By Mike Hogue
As some of you might know, Laura and I moved to Ithaca in upstate New York. I suspect that some folks have never fished for landlocked salmon before so I thought I would write some things about the lakes around here and some info about catching salmon. I am in still in the process of learning about fishing in this area and I don't claim to be any sort of authority on the subject yet. I have had a lot of fun learning about this and trying to catch some fish. What really sucks is that the prime place to fish is about 5 miles from my front door.
To begin, the Finger Lakes region of New York is very unique and unlike the typical lakes that some of us might be acquainted with. This region has a series of lakes formed in deep glacial valleys. At one time a deep ocean sea covered the area that is now the lake. Glacial movement carved rugged sharp pockets which later became the lakes which exist here. The lakes are quite deep, with Lake Cayuga ( Kia U Ga) ranging from 450 feet deep to 42 miles long. The entire lake is basically a bowl which is carved out of a mountain. The lake bottom actually has a series of smaller lakes formed as separate dishes.
The lakes here have many interesting uses. At one time the American submarine program through General Electric tested sonar and radar out here. With GE's help a complete topo map was created showing all of the peaks and valleys in the lake. GE also discovered that many of the lakes are connected together via deep rivers. A local scuba diver in Ithaca interviewed in the local paper commented on the numbers and types of thing he has recovered from the lake. Items such as a complete barges, cars, trucks and railroad cars have all been lost at one time another in the lake. Part of the lake contains a natural salt mine which is still in use today.
Below: Ithaca Falls and Fall Creek..... Ground Zero for Landlocks.
The lake supports all sorts of fish. The lake contains smallmouth, rainbow trout, brown trout, perch, sunfish, largemouth bass, pike and salmon. The zebra mussel has moved in to the lake in a big way and the long range effects are unknown. In the short term, the lake's color has cleared greatly due to the mussels. I am told that these mussels feed on mysis shrimp which is a competitor in food chain with trout and salmon. Some feel that this may impact fishing down the road.
Originally, the lake contained Atlantic salmon which moved from the ocean through canals to the streams. Today, the lake is stocked with landlocked ( Atlantic ) salmon which return each fall and spring from the lake for spawning runs. Unlike other salmon, these landlocks don't die off but will return to the lake for other runs. While some biologists maintain that these landlocks don't reproduce, local folklore maintains that there are many wild fish of natural stock which exist.
In the lake the primary source of food is alewives or sawbellies. These minnows are about an inch long and have a silver/white belly with a green back. These are one of the main foods for salmon. When the fish move into the streams, they move all the way to the source of the stream or stop at a natural road block, which in the case of Ithaca is a series waterfalls. Quite simply the fish can't jump the falls and remain below the falls to mate. Mainly you fish at the base of the falls or at stream and canal inlets. My experience has been these fish move in and out very quickly. If it is too warm out, the water is too low or the moon is wrong ( or who knows why ) the fish will move.
No one is quite sure why salmon hit flies. In all actuality the fish are not feeding and are striking objects which either excite the fish, frighten them or as an aggressive move to protect the nest and their mate. Surprisingly, most folks would think that big casts, big tackle is used along with big flies. Commonly used flies are wooly buggers, stonefly nymphs, egg flies, streamers and Clouser minnows size 4 -10. Most of the fly fishers use 5-6-7 weight rods and casts of mostly 30-40 feet are made. Leaders of 5-8 lbs are common. In effect, you can catch these on tackle most folks use for bass fishing.
The logic of using many of the flies is very simple. As nests are formed, the females sweep out a dish and move around lots of bugs. Stuff like stoneflies and hellgrammites are kicked up and start floating down the stream. As eggs are laid, the eggs will drift down stream and will get picked off. Many tiny smallmouth are year around residents of the streams and will raid nests for eggs and many salmon will strike anything which looks like a baby smallie. So you want to imitate food, eggs and raiders to the nest.
To catch these monsters of the deep, I drifted egg patterns, stoneflies and streamers around until I had a strike. It has pretty wild watching as a fish the size of my forearm slowly opened his month and crunched down hard on my fly, giving me a heart attack.Reeling in a heavy fish is another issue. Basically, the fish doesn't like being hooked and takes off for the nearest exit to the lake. I didn't have any fish make big runs but rather mine jumped and came crashing down and headed for the deep. To reel these in, pretty much you just try to use the palming rim on your reel and point them to land. When they get close you reach down and grab them by the tail and pull them in. It is pretty messy as the fish are very slimy. Imagine trying to point, direct and move a tub full of water with a bad attitude and you might get the idea what this is like.
The biggest issues to catching these fish are: water flow, light, air temps and water clarity. If the stream is muddy, they can't see the fly. If it is warm out the fish are less active. If it hasn't rained, the stream is low and often the fish stay out in the lake. As rule these fish normally live at 40-60 feet of water and like it cold with bad light. I have seen the sun drop over the valley wall and suddenly the fish become active and start crashing around, simply because the air temp dropped and the light is low. Wow! If you get a chance you ought to give this a try. I am lucky that I live close enough to do this because one day the fishing is great, the next day it is awful. One cool thing is you can still fish for resident 10" rainbows and smallies if the lake fish haven't moved in.
Mike's UV Arctic Fox Streamer
Hook: Kamasan B200 size 6-8 ( Extra Heavy 2 Long, Down Eye) Sub Mustad 7970 if you wish
Thread: Flo. Orange 6/0
Tail: Krystal Flash UV/Pearl
Body: Spirit River's Pearl Bodi Braid ( AKA Krenik Braid)
Underwing: Krystal Flash UV/ Pearl Overwing: White Arctic Fox Hair tied fairly full
This is pretty straight forward. Tie in the tail, wrap body and tie in the under wing. The under wing should extend back to the tip of the tail. The tail should be about as long as the hook shank. Tie in over wing and finish head.
Mike's Lite Brite Sawbelly:
Hook: Mustad 3366, size 4
Thread: Flo. Orange, Size 6/0
Body: Spirit River's Pearl Bodi Braid
Wing: Peacock Lite Brite over Pearl Blue Lite Brite
To tie this fly wind some braid down the hook shank, leaving 3 eye lengths open. Tie in a length of Lite Brite about 2 times the length of the hook shank. Taper the tips. I hold the wing straight off the back then clip the wing at 45 degrees with the long end pointed up. Tie in the second color, reversing the taper so that the entire wing is shaped like a V if you will. Finish head.
For more Info Contact:
Mike Hogue / Badger Creek Fly Tying / 622 West Dryden Road, Freeville, NY 13068