By Cosmo Genova
Eager anglers were met with heavy rains for the trout season opener, and many of our local streams and tributaries have remained swollen and stained throughout the month of April. Much of the spring migratory spawning activity began earlier than normal, as salmonids were able to move further upstream in the high, fast water.
In the Cayuga Inlet, some fish have been reported more than 10 miles upstream. The Cayuga Lake tributaries around Ithaca are still holding some nice fish despite this, mainly rainbow trout, although landlocked atlantic salmon and brown trout can also be found taking advantage of the plentiful food supply. Suckers have made their way upstream in the tens of thousands to spawn, providing a lot of food (eggs) for other fish species.
Many of the local freestone streams were also affected by the early rains, and some are still running higher, colder, and muddier than normal. Multi-day stretches of minimal rain and higher ambient temperatures over the last few weeks have sparked the hatches of aquatic insects, and with that, opportunities for catching trout on dry flies.
Lake fishermen have reported a lot of activity throughout March and April. Landlocked Atlantic salmon, large brown trout, and lake trout cruise the edges of bays and drop offs while gorging on bait fish such as gobis. Many anglers are finding success with both traditional tackle and fly gear. As we head into warmer weather, these fish will retreat to deeper and colder water until the fall.
The majority of trout stocking has been completed over the last month, and will continue intermittently for a few more weeks across the state. The DEC enlists the help of volunteers to augment the local trout populations with hatchery raised fish. This provides anglers with even more opportunities for outdoor recreation and wild-caught food. Should you choose to keep fish for the table, make sure you check the DEC website or Freshwater Fishing Guidebook (available for free at any retailer where licenses are sold) for the regulations regarding the number and size of the particular species of fish that can be kept. Other waterbody specific regulations may also apply.
It is generally considered good practice to safely release wild fish that have a chance of wild reproduction, although this is purely a personal choice. The best way to identify wild versus stocked fish is that stocked fish will typically have one fin clipped by the hatchery (usually the adipose fin).
Good stream fishing began a little late this year, but some of the best fishing of the season is upon us as water levels even out and the temperature rises. Opportunities for warm-water species should start to heat up in the coming weeks as well. It will be interesting to see how last summer’s drought has affected the health of the spring-fed freestone streams in the coming year.
Spring turkey season underway
Many hunters have been eagerly anticipating Spring turkey season. An incredibly social animal, you can often see flocks of turkeys congregating in fields this time of year, and you may even see males in full display or hear their thunderous gobbles around dawn and dusk. Despite a slight decline in turkey population over the last few years, due to habitat loss and predation, there are still plenty of opportunities to pursue them.
Wild turkey is an absolutely delicious game bird, and can be treated much the same as domestic turkey, with the exception of the tough and sinewy legs and thighs which must be cooked for a very long time to soften. Wild turkey gravy with homemade biscuits and mashed potatoes is my personal favorite preparation.
Getting food from the wild
If you really want to source and eat locally, consider pursuing the best that nature has to offer. Pair wild turkey and/or trout with wild edibles such as ramps (wild leeks), morel mushrooms, and fiddlehead ferns for an unparalleled taste of the region. These wild edibles should begin popping up any day now.
Harvest ramps in moderation in order to ensure their growth in the future. Only harvest a few of the most mature ramps from each patch. I like to pickle the ramp bulbs so I can enjoy them well after the season ends. The leaves and stems can be sauted or made into a delicious pesto.
A simple preparation of morels sauteed with butter and shallots is a spectacular side dish. Blanch fiddleheads in boiling water and shock them in ice to remove their irritating fuzz and keep them al dente.
Small trout can be gutted and grilled whole, while larger trout should be filleted. There is no better taste of the Spring than a rainbow trout, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, grilled whole and served with a lemon wedge and a dollop of ramp pesto.
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Cosmo Genova is a New York state-licensed hunting and fly fishing guide, and Finger Lakes native. He also runs a local outdoor lifestyle mentorship program, and works with numerous organizations to advocate for environmental conservation through participation in hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. He can be reached through his website at www.ithacaflyfishing.com or through the mentorship program at www.meetup.com/Ithaca-hunting.