iceshanty.com were discussing perch fishing outings yesterday near the Lake George Narrows and village of Lake George.
"Ice in northern basin is really holding up well and in places is 2 feet plus thick. Bring your creepers! It is slick out there and fish were biting really well at times on Monday. Lakers are full of smelt and are chasing all the way up the water column. Should be good for weekend if shoreline holds up," one guy wrote this morning.
There was two feet of ice on much of Lake George this winter, and that hasn't gone away overnight. Smaller lakes were pushing 2-1/2 feet in the Adirondacks.
Still, this time of year, with the sun warmer and more daylight each day, ice can peel away from the banks pretty quickly. Every year we hear of a few guys who go through the ice trying to squeeze in one last trip on the ice. A bucketful of perch isn't worth a trip to the ER or worse.
-- Don Lehman
Old timers speak fondly of the days, decades ago, that anglers could fish for smelt in Lake George, or dip for the tasty fish during their spring runs into tributaries.
A decline in the smelt population resulted in a ban of fishing for them more than 20 years ago, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation is going to look into whether the ban should remain in place.
The DEC plans to collect smelt population data in the coming months, to see how the baitfish are doing and determine whether smelt fishing could again be allowed, DEC fisheries biologist Jim Pinhiero said.
"Maybe in the future we can open up smelt fishing," Pinhiero said.
Possible smelt rule changes are among DEC considerations for Lake George that Pinhiero updated Lake George Fishing Alliance members on earlier this month. The presentation was part of the alliance's annual meeting.
Pinhiero said he also wanted to gage the thoughts of alliance members on the possibility of the DEC stocking "surplus" coldwater and warmwater fish species in the lake. Each year the state has some leftover fish, and Pinhiero said Lake George could be a spot where they would be released.
The DEC had leftover landlocked Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout, Pinhiero said.
"Every year we have various allocations that are surplus," he said.
With the lake's salmon fishery struggling, many anglers have called in recent years for restoration of rainbow stocking.
Pinhiero said there have been some small improvements in salmon survival rates, with the stocking of the new Sebago strain of fish. Anglers are reporting more salmon catches, he said.
"There are some glimmers of hope that salmon are starting to survive," Pinhiero said.
Lake trout numbers appear to be strong, and there does not appear to be any need to change the laker regulations, he added.
The DEC also hopes to do bass and panfish surveys on the lake in the coming years, depending on the availability of funding.
-- Don Lehman
It's less than three weeks until April 1, the opening day of open water trout fishing season. The long, cold winter we have endured will likely mean that fishing conditions will be difficult in early April, but that doesn't mean there is no reason to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Trout Unlimited's Adirondack Chapter will again celebrate the new season with a March 31 event its members have dubbed "Fishmas Eve."
TU members and other trout fishing enthusiasts will gather at The Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with an admission price of $10, or $5 with three flies or one lure, to take part.
Proceeds go toward conservation and habitat work.
-- Don Lehman
The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced its fishing regulation changes for the 2015-16 fishing seasons, and there really isn't much for those of us in Region 5 to get too worked up about.
There are some minor changes on the Hoosic and Little Hoosic rivers and some Adirondack trout ponds and baitfish changes on the Hudson River as well as statewide muskie changes, but most of the changes are on waters outside our region.
The full DEC press release about the changes is below.
-- Don Lehman
DEC ADOPTS NEW FRESHWATER FISHING REGULATIONS
New or Modified Regulations Pertaining to Sportfish Species, Baitfish and Other Non-Game Fish and to Gear and Angling Methods
Statewide Fishing Regulations Eliminate Unnecessary Special Regulations
New freshwater fishing regulations go into effect April 1, 2015, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens today announced.
“DEC modifies its freshwater sportfishing regulations as necessary to help maintain the fantastic freshwater sportfishing New York is known for,” said Commissioner Martens. Changes are made to the regulations governing sportfishing and related activities to address management needs in specific waters, as well as to accommodate angler and other stakeholder desires. Many of the proposed changes resulted from DEC’s focus on consolidating regulations where possible and eliminating special regulations that are no longer warranted and have become outdated.”
The modifications to the sportfishing regulations are a result of a two-year process which included biological assessment, discussions with anglers and a formal 45-day public comment period. DEC used public input to finalize the changes. These regulations will be published in the 2015-16 Freshwater Fishing Regulations Guide which will be available at all license sales vendors in March.
Highlights of the final changes include:
New or Modified Regulations Pertaining to Sportfish Species:
- · Establishing a closed statewide season for sauger.
- · Modifying the statewide regulation for muskellunge by increasing the minimum size limit to 40 inches and adjusting the season opener from the third Saturday in June to the last Saturday in May.
- · Providing consistency between the proposed statewide muskellunge regulation changes and the existing muskellunge regulations for specific waters including Lake Champlain, and St. Lawrence County rivers and streams, as well as for both muskellunge and tiger muskellunge at Chautauqua Lake.
- · Increasing the minimum size limit for muskellunge to 54 inches in the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River.
- · Increasing the minimum size limit for walleye at Honeoye Lake from 15 to 18 inches.
- · Establishing year-round trout seasons, with catch and release fishing only from October 16 through March 31, at the following streams in Western New York: Chenunda Creek, Oatka Creek, Clear Creek, Fenton Brook, Prendergast Creek, and waters in Allegany State Park.
- · Initiating a catch and release season for trout for sections of the Salmon River (Franklin County) and Ninemile Creek (Onondaga County), and extend the catch and release season at Fall Creek (Cayuga Lake).
- · Establishing a special trout regulation of a daily creel limit of five fish with no more than two fish longer than 12 inches, for some waters in Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, and St. Lawrence counties, as well as for Little River and Oswegatchie River (St. Lawrence County), and Oriskany Creek (Oneida County).
- · Establishing an all-year trout season, with a 12-inch minimum size limit and daily limit of three fish, at Hinkley and Prospect Reservoirs in Herkimer and Oneida counties, North Lake in Herkimer County, and for an additional section of the North Branch Saranac River in Franklin and Clinton counties.
- · Establishing an all year season, with a 12-inch minimum size limit and daily limit of three fish, for both trout and Landlocked salmon at Millsite Lake in Jefferson County.
- · Expanding the current special trout regulation for Pine, Boottree, Town Line, Deer and Horseshoe ponds (St. Lawrence County) to the entire set of waters that are a part of the Massawepie Easement.
- · Expanding the current trout and salmon special regulations for the Fulton Chain of lakes to the connected water body Old Forge Pond.
- · Establishing a 15-inch minimum size limit for lake trout and clarify that the statewide regulations apply for other species for Owasco Outlet (Cayuga County).
- · Modifying trout and/or salmon regulations for Star Lake and Trout Lake (St. Lawrence County), by increasing the minimum size limit for trout to 12 inches and reducing the daily creel limit to three. Add landlocked salmon to species with an open year-round season for Star Lake.
- · Establishing an open year-round trout season for Sylvia Lake (St. Lawrence County), with a 12-inch minimum size limit and three fish daily creel limit, with ice fishing permitted.
- · Extending Great Lakes tributary regulations upstream to the section of the Genesee River (Monroe County) from State Route 104 Bridge upstream to the Lower Falls.
- · Exempting Old Seneca Lake Inlet from the Finger Lakes tributary regulations.
- · Clarifying, in regulation, a definition for “catch and release fishing” and defining how incidental catches of untargeted fish are to be handled.
Elimination of special regulations that are no longer warranted. Statewide fishing regulations now apply:
- · Deleting the special minimum size and daily creel limit walleye regulation for Fern Lake (Clinton County), Lake Algonquin (Hamilton County), and Franklin Falls Flow, Lower Saranac Lake and Rainbow Lake in Franklin County, and Tully Lake (Cortland and Onondaga Counties).
- · Eliminating the special regulations (examples being minimum size limit, daily creel limit, season length and/or method of take) for trout, landlocked salmon and/or lake trout, at several waters including Schoharie Reservoir, Susquehanna River (between Otsego and Goodyear Lakes), Launt Pond (Delaware County), Basswood Pond (Otsego County), Lake Algonquin (Hamilton County), Jennings Park Pond (Hamilton County), Hoosic River and Little Hoosic River (Rensselaer County), Hudson River (Saratoga County), North Branch Saranac River (Clinton and Franklin Counties), Clear and Wheeler Ponds (Herkimer County), Cold Brook (St. Lawrence County), and West Branch of the St. Regis River (St. Lawrence County).
- · Eliminating the special brown trout and landlocked salmon regulations (minimum size limit, daily creel limit and season length) at Otsego Lake.
- · Eliminating the 10-inch minimum size limit for black bass at Lily Pond and Pack Forest Lake in Warren County; eliminate the “all year – any size” special regulation for black bass at Cayuta Creek in Tioga County; and adopt a consistent minimum size limit for black bass for sections of the Schoharie Creek at 10 inches.
- · Eliminating the daily creel limit special regulation for sunfish and yellow perch in Cumberland Bay (Lake Champlain), as well as eliminate the prohibition on the sale of yellow perch taken from Cumberland Bay.
- · Eliminating the minimum size limit special regulation for lake trout in the Essex Chain of Lakes.
- · Eliminating the separate special regulation for trout for Ischua Creek, and apply the Cattaraugus County regulation.
Regulations Pertaining to Baitfish and Other Non-Game Fish:
- · Prohibiting the use of fish as bait in newly acquired trout waters: Fish Hole Pond and Balsam Pond in Franklin County; and Clear Pond in Washington County.
- · Removing the baitfish prohibition on Harlow Lake, Genesee County.
- · Removing all currently listed eligible waters for the commercial collection of baitfish: in Clinton County, except Lake Champlain; in Essex County, except Lake Champlain and Lake Flower; in Franklin County, except Lake Flower, Lower Saranac Lake, Raquette River, Tupper Lake and Upper Saranac Lake; in Fulton County; in Hamilton County, except Indian Lake, Lake Pleasant and Long Lake; in Saratoga County, except the Hudson River, Lake Lonely and outlet Lake Lonely to Kayaderosseras Creek, Mohawk River and Saratoga Lake; in Warren County, except the Hudson River; and in Washington County, except the Hudson River and Lake Champlain.
- · Adding madtoms and stonecats to the approved list of fish that may be used, collected and sold as baitfish.
- · Eliminating “snatching” of burbot in Scomotion Creek (Clinton County).
- · Eliminating smelt “dipping” in Raquette Lake (Hamilton County).
- · Modifying smelt regulations for Cayuga and Owasco Lakes, for consistency with five Western Finger Lakes.
- · Eliminating the prohibition on taking smelt and suckers with a scap or dip net in Willow Creek (Tompkins County).
- · Removing the allowance for snatching lake whitefish at Otsego Lake.
Regulations Pertaining to Gear and Angling Methods:
- · Streamlining what devices may be used for ice fishing by modifying the statewide regulation to allow for a total of seven devices that may be used to fish through the ice; as well as allow for a total of 15 devices that many be used to fish through the ice at Lake Champlain.
- · Eliminating the gear restrictions at Follensby Clear Pond (Franklin County) that permits ice fishing but prohibits the use of tip-ups.
- · With the exception of the Salmon River, permitting the use of floating lures with multiple hooks with multiple hook points, on all Lake Ontario tributaries.
- · Clarifying the definition of floating lures on Lake Ontario tributaries to: “A floating lure is a lure that floats while at rest in water with or without any weight attached to the line, leader, or lure”.
- · Clarifying that the current regulation for the Great Lake tributaries restricting the use of hooks with added weight was not intended to ban the use of small jigs.
- · Expanding the prohibition of weight added to the line, leader, swivels, artificial fly or lures to all Lake Ontario tributaries (i.e. beyond a limited group of tributaries) from September 1 through March 31 of the following year.
- · Clarifying the use of multiple hooks with multiple hook points on Lake Erie tributaries is legal, as well as clarify that the use of flies with up to two hook points is legal on all Great Lake tributaries.
- · Replacing Lake Ontario tributary regulations for St. Lawrence River tributaries in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties with statewide terminal tackle restrictions.
- · Redefining the upstream limit for spearfishing on the Salmon River (Franklin County).
- · Clarifying the description of gear (gill nets) that is allowed for, in the Finger Lakes, for the collection of alewives for personal use as bait.
- · Reinstating the prohibition on large landing nets (nets larger than 50 inches around the frame or with a handle longer than 20 inches) for Finger Lakes tributaries except for those sections that are specifically identified.
In addition to the above, several changes were made to properly establish or clarify an earlier regulation change, better define an existing regulation (by rewording), or address regulations that have not changed but are now redundant and covered elsewhere in the regulations including as a result of consolidation.
Governor Cuomo’s NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative is an effort to improve recreational opportunities for sportsmen and women and to boost tourism activities throughout the state. This includes streamlining fishing and hunting licenses, reducing license fees, improving access for fishing and increasing hunting opportunities in New York State. In support of this initiative, $10 million in NY Works funding has been dedicated to fish hatchery repairs and 50 new land and water access projects such as boat launches, hunting blinds, trails and parking areas.
Under the initiative, the 2015-16 Executive Budget proposes an additional $8 million for state land access projects and an additional $4 million for the state’s hatcheries in NY Works funding. The Budget also proposes to create a new capital account which along with federal Pittman-Robertson funds will be used to manage, protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat, and to improve and develop public access for fish and wildlife-related recreation.
The complete list of sportfishing regulation changes can be viewed under “Recently Adopted (Previous Twelve Months)” on DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov. All comments received were categorized and reviewed for substance, and staff responses were compiled. A summary of the “Assessment of Public Comment” is available on the Department of State website at www.dos.state.ny.us/info/register.htm.
It doesn't seem like ice fishing season is anywhere close to ending, but the state's annual deadline to get ice fishing shanties off ice is less than a week off.
With collapsible and easily portable shanties much more common than years ago and the old wood structures not as prevalent, the yearly warning to get shanties off the ice isn't as big a deal as it used to be. Still, those who don't get them off in time risk a $100 fine, and bigger penalties if a structure goes through the ice.
-- Don Lehman
The brutal winter of 2014-15 goes on, but so far the whitetail deer herd of the Adirondacks seems to have avoided widespread mortality.
That is the word from Ed Reed, the state Department of Environmental Conservation's regional big game wildlife biologist, who said DEC staff members were checking winter deer yards this week and found deer that are surviving despite the deep snow and abnormal cold.
"Right now it's not good, but they're holding on," he said.
Whether the herd sees substantial mortality depends on what happens over the next couple of weeks. If winter abates, and deer can get out and feed, they should be alright. But if spring is late in arriving, there could be problems, Reed said.
He said a big mast crop last year, with acorns particularly prevalent, helped ensure they were well-fed heading into winter. There was also a lull in bad weather from mid-December to mid-January that helped them get out and eat where they could.
"They went in to winter with a lot of fat," he said.
-- Don Lehman
It looks like it's going to be another winter where ice fishing season stretches into April.
There is two feet of ice on many waters in the southern Adirondacks, including some of the bays of Lake George.
The bitter cold and deep snow has made the going difficult for event the most diehard hardwater anglers. Slogging through the slush is difficult to say the least, and four-wheelers and snowmobiles can have problems at times as well.
Lake George has been giving up plenty of perch and lakers, with Huddle Bay and areas off Million Dollar Beach in Lake George and Veterans Beach in Bolton good options.
It will be interesting to see what impact two long ice fishing seasons have on laker and perch populations on Lake George.
If you are looking to try ice fishing, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, New York Conversation Officers Association and Washington County Federation of Sportsmen are teaming up to hold a free ice fishing clinic on Carters Pond on county Route 49 in Greenwich on Saturday, March 7.
-- Don Lehman
It's not too late to get a ticket to tonight's (Friday) Lower Adirondack Chapter of Ducks Unlimited banquet. The event, which will be held at the Elks Lodge in Queensbury starting at 6 p.m., will include auctions of 12 guns and 4 guided hunts as well as other prizes.
Tickets will be available at the door.
I looked at the calendar this morning and realized we are a little over five weeks from trout season opening day.
It seems like we are months away, though, as another snowstorm approaches.
Barring a major pattern shift, it's going to be tough sledding (no pun intended) on area trout streams when the April 1 opener arrives. There is a ton of snow to melt, and that will likely keep streams high and cold well into spring.
On the bright side, the snow should guarantee we aren't looking at drought-like conditions anytime soon.
Want to be depressed? A friend pointed out that we are 6 months away from the end of summer as well.
I haven't had a chance yet to talk to anyone at the DEC about how this harsh winter is affecting the whitetail population.
I haven't seen any signs that the deer around me have been out of their winter yards in weeks to browse, so I would guess they are yarded up in most places. Thankfully there was a mild stretch between mid-December and mid-January where deer could get out and load up, so maybe the impact won't be so bad.
But after a winter in 2013-14 that obviously had an impact on the herd, based on a tough deer season last fall, this winter was not what wildlife in our region needed.
-- Don Lehman