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Spring fly fishing in the Finger Lakes: Locals present secrets to success

Smallmouth bass, like this heavyweight, can make for a great day on the tribs of the Finger Lakes.
Smallmouth bass, like this heavyweight, can make for a great day on the tribs of the Finger Lakes.
Leon Chandler TU

Tips to fly fishing success on the Finger Lakes tributaries were on top of this past Tuesday's Al Hazzard TU chapter meeting agenda. The Al Hazzard chapter has hosted some pretty good area speakers, including the likes of Artie Loomis, Joe Goodspeed, Wayne Aldridge, and Joe Cambridge. And last night was no different as fly fishing locals Josh Filter and Mike Lenetsky gave a presentation on the subject that was as entertaining as it was informative.

Josh Filter and Mike Lenetsky are officers of the Leon Chandler TU Chapter. This dynamic fly fishing duo made quite the presentation. Slide after slide featured very good fly fishing information and a nice array of fish pictures, including some real trophies. Josh and Mike walked the audience through a typical spring season on the Finger lakes tribs, as follows:

  • April 1st to early May - Rainbows are the premier species with the traditional opening of the fly fishing season as they move up the tribs to spawn. They will aggressively take streamers fished on the swing, but may also take egg patterns and nymphs. Following the rainbows are landlocked salmon and brown trout and they are there to eat anything that swims and can also fall prey to a well fished streamer. Recommended gear is a 6 - 7 weight outfit with floating, intermediate, or even a sink tip fly line. Large streamers can do the trick. The Garthside soft hackle was one pattern that was highly recommended as was a grey and white double bunny or more standard patterns like wooly buggers and clousers. Olive, black and white are all good colors. Mike's opinion was "any color as long as it is olive".
  • May through June - Trout and landlocks will slowly leave the tribs. Rainbow spawning is done. Fish dropping back can again be aggressive. Some trout may remain 'resident', including some large specimens. As the coldwater species exit, smallmouth bass move up in early pre-spawn mode. These bass are also aggressive before the spawn and females can be quite large with eggs. The bass will spawn in early to mid-May and then drop back to the lake, but like trout, some may remain in the tribs through fall. Smallies are ambush predators and can be anywhere in the tribs, including what may be considered really skinny water. Josh showed some pics of very large flies - well over 5 inches in length - and went on to say "you can't fish a fly that's too big for smallmouth bass".
  • June and on - Bass and some trout are still present but carp will move up the tribs at this time. The carp are omnivores and can be caught by sight fishing nymphs and small streamers. Carp can be more selective than trout and are not at all easy to catch, despite their appearance. Josh Filter confessed to being an addict for these big, burly "golden bones". He showed some preferred techniques in approaching a pod of feeding carp. Recommended fly fishing outfits are 7 to 8 weight with weight-forward floating line and long, 9 foot, 3X (minimum) leaders. Josh also stressed the importance of having a smooth and stout fly reel drag system and plenty of backing. "Carp head downstream to the lake as soon as you hook them", he said, and "you don't want to lose a fly line because of a poor Albright knot".

Josh and Mike certainly made a great impression on the 40 plus anglers present at Tuesday's Al Hazzard monthly chapter meeting. The main point of their presentation was that few fisheries in upstate NY offer the diversity of fish species and significance of size that the Finger Lake tribs offer. They also emphasized that with the exception of the first few weeks of the traditional opening of trout season, most of these waters can offer plenty of fly fishing opportunity to anglers.

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