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Southern tier fly fishing: Memorial Day, fly fishing report, May wind-down

Sunfish, like this beautiful specimen, will readily take poppers, even those normally used for bass.
Sunfish, like this beautiful specimen, will readily take poppers, even those normally used for bass.
Bob Bruns

The month of May is winding down and so is spring. The hills and mountains are greening up - creeks and streams are starting to run cool and clear, as opposed to cold and murky, and the big hatches are coming into their own. The trout are looking up with more frequency, bass and panfish are hitting topwater flies, and smallmouth are deep into their spawning cycle.

Memorial Day weekend is upon us - the gateway to summer. Fishing reports are good, with exceptions. Wading anglers are still contending with high water. The warmwater rivers are generally too high and murky for good fishing, however, the headwaters of these rivers as well as smaller rivers like the Tioughnioga are now wadeable and fishable. Smallmouth, in general, will be in pre-spawn to spawn mode, depending on river temps and habitat. Pre-spawn bass will readily take streamers and nymphs whereas bass on the beds will generally do so only to protect the nest. Fallfish are another species that can be taken on the same flies fished in smallmouth habitat. They are both aggressive and feisty and great fun on a fly rod.

Trout are coming into their own. Area creeks and streams are in great shape while the Catskill tailwaters are only open to wading in certain areas. The Cannonsville is still spilling over, for example, and while the West Branch of the Delaware is dropping, it has been doing so at a slow rate. Floating this river is excellent for those with access to a boat. Hatches of hendricksons are waning while march browns are beginning to show along with the ubiquitous caddis. The Douglaston Salmon Run has completed stocking brown trout - some as large as 22" - and the run is open to fly fishing. In general, steelhead are about done, however, smallmouth bass and a few landlocked salmon can be taken along with resident and newly stocked brown trout. As always, with lower water flows and rising temps, dry fly fishing and nymphing will remain the prime methods for taking trout.

Don't forget the excellent largemouth bass and panfish fishing that's available right now. This is a fantastic time to fish a popper or terrestrial pattern on a local farm pond or lake. Both bass and sunfish are getting aggressive with their takes, particularly in the early morning and late evening. With pond temperatures in the mid to high 60's, sunfish are in spawn mode and on the beds.

May is in its final week. This year the fly fishing season is about 2 weeks later than last year, thanks to a bitter winter. In actuality, this past winter was a lot more normal than the new normal, but the last few mild years biased most anglers to an earlier season in terms of flows and hatches. And while there are still some great fly fishing events in May and June, it won't be long before they too fade with the coming of summer. July traditionally marks the summer break for many area fly fishing clubs.

The week ahead will give us a respite from more water. While there's a 50% chance of rain on Tuesday, the rest of the week will be partly cloudy to cloudy with a low probability of precipitation. Temperatures will range from highs in the low 80's to lows in the low 50's. All of this will be good for fishing; the warmwater rivers will get a chance to settle as will the Catskill tailwaters. Have a great Memorial Day!

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