Back in the late 1970s, 80s, and 90s we didn't give much of a thought to winter fishing out of a boat. Sure, some hardy souls did, but many people would spent their winters fishing on the ice or around warm water discharges or steelhead streams in and around Lake Ontario. Over the past 10 to 15 years, winters have been very schizophrenic. We're seeing some "crazy warm" temperatures for New York State. I remember snowfall on Halloween and before it in years past. A white Christmas was the norm. Not anymore. So it is tempting to keep the boat out and go chase after some trout, salmon, bass, pike or perch.
There are plenty of articles online regarding winter boating and how to dress and safety measures. I'm not going to go over those here. But I'm going add in some tips for fishing the Fingerlakes that have served me well over the years. Many of these I've learned the hard way!
Launches: Even during warm winters, it can be tough launching boats in the Finger Lakes due to lake draw-downs. The Seneca and Cayuga Lakes are part of the NYS Canal system and these lakes are drawn down in the winter in order to provide a buffer zone for spring run-off and flooding.
The best and often only useable boat launch on Cayuga Lake is Taughannock Park. Don't even think about launching at Cayuga Lake State Park or Union Springs during a typical winter drawdown. Oftentimes the lake is so low it's near impossible. Long Point and Dean's Cove are marginal. OK when the lake level is alright, but they both ice up easily.
Seneca Lake has more options, since it rarely freezes and generally doesn't seem to be drawn down as low as Cayuga. Roy's Marine provides launching near Geneva (actually just south of Glass Factory Bay.) Severne Point's DEC launch is usable throughout the winter. So is the launch I use at Watkins at the Bar and Grill (Schamels.) Sampson, Lodi Point, the Canal and Seneca Lake State Park are usually crapshoots.
Skaneateles Lake has a town launch that anyone can use at Mandana. It's not great and the docks are a bit aways from it. Bring waders and long bow and stern lines!
Keuka Lake has a launch at Hammondsport and at Keuka Lake State Park. They are both decent. The State Park docks are usually very slippery and the concrete ramps are even more slippery. You've been warned!
Canandaigua Lake has the Ononda Park Launch on the west shore down around 10 miles. Forget about Woodville during the winter. Too shallow and the lake often freezes down there. The State Launch can be OK when the lake is up and weather isn't bad. Ononda only opens when the State Ramp is closed mid-winter.
Otisco Lake: Otisco Lake Marine has an OK launch, but this lake ices over quickly. During a normal (cold) winter, ice fishing is the preferred and only method of angling here!
Owasco Lake: Emerson Park's ramps are OK, but it gets very low here and can be difficult. Bring waders! Forget about the south end unless the lake is HIGH. And again, this lake ices up during normal winters.
Other Finger Lakes generally freeze up or are too shallow to launch in.
Be super careful if you have a nice, new boat. Winter fishing can be hazardous to nice, new boats! Ice, low water at launches, exposed points and launching docks that allow boats to drift under them are all hazards. I would not fish a brand new boat in the winter on the Finger Lakes unless I was 100% sure the conditions were excellent in terms of where I was launching and water levels.
Wind can be a real hassle at the Keuka State Park launch. It's exposed to a south wind and it's a real pain in the butt maneuvering a boat here. Last time I was here my boat managed to drift UNDER the dock, which is normally impossible, but the lake was so low it happened. The bouncing boat (due to wave action) hammered the wooden dock (basically the opposite happened - the dock hammered my boat!) My trolling motor nearly was destroyed. Windshields are also easy prey for these conditions!
Bring chest waders with you.
Bring a shovel and some road salt too.
Have a long bowline and a stern line just in case.
Having a competent fishing buddy is very helpful.
BEWARE the BUBBLING HOSE at Taughannock!!! It isn't always attached to the bottom of the marina harbor. It's a prop eater and destroyer! ALSO beware the gravel build up at the mouth of Taughannock - it's a skeg and prop grinder. ALSO BEWARE of the footbridge at the mouth of Taughannock's marina. Upright fishing rods, boat lights and cockpits are favorite prey of this bridge!!!
Winter is a great time to be on the water, especially in the Finger Lakes. These precautions will hopefully save on time, money and stress. Good winter fishin'!