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Southern tier fly fishing: A look back on 2013

2013 was a 'water world' for gamefish. Largemouth bass, like this one, were a good back-up plan when flows were high and water clarity was off.
2013 was a 'water world' for gamefish. Largemouth bass, like this one, were a good back-up plan when flows were high and water clarity was off.
Bob Bruns

All in all, 2013 will go down in the 'fly fishing books' as a pretty good year. Total precipitation came in approximately 10% higher than historical norms and this always benefits trout. It may have benefited smallmouth bass too, but it sure put a cramp on fly fishing for the fly fishing river rats of the Southern Tier! High river levels made it difficult to fish the warmwater rivers for a good part of the spring, summer, and fall. Following is a breakdown of the year by season:

Winter / Spring: The year started off with decent weather and good flows for trout fishing - certainly more normal for early spring and not at all like 2012 when anglers were catching trout on dry flies in March! There were some periods of high flows, but in general, those flows created some great fly fishing opportunity to those who watched the USGS water gauge.

Spring: The spring had periods of lower flows that resulted in some fantastic trout fishing and that also gave smallmouth bass anglers a decent shot at pre-spawn bass in the warmwater rivers. There was also some good pre-season largemouth fly fishing. Hatches on the Catskill trout rivers were good, though quite variable.

Summer: Flows remained very healthy - sometimes too healthy - throughout the summer. For trout anglers, it made for good fishing, including some phenomenal streamer fishing during super high water periods. In fact, anglers of the West Branch of the Delaware were treated to big browns crashing dazed alewives that were washed over the Cannonsville Dam and into the river. Some reportedly fished greased streamers like a drowned dry fly. The key, however, was drift boat access during these high water periods. Warmwater fly fishers once again faced only "spot" opportunities to fish the rivers. The white fly hatch, a most prodigious hatch in the Southern Tier, never happened thanks to high water flows during the peak hatch period - late July through mid-August.

Fall: Fall was a mixed bag. The Finger Lakes trib action was not so good, with few spikes in flows that typically get the fall runs going. The opposite can be said in general for the Great lakes tribs, where the salmon run was reported as good to excellent, as was the fishing for steelhead and lake-run trout. Flows on the warmwater rivers remained high through much of the fall, making access to the fall smallmouth bite spotty, at best. Anglers had to be tuned into the USGS water gauges and weather to get out when flows were decent of wading and clarity was good. On warmer days, largemouth bass fishing could be very good on ponds and small lakes, particularly after turnover.

Fall / Winter: Late fall and early to late winter made for good fishing on the Great Lakes tribs. When water conditions were decent for safe wading, and temps were not too cold, anglers did well fishing egg sacks, nymphs, and streamers.

One can only guess how 2014 will fare. A bitterly cold and snowy winter will certainly set up for another good trout year. How the rest of the year goes is conjecture at this point.

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