I just got off of the phone with NY DEC Region 8 Fisheries and here is what I was told about the netting that just took place on Keuka Lake. First of all, monofilament nets were used this year. They "fish" more effectively than the previously used material (I believe it's a nylon multifilament.) Laker numbers netted were similar to those netted in past surveys. Given that the mono fishes better than the previous material, this suggests that laker numbers are down slightly. The condition of the fish collected was fair. The largest laker collected was around 5lbs.
Around 100 trout stomachs were examined. Not a single alewife was found in any of them. The main items found in laker stomachs were mysids - basically freshwater shrimp. (The same stuff that perch eat.) Some perch were found in trout stomachs along with some sculpins.
Forage nets did not turn up any alewives or smelt. A few very large "gizzard shad" sized alewives were collected in warm water. These baitfish were in the 7" to 8" range. A few salmon were collected around Branchport in fairly shallow water - around 25'. A few young rainbows were also collected. They were wild fish. A few nice bass were also collected as well as some perch. Some of these species (along with lakers) are being sent in for contamination studies (every few years fish get tested.)
This fall NYS DEC and Cornell are planning on doing some hydroacoustic work to see if any alewives are left. DEC feels that alewives could bounce back if we have a mild winter, since there still are some adults left.
My opinion is as follows: I do not think alewives are capable of bouncing back in Keuka Lake. There are simply so many lakers here that even if the remaining alewives spawn successfully, I think their progeny will swiftly be devoured.
I've said all of this before, but I'll say it again: You will see the perch and bass populations on Keuka Lake increase. I think we'll be looking at "Skaneateles Lake West" with some skinny lakers, good rainbow fishing and fair brown/salmon fishing. Lakers should provide plenty of good sport and eventually we'll see some very large lakers. Slow growing lakers live longer than fast growing fish. But the days of just hammering 17" to 25" lakers are likely over for the time being.
We are noticing the passage of time in our region. Just like with the Great Lakes, things here are changing. The invasion of the sea lamprey and alewife into the Great Lakes, along with phosphorus loading made for dirty looking smelly lakes, lots of dead fish (alewives and shad) and horrible fishing. I was there in the 1970s. Then we saw the introduction of Pacific Salmon and steelhead, along with brown trout and lake trout (the reintroduction.) We had some tremendous fishing from the late 1970s onwards into the early 1990s. Then the fishing stabilized at a lower level on the Great Lakes. The Fingerlakes are similar ecosystems and have seen the same types of changes. I am an optimist with our fishing. Versatility will also be important. If you want to fish Keuka Lake, it may be worth pursuing different species. If you want nice lakers and lots of them, you may have to travel a bit. Cayuga and Owasco are fishing well. Futher east, Lake Champlain and Lake George are seeing renaissances in their coldwater fisheries. Fisheries are cyclical and will bounce back. Just enjoy the changes and now all of us "oldsters" can sit back and reminisce about the "good old days" on Keuka. But more good days are coming, mark my words. NYS DEC warned us all about the impossibly high catch rates of lakers on Keuka - it wasn't healthy or sustainable. They know their stuff.