Looking back on 2012
By most accounts, 2012 was a strange year for fly fishing in the Southern Tier of NY. Local anglers I’ve talked to didn’t know what to make of the wild seasonal swings, and fishing seemed to be mixed, at least according to my journal, with phenomenal days followed by not so good outings during other parts of the year.
Thanks to a warm spell in late winter / early spring, fly fishers enjoyed great fly fishing for trout. Instead of a bone-chilling opener, anglers basked in relative warmth and fished near gin-clear water conditions. Even the pre-opening fishing on waters that were open, like parts of Cayuta Creek, shown below, was excellent.
Some anglers reported early season dry fly fishing – as early as March 7th – which is unheard of in these parts. Note the water level and clarity of the West Branch of the Tioughnioga (below) in late April! I didn’t have my fly rod when I took this picture but brown trout were actively rising to caddis, leaving me drooling…
While the trout angling got even better in April, another surprise opportunity was the smallmouth bass fishing in local rivers and streams. Rivers were at low levels thanks to the lack of snowpack. Normally, bass fishing on the larger rivers is not possible until late spring at the very best. I kept eying the “big four” in our area – the Tioughnioga, Chenango, Chemung, and Susquehanna – and watching the USGS water gauge. Even the main branch of the Susquehanna looked enticingly fishable as shown in this picture taken in late April. As a reference, the point to the left in this picture would normally be covered by 6 feet of water at this time of the year…
After reading a post by fellow fly fishing blogger, Dave Pelachik, I decided to give the Susky a try and boy was I glad I did, as detailed in a post I did soon after my trip. My only regret is not spending that entire day on the river…
Fly fishing in general was outstanding on the Catskill Rivers. The tailwaters were able to maintain flows throughout the season: the freestone Willowemoc and Beaverkill were not quite so lucky. In any case, the only ‘off’ part of the spring was the effect the weather had on the hatches. They were in some cases very strong and early and in others, such as the March Brown hatch, reported to be non-existent. But the trout were hungry. One observation I noted in my fishing is that I did not see the same proportion of rainbows to browns that I normally do, but the browns were certainly in very good health.
While the smallmouth season started out with a bang for me, late summer fishing was for some reason a bust, at least on the Susquehanna where I fish it. It got downright befuddling at times, to the point where I began to hunt the smaller Tioughnioga and upper Chenango. Interestingly, these rivers fished better than the main branch of the Susky. Noticeably absent during much of my fishing on the Susquehanna were the younger year class bass, which normally prove to be a nuisance. These fish were present on the smaller rivers but their absence in the bigger water is a mystery to me.
The West Branch of the Delaware continued to fish well into June…
While summer fishing was slow in some ways, the largemouth bass on the pond out back of our house were ever willing to slam anything tossed their way. And the white fly hatch in early August on the Susquehanna was epic, but didn’t seem to bring out the bass for me, at least.
Saltwater fishing was also a mix. I fly fished Meyer’s Hole near Barnegat Light, NJ on the July 4th holiday, and was fortunate to run into schools of very willing shad that clobbered my clouser streamer to the point where it was nothing more than a jig with no tail feathers. These mini tarpon were a blast, leaping on every hook-up. These were 1 to 3 lb fish, but mingling among them were houndfish, a gar-like fish that on two occasions attacked my clouser streamer and ripped line as they streaked across the surface of the water like an airborne torpedo. My houndfish were not quite the size of the monster shown below (but they were a good 3 feet in length), but these are respectable game fish, and keep your hands away from the business end!
The party boat fishing was also a mixed bag. I went with my cousin Mark over that same July 4th weekend and we caught ‘cocktail’ blues on jigs. We won the pool, believe it or not, with a blue just shy of 2 lbs. We split the winngins at $65 a piece. Go figure…
Later in the year in September I fly fished the bay again with nothing to show for it – then headed out on the Miss Barnegat Light for blues and did nicely, again using jigs. These were 6 to 14 lb fish – the kind that leave your arms sore and put a big smile on your face. Anglers drifting chunk bait in the slick did better than us jiggers. The fish seemed a tad picky – unusual for the ever-hungry bluefish.
Bass fishing in late summer seemed to pick up for me. On one morning I did very well fishing the tail of a pool in the Susquehanna. I had noticed the distinctive water disturbance left by bass chasing baitfish and positioned myself to swing a white Murray’s streamer across the tailout. These fish were very aggressive and were marauding the very shallow parts of the tailout. I landed 4 very nice bass and lost 2 more before the action slowed. One fought like a snag the first few seconds, then had his way in the strong current before I lost him.
The Finger Lakes trib runs never happened unfortunately. I was ready and willing, but the rain just never came strong enough to trigger staging fish to move up the creeks. Oddly, rain did hit the Catskills late one week in October and I knew it would be the perfect set-up for streamer fishing for pre-spawn browns with attitude. I hit the West Branch of the Delaware with the river settling but still nice and murky. The streamer fishing could not have been better. 8 browns, colored up, the males with kypes and besting 18″ came to hand, with as many or more electrifying short takes including one practically a rod’s length away from me.
Striper fishing in the fall was an absolute bust thanks to Hurricane Sandy. I took a trip Thanksgiving weekend with my son, Chris, and no one on the boat caught a fish. I also caught a skunk on the Salmon River in November. The salmon were done then, and steelhead were caught, but not by this angler. Sometimes a river demands its dues before it graces your net.
It was certainly an odd year for me, book-ended by absolutely bests (early smallmouth and fall browns) and filled with some days when an angler should have stayed home and got some things done. What’s most important though is the learning and the loving of the outdoors. One often forgets a day not fished is one less day fishing.