As I write this piece, we are in the midst of a drought here in the Finger Lakes region and Central/Western NY. The Lake Ontario tribs are incredibly low - I've been told that the Oswego River is the lowest it's been in over 30 years. A lot of anglers from New York and surrounding states can't wait for fall fishing and the salmon, brown trout and steelhead runs on Lake Ontario. Finger Lakes anglers also eagerly anticipate the Landlocked Atlantic Salmon, brown and rainbow runs. The salmon, brown trout and rainbows in Cayuga and Seneca Lakes are in prime condition - the best we've seen in over a decade in terms of low lamprey wounding rates and plumpness. Cayuga Lake brown trout look more like Lake Ontario "footballs" than the present-day Lake Ontario browns.
All this excitement may be for nothing if we don't get rain and lots of it. I grew up fishing the Lake Ontario tributaries in the late 1970s, 80s and through the mid 1990s. In a good year, I loved the hypnotic sounds of rushing water; the smell of fall and the beauty of winter. It was also easy to read the water and tell right where fish would be if they were around.
It was frustrating waiting for rains that sometimes never came, or showed up too late for good runs of fish. Eventually we'd wind up fishing the mouths of the Lake Ontario tribs - Irondequoit Bay Outlet, the Genesee River piers and the Webster Park Pier were my favorites, though sometimes we'd fish the mouth of Maxwell Creek. Rainbows and steelhead were our targets, though we'd also catch Chinook salmon early in the season, browns and occasional lakers.
Back on the tribs we'd have to put up with the crowds. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of job flexability and could fish during the weekdays a bit. I also grew up near Irondequoit Creek and knew a lot of areas where I could avoid other fishermen.
With the internet, numerous books and magazines, television programs and more, a lot of secrets are out. The learning curve is the shortest and fastest it's ever been.
Back in the 1980s driftboats weren't a factor on the Salmon River. I never remember seeing one until the 1990s if my memory serves me correctly. Now it seems as though everybody has a driftboat. Hiking a long ways down or up from the popular runs/holes no longer guarantees solitude and some good fishing. A fair number of the driftboat guides are rude and feel they have more of a right to the fish than shore anglers. I had an encounter with a driftboat guide and vowed never to return to Salmon River. The air temps were around 20 degrees and I was the only person parked at the Lower Trestle on a winter weekday. I was trying to fly-fish and there might have been 6 guys on the entire river. You'd think a driftboat guide might bypass me and let me enjoy my fishing. But nope, he had to run his "program" of hotshots right through my little pool. He made a ton of noise and pretty much cut me off as he went through. They probably thought it was funny. We had words and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I had an encounter with a Lake Ontario Charter Captain like that one time off of the Charlotte Pier, but that's another story.
There weren't any centerpins around. You didn't need binoculars to figure out whose bobber (yes, they are bobbers though you can call them "floats," but that's just semantics) was rudely drifting in front of you.
You can also pony up some good money and fish Douglaston. But only after the guides and season ticket holders get to the good water first. That's insult to injury in my book. And of course there's plenty of other "private" water that holds fish stocked by the State (and our money) that we don't get access to.
So I went with the lake fishing and have never looked back. We fish for fish in feeding patterns, not spawning patterns. Yes, some days casting and fly-casting are slow fishing and we don't find them or find active fish, but that happens on the tribs too. What you will find on the lakes from November through early May is peace of mind, beautiful surroundings, crystal clear water and opportunities to hook nice silvery hard hitting, jumping Landlocked salmon and maybe a big hard fighting brown in Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. You may get some gorgeous rainbows in Skaneateles Lake - they are running big these days and are always picture perfect! No driftboats. No snagging. No sitting at home doing raindances. No driving around for hours trying to find a creek or river that's fishing well. And on many days you'll have the entire lake to yourself. That to me is what fishing is all about!