Winter Fishing - Why it's worth consideration

When I started Fingerlakes Angling Zone in 2005 (technically late 2004,) the first guided trip I ever did was a mid-March fly-fishing trip for Landlocked Salmon on Cayuga Lake. It went incredibly well. I have always felt some of the best fishing in the area ranges from the months of November through March, yet surprisingly, very few people take advantage of that fishing window - especially January, February and early March. I haven't spent much effort touting this fishing, since I do enjoy my "off season."

Why fish in January or February? The normal legitimate excuse is that it's too damn cold! That is no longer valid. With "climate change" or global warming or El Nino or La Nina - whatever you want to call it, the last 10 to 15 years have featured temperatures often ranging into the 40s and 50s even during the typically coldest months of the year, like from December through March.

What about the fishing? Isn't it better in April and May? The fishing varies in the winter, just like it does during the spring, summer and fall. Sometimes it's phenomenal, sometimes mediocre. But there are several advantages to mid-winter fishing, and they merit consideration:

* Landlocked salmon are often concentrated and in predictable areas. They are also often still in very good condition. As the winter wears on, they use up more of their fat reserves.

* Pike are in some of the best condition of the year - they are still feeding a lot and putting on weight before the spawn. Wait until the opener in May and you're almost always targeting post-spawn pike - usually males that are often skinny and beat-up. Pike are also concentrated. Once they spawn, they linger for a little while, then migrate back to their "residential areas."

* There are fewer anglers out and ZERO jet skiis, sail boats and pleasure boats. It's just fishermen - serious fishermen! And it is beautiful out there!

What about the fishing reports? They don't often seem that impressive this time of year. Sometimes angling is tough in the winter. I respect people's time and money and always try to work with anglers in terms of picking the best lake, day and time for the fish we want to target. Of course nothing is 100% predictable, especially the weather, which often is the number one factor affecting angling success. But with that in mind, having alternative species and patterns can go a long ways towards insuring a successful day.

Keep in mind, that when I'm on my own, or fishing with one of my buddies, we are in relaxation mode. Cigars are often lit and we kick back and take our time. We aren't big numbers guys; I get zero thrill out of landing or attempting to land "insert number here" fish. Neither do my buddies. If I'm jigging lakers and catch 5 or 6, I often put away the laker gear and try something else. If I'm catching a bunch of salmon I might tie on a new fly pattern and see if that works. The only time we really go for numbers is during derby-time. For me and my friends, it's about patterning fish and the thrill of discovery. Sure, we will double back over groups of fish, but we don't sit around milking areas ad-nauseum. I lay back on the normal guiding intensity. I also spend a lot of time trying "new" areas and exploring.

I will say, however that winter fishing isn't necessarily super easy. Very few fish come without effort, and patience and determination are a must. This isn't a time of year for very casual anglers - but it's great for passionate fishermen, whether experienced or not.