There really is no excuse to keep you away from fishing, especially this time of year for trout

I must freely admit that I have been grossly remiss in my coverage of fishing, and especially our wonderful area coldwater fisheries.

When you consider all of the major and smaller Finger Lakes, toss in Lake Ontario for good measure, and then also look at this state’s estimated 7,500 ponds and lakes, that is a fairly impressive area for fishing potential. Then there are the more than 70,000 miles of fish-filled rivers and streams to be considered, and the quantity of available sport fishing simply boggles the mind. 

Last year we experienced drought and near-drought conditions across much of New York. Water levels in many areas were extremely low, causing lots of boat damage. But then came a good winter with more than adequate amounts of rain and snow, and lake levels rebounded significantly. There are some areas along Lake Ontario’s shoreline that are currently experiencing higher than normal water levels.

All of which bodes well for area anglers. Steelhead are being reported in every Lake Ontario tributary that normally harbors this species. Bear Creek, Maxwell Creek and Salmon River anglers are reporting stronger than average runs of steelhead as this report is being written.

One other fishing fact is worth noting. The DEC’s trout hatchery program has been stocking legal-sized trout this month. You can obtain a list of all local-stocked streams at their website, including the anticipated number of trout to be stocked in each stream.

Here are some more specifics on streams in our immediate area. 

First, remember that there are still some nice rainbows in all of the Finger Lakes tributaries. They should remain until at least mid-May, and possibly longer if spring rains continue to cool those streams. Specifically, they are Naples Creek in Ontario County, Cold Brook in Steuben County, Springwater Creek in Livingston County, and Catharine Creek in Schuyler and Chemung Counties. Just keep in mind that the daily limit is one rainbow trout per day with the minimum length of 15 inches.

A better bet for anglers, and especially fly fishermen, might be the numerous brown trout streams throughout the DEC Region 8 area. They are full of both stocked and wild brown trout, and offer year-around fishing. While I have been fortunate enough to have fished all of those “major” streams, my personal favorite is the Cohocton River from Cohocton to Bath in Steuben County. When there is an insect hatch in progress, anglers can almost catch a fish on every cast.

Other great local trout streams include: Irondequoit Creek in Monroe County and Oatka and Spring Creeks near Caledonia in Livingston and Monroe counties; Cayuta Creek near Odessa in Schuyler and Chemung counties; Post Creek in Steuben and Chemung counties; and Meads Creek in Steuben County.

And never forget the obvious. Good fishing for rainbow, lake and brown trout is available from shore on many of the Finger Lakes as long as the surface temperatures remain relatively cold. All it really requires is deep water access within casting distance. 

You can find that condition, open or available to the public, at the north and south ends of Seneca Lake (on the piers), from the shore of Keuka Lake at the state park, and along Canadice and Hemlock lakes. Here is a useful tip: Live bait (minnows) work best. And trout fishing is open year round in all of the Finger Lakes, but not their tributaries..

* * *

By the time early spring finally gets here, most anglers are ready to embrace it and the promise of warm breezes that will be coming. The rebirth of our outdoor world, with flowers and leaves on the trees, is always the most glorious of times. 

And for anglers, watching the first trout rising to unseen aquatic insects generates more excitement than winning a lottery. (Well, almost as much!)

April in this state is almost always the month when things start to happen in the world of trout and aquatic insects. It may be hard to understand because tiny aquatic insects are difficult to see and identify, but there are more nymphs (immature insects) in the water now than at any other time of the year. 

These are the eggs laid and deposited in the streams during last season's spinner falls. Most are extremely tiny and have a lot of growing to do. Others, the early mayflies and caddis flies, are already reaching maturity and will be changing into winged adults within the next few weeks.

The most obvious problem is that the water is still pretty cold. That makes trout lethargic or lazy. They’ll feed on insects, but only if they don’t have to expend much energy in the process. They will usually hang near the bottom, outside the stronger currents, and aren’t willing to do much more than slide sideways a few inches to pick off a caddis nymph. Sometimes they’ll dart after a minnow (or a streamer or wet fly), but that is the exception rather than the rule in cold water.

Therefore we are safe to assume that water temperatures are the most important factor to contend with during the early spring days. Knowledgeable stream anglers will look for the “warm spells,” a string of warmer days usually in the 60s or 70s. The  water temperatures respond, rising up to the low to mid 40s. And that is when the trout respond because they quickly go from lazy to hungry. 

Which brings this conversation to fly selection. What flies are likely to fool trout when the water temperatures hover in the low to mid 40-degree range? 

I would recommend the tried and true basic flies. They would include gold-ribbed hare’s ears, pheasant tails, and an assortment of caddis nymphs. A few small streamer flies that offer lots of motion even when worked slowly and close to the bottom are another good addition.

And since some trout are finicky, it’s good to take along a selection of small dry flies, too. Hey, when it comes to early season trout, you just never can tell.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Writer. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet.net.