Low water has dominated the Fall 2015 season. By my count, there have only been four high water events since the fish first ran in the middle of October. None of the rains that have fallen have resulted in real, significant blowouts. The giant rain event that serves to pull fish from the far reaches of the lake has simply not happened. This represents the driest fall that I have ever encountered.
This fall is also one of the warmest that I can remember, which has been it's saving grace. Anglers who have adjusted to the conditions by downsizing their flies, leaders, weights, and indicators have had good success. Fish actively feeding on midges can be found late in the day. Streamer fishing has remained good. Even dry fly fishing has held on, if you can locate unharrassed fish.
Despite the lack of water, fish continue to move given their heightened metabolic rate. Warm, dry weather results in a drawn out, steady trickle of fresh fish into the system. The legions of anglers both at the mouth, and in the accesses closer to the lake force fish to move up quickly. Target the middle and upper stretches, where fish settle in. We have seen fresh fish quickly moving through, so don't assume that because there are not many fish in the lower river, that runs are not occurring.
The low water situation has had the opposite effect on the larger Lake Erie tributaries. The Cattaraugus River in New York is the best example of this, where we have seen more fishable days than anyone can remember. To say that it has been a banner year on the Catt would be an understatement. The larger Ohio tributaries have as well enjoyed more fishable days and better than average fishing. Anglers who have access to fishing rafts or one man pontoons have had a great float year. Take advantage of this fantastic year on the bigger waters, where steelhead can feed and move freely. It is a rare occurrence around here for us to have water temps approaching 50 degrees for almost a whole fall. Fans of spey rods and swinging flies are in great shape this year, as water temps have stayed in the prime range for fish to chase streamers.
The recent doom and gloom that has been circulating about less and less returning fish are inaccurate. We are seeing similar numbers of fish over the last five years. The unsustainable numbers of ten or twelve years ago no longer exist, thank god. I always think of the collapse of the Lake Huron pacific salmon fishery when I hear people complain about fish numbers. Eighty hookup days are not a sign of a healthy fishery anywhere. I hope that the Lake Erie steelhead population has equalized with the population of the alewife that is critical to its continuance. Over on Lake Michigan, the DNR has been forced to cut it's salmon program back by 60% to preserve what is left of its alewife population. On Lake Huron, fisheries managers did not act fast enough to cut back chinook and coho stocking. Alewives are gone entirely, and now so are the salmon.
Perhaps the most important skill that anglers this fall need to hone is their ability to adjust their expectations. Don't go to the often fickle Cattaraugus and expect to hook a ton of fish. Don't even expect to catch them every time that you head over there. Big water takes real effort, as the fish cannot and will not be penned into being available to anglers. When the fish in the Catt, Grand, or even Conneaut do not want to be harrassed, you won't find them. Many anglers mistake this for the fish not being present. In our clear, shallow local tributaries we often catch fish because they simply can't avoid us. We are not afforded that crutch in bigger waters. Fortitude and persistence pays on bigger water. I recently had the best day on the Catt that I have seen in ten years, and it came on the heels of two very slow days. I fished the same runs for three days, and I believe that the fish were always there. They just decided to bite that third day. A wise senior guide once said that "nothing eats all the time," and that is very true.
This has by no means been a bad fall at all. Those who have made the necessary adjustments to how and where they fish have done well. I will remember the 2015 fall season as one that provided more ideal conditions on our bigger waters than any in years past. Despite the low water, we are still managing a dozen or so hookups on our average trips, and that should make any angler happy. Big days still occur when the rain is around, as they have in years past. For those who enjoy swinging flies, warm temps have kept fish active, and the bigger waters clear. Get out an enjoy what has been a mild and wonderful fall.