Salmon Season in January

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We couldn’t find a parking spot.  Moving on to the the second DEC parking area, there were 25 to 30 cars parked.  My friend commented “This is like salmon season”.  But it wasn’t salmon season, it was January and the angler traffic was heavy.  Except for the foot and a half of snow, it resembled the business of salmon season.  On our third parking lot attempt, we managed to squeeze between two cars.

IMG_2153Winter fly fishing success can be about timing and maximizing the conditions.  We were just two more anglers taking advantage of the upper thirty degree day and the subtle warming trend.  Before our trip, it was unseasonably cold.  Looking ahead, the forecast calls for more cold weather ahead.  Even as I revise this post, schools are cancelled due to the windchill!  On Sunday it was the warmest day to fish in the ten day forecast and anglers were taking advantage of the non-freezing temperature.

Over the past ten years I find myself fishing Oak Orchard River less and less.  It’s a longer drive, there are more crowds each season and I prefer the angling experience of smaller, less crowded water.  That said, zero degree temperatures have locked up much of the water on small creeks.  Places that I fished two weeks ago, are not frozen solid.  In addition, the Oak is a fish factory and there’s always open water.  It’s a more reliable bet during Winter and that’s why it was so crowded.  Big open water and decent numbers of fish is the consistent reason that larger tributaries like the Salmon, Oswego, Genny, Oak, 18 Mile, Lower Niagara and Cat remain popular with winter anglers.

IMG_2159We took our time walking down to the river.  We weren’t going to find isolated water or a non-pressured pool.  Arriving at a well known pool, we chatted with friends who were already fishing.  Soon, another set of friends ambled by.  Who knew that winter fly fishing could be such a social event?  This day’s news on Oak Orchard was that fly fishers were striking out, while center pinners did very well on steelhead earlier in the day.  I took my time tying on a weighted brown spandex bugger with a tiny green bead head.  My friend opted for a light yellow/chartreuse yarn egg pattern.  Fishless, our friends who had been plying the water were ready for a change of scenery.  They departed to seek new water down below (later on they managed two browns swinging streamers in the slower water).  They encouraged us to set up, before this prized pool might be taken by other roaming anglers.  We didn’t have much time to fish, so we each set up on the hole and joined the methodical symphony of fellow casters above, below and across from us.

Over an hour and a half, we each managed one hook up.  My friend landed a spunky 4-5 pound steelhead and I lost a strong fish after two minutes of fighting.  Despite my constant pressure and side angle, it became unbuttoned.  We didn’t see any other fly fisher hook up and the center pinners didn’t fare well either.  Walking on the way out, a veteran center pinner shared that he did well early on fishing light pound test (4lbs) and a very tiny 1/4″ piece of oregon cheese yarn.  It didn’t surprise me that his small and fine techniques were effective.  This might be especially true on a heavily fished hole that experiences solid angling pressure.  My preference that day was to swing flies.  If I were totally committed to catching a fish, I would have downsized my tippet and opted for a small, mottled egg imitation or a #14 or #16 natural, buggy nymph tied on an oversized hook.  It’s easy for these larger tributary fish to bend an undersized, light wire nymph hook if you’re not careful.

IMG_2162Overall, it was nice to get on the water and catch up with friends.  If you get a nice forecast on a weekend day, expect more angling traffic.  We have stellar year round fishing and there’s few secrets left regarding generous fishing locations.  As such, let’s continue to do our best sharing water.  Most anglers don’t go fishing to look for a conflict.  Be courteous on the water, share space, take a kid fishing and Warmest Fly Fishing Wishes for 2014!

PS:  Fly Fisher’s Workshop 2014 is a month away.  To date, there are 23 different workshops and 15 official sponsors.  Mark your calendar for Saturday, February 8th and come join the coolest fly fishing event in New York!IMG_2100

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Craig Dennison

This is Craig and I host Fly Fisher's Workshop. My fly fishing experiences include plenty of travel (Montana/Florida/North Carolina/Maine) and a few years part time guiding for trout. While I primarily target trout and steelhead, I still manage to chase warm water species and enjoy chasing stripers and bluefish. I'm a 3rd generation fly fisher trying to share the passion with my two sons!

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