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  • Writer's pictureBrian Lansing

Merry Christmas And Happy New Year!

I'll start off by wishing everyone Merry Christmas (I know I'm 5 days late) and a happy New Year. Thank you to everyone who has followed along and supported me throughout the year. A special thanks goes to all of those reading who have joined me on the water fly fishing. I've enjoyed meeting everyone, teaching and introducing new anglers to fly fishing, and watching new and intermediate anglers alike progress and become better anglers. Thank you for allowing me to share the moments of catching and releasing your first, or personal best, trout or striped bass. I love what I do.

High and muddy water means no fly fishing.
The water is a bit high. No fishing this.

December is always a month of uncertain and inconsistent fly fishing conditions. Conditions this December in Central New York have not been any different. I've spent days on the river when it's been 15 degrees and I've spent days on the water when it's been 55 degrees. We've already seen some anchor and shelf ice take hold and then disappear just a few days later. We've seen low water and drought conditions turn to high water, flooding, and blow outs 24 hours later. Local streams and rivers needed water. We were catching up slowly, but we are definitely caught up now and more rain is in the forecast. What all of this rain and high water does for the streams and rivers remains to be seen. Late December is relatively unusual for blowouts. Brown trout have just finished spawning in recent weeks and some are still on redds. We'll see if the next generation of wild fish has made it through in the spring.

Safe ice for ice fishing and jigging walleye and perch is nonexistent and doesn't appear to be close either.

Salmon River Steelhead
Success after grinding it out for Salmon River steelhead. Image by Brandon Lansing.

Inconsistent weather and conditions aside, fly fishing continues. There has been a mix of good days, decent days, slow days, and skunked days. Luckily, there are cold Molson Canadians in the fridge and football on TV (GO BILLS!) at the end of those days. To be skunked after a cold day on the water, donating a half dozen flies or so to trees and rocks of the river, AND out of beer would be a really rough day. I anticipate some very good fly fishing in Upstate New York in coming weeks as the weather looks to be fairly mild (for the beginning of January) moving forward. Water levels should be pretty ideal by this weekend and you know where to find me. I am hoping the high water on the Salmon River has moved a few fresh steelhead into the system, but I'm not incredibly optimistic about this. While there are steelhead in the river and the bite has been a consistent, but slow, grind, the overall number of fish is clearly down. A couple of fish is doing good. If you're reading this from the west coast and you fish for wild steelhead out there, you're probably telling me to quit whining and that you'd love to see a couple of steelhead and Great Lakes steelhead aren't real steelhead.

Central New York Brown Trout
This brown refused everything until I landed an egg pattern nearby. This fish annihilated it.

Low and slow is the name of the game. The water is a little too cold to consistently have trout chasing streamers. I'm not saying that you won't move a fish or two, but it's far from a sure bet and creates a solid path to the dreaded skunking. Nymphing and working to slow the drift down as much as possible will produce the most consistent results. Eggs are now a big part of my repertoire. Admittedly, I fought using them for quite a long time. I never found a style and a way of fishing them that was effective for me. My traditional nymphs, buggers, and stoneflies had always produced and I never had much reason to jump into fishing eggs. However, sight fishing to a few fish that refused everything I tossed at them except for an egg coupled with watching a friend of mine fish eggs nearly exclusively with good results forced me to reconsider. Eggs are very high in protein. For the next month or so, eggs will be part of my rotation alongside the standard pheasant tails, midges, larva, stoneflies, and buggers.

A colorful rainbow trout caught fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware River
A nice Delaware River rainbow caught on the west branch.

Winter on the streams or rivers means solitude. Sure, the fly fishing can be difficult at times, but it's usually pretty quiet out there. It's easy to get caught relaxing on the river (this is part of the reason we fly fish after all) and not paying close attention to your drifts. Winter bites are subtle. While you're daydreaming and watching the fox run along the stream bank, the trout are eating your fly and you'll never feel it. You always get a bite when you're not paying attention. It always works this way. If you really need a bite, just stop paying attention. By no means am I suggesting to not enjoy the time outside and take the sights in. In fact, I encourage looking up and enjoying your surroundings. My point is that winter drifts need good attention to detect your takes. Only occasionally can one be lucky enough to have a trout take the fly and say "hey, look at me" and start dancing around with your line. Trout are pretty good at just tickling your flies in the winter and not clamping down on them. Winter nymphing needs attention to detail and focus. If something doesn't look right, it might be a bite.

A colorful wild brown trout caught fly fishing in Central New York.
I found this colorful little brown feeding in a narrow soft seem in faster water. It was a warm day and fish were active.

When looking for trout in the winter, I tend to skip a lot of water that I would fish in the spring, summer, and fall. I look for the slow areas with depth where trout can hunker down for the winter. From there, I may branch out and work some faster water depending on the conditions. If the sun is out and the stream is warming up, I'll work some of the shallower areas. Don't overlook tail-outs. Adapt to what the stream gives you. If I'm not having success through the gut of a pool or run I'll move up to work the faster water in the head of the pool or down to the tail-out section. I don't spend much time picking apart faster sections of pocket water unless I notice bites in the heads of pools, meaning trout are actively feeding or competing for food, or unless I'm coming up empty on all of the traditional winter water and I'm hunting for a bite.

What's on the slate for the new year? Gift certificates remain available through the holidays and will remain available throughout the year as well. I'm always working to learn new fisheries to expand my trip offerings. I hope to offer a couple new types of trips moving forward. Edgewood Outdoors, my woodworking business (primarily hand-crafting wood fly fishing nets), is close to going live. I'll have an announcement about that in short time. I'm excited to share my passion for the outdoors and hand-crafting fine sporting products with everyone. I'm also very excited to continue guiding, sharing the water with new guests, and friends from trips past. Dates are being booked for the spring already! While I look forward to spring and chasing trout and stripers again, I'm not wishing winter away just yet. I remain hopeful for quality and safe ice on Oneida Lake. I also enjoy getting out in the winter hiking and snowshoeing. I might even get out to do a little small game hunting with the milder weather too. As for the blog, more tips, reports, reviews, etc. are always in the works.

Stay tuned for more! Thanks for reading have a happy New Year!

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