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Beginning of fishing season affected by long winter

Locals join in on the opening day fishing festivities at the Ithaca Falls Natural Area.

April 1st marked the official start of the fishing season in New York State, but Ithaca’s opening day lacked excitement. There was no catch. 

On the first day of trout and landlocked salmon season, the local fishermen blamed the harsh winter weather for their bad luck.

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“It was a long cold winter,” Ralph Newhart of Freeville said. “I’ve been out here all day and haven’t caught anything. The water is too cold and it’s too low.”

The cold weather has also delayed the spawning of the fish in the tributaries around Cayuga, David Lemon, fisheries manager for Region 7 of NY Department of Environmental Conservation, said.

According to their website, the NYS DEC releases over one million pounds worth of fish into 1,200 public streams, rivers, lakes and ponds “to enhance recreational fishing and to restore native species to waters they formerly occupied”. Locally, the DEC stocks the water in the region with young trouts to enhance the runs to the stream. Lemon said that these trouts aren’t catchable sized fish, but as they continue to inhabit the area, they will spawn as will grow to up 10 pounds in size.

“The spawning activity that they’re going through, or attempting to go through occurs based on temperature and daylight, and when we have a warm, early late winter temperatures, they’ll spawn earlier and head back out to the lake quicker,” Lemon said. “So, in a year like this, spawning hasn’t even started yet.”

Other locals, like Marvin Henderson of Ithaca, said the fishing in the area is not comparable to what it used to be.

“I remember being out here as a kid and you would always be catching something. Nowadays, you have days where nothing is biting,” Henderson said.

The popularity of fishing has also decreased in recent years, Lemon said, and could be another factor in the participation with fishing in the area.

“Generally speaking, there’s not as many inland trout fishermen,” he said. “It’s still very popular but effort has declined over the last 20-30 years.”

Another possible reason for the decrease in fishing attendance around Cayuga Lake and other local fishing spots could be the easy access to the Great Lakes region, Dane Jackson, owner of the Ithaca Rod Company suggested.

“I would say there is an ebb and flow to the fishing industry in the Ithaca area.  Part of the detraction is the fact that there are other world class fly fishing opportunities in the state of New York,” Jackson said. “I suppose in short, we are spoiled to have so much high quality opportunity within a couple of hours, that our local fishery may sometimes be overlooked.”

While the beginning of fishing season may have been off to rocky start in the area, Jackson predicts that as long as the weather follows normal seasonal patterns, fishermen and women should start to catch some fish.

“Its tough to tell obviously, the perfect storm of water levels, water and air temperatures, as well as stream restoration projects can all have positive and negative effects on the fishing,” he said. “If we have a typical Ithaca spring and summer fishing will be great, however a hot spell late summer, or a particularly dry spring can have real negative implications on the entire season’s fishing.”

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