It was an interesting year for fly fishing in the Southern Tier. Weather and climate played a key role in both some very good to excellent fishing as well as some angling that was definitely on the poor side.
2012 was characterized by a relatively dry and warm start. Snow-pack was well below average and this, in combination with unseasonably warm weather in late winter / early spring, gave early season anglers tremendous opportunity. Anglers reported fishing dry flies for trout as early as March 7th, where trout fishing was open! Local creeks such as Cayuta and Owego Creek offered up great fishing for stocked and wild trout, especially with waters clearing at the time of the season opening. The Catskill Rivers also provided some phenomenal early season fly fishing and the tailwaters fished particularly well through the summer with low to adequate flows. However, hatches were not at all predictable and some, like the March Brown hatch never really came together.
Smallmouth fishing on local rivers was a mixed bag. Due to dry conditions early in the year, the big four (Susquehanna, Chenango, Tioughnioga, & Chemung) rivers were flowing at summer levels as early late April. Anglers who noticed this were able to capitalize on some incredible pre-spawn smallmouth fly fishing. But low water levels may have also put a damper on smallmouth fly fishing later in spring and through summer and these same conditions may have really spread out the spawn. Smallmouth were observed on spawning beds well into June in some locales. Reports on fishing success were mixed through fall. There have also been some concerns expressed regarding a lack of young-of-the-year smallmouth in the river systems. I found smaller fish to be relatively scarce in the Susquehanna, which is unusual, but that was not the case in the Chenango and Tioughnioga. Bait seemed to be abundant in all rivers. Some speculate that the flood of 2011 may have taken a toll on fishing stocks, mainly through the introduction of pollution and raw sewage.
Ponds and lakes fished well overall. Largemouth bass, pickerel, pike, and panfish fishing reports were generally very good.
And fall was another mix of good and bad. Early fall fly fishing for salmon and steelhead was outstanding, but mainly in the Great Lake tribs. Low water gave anglers easy access and concentrated the spawning runs. The Finger Lake tribs never really had much of a run at all, again, due to a lack of rain. Ironically, regional differences in rainfall made fishing hot in some areas and terrible in others. While the Finger Lake tribs barely fluctuated, there were days when the West Branch and other Catskill rivers flowed high and stained, creating terrific streamer fishing for those anglers who watch the USGS charts.
While most anglers would prefer a return to the norm of cold high-water openers, 2013 could be another interesting year. Most predictions have forecast a cold and snowy winter. So far, the area is about normal in this regard. Could 2013 be a repeat of 2012 come late winter / early spring? Is global warming and climate change upon us? And how might that again influence local fishing? Only time will tell...