Salted minnows are No. 1 for early season anglers
Written by Syracuse Post-Standard   
Wednesday, 23 March 2005 12:29
He's an avid fly fisherman, himself, but proprietor Al Daher of Mickey's Bait & Tackle in North Syracuse predicts that most area anglers will mark the opening day of trout season by dunking minnows or worms in their favorite pools.

"I'd have to say salted minnows are our most popular bait, by far," said Daher. Small red worms, sometimes marketed as "trout worms" or "red wigglers," are a distant second, in his experience, followed by meal worms and nightcrawlers.

Meaty baits of one kind or another usually work better than artificial lures or flies during the first few days of the April 1-Oct. 15 trout season because cold, muddy currents preclude delicate presentations.

"Two years ago the air temperature on opening day was 28 degrees," Daher recalled. "Then again, April can be sweet, too. You never know around here, but right now the water table is saturated and we can probably expect high, cold water early in the season."

Under such conditions, Daher said, trout will hug the bottom in still pools and pockets, instead of wasting energy by fighting to hold position in heavy mid-stream currents. To catch fish consistently, anglers will have to drift their baits deep, at current speed or slower. That mission is more easily accomplished with bait than artificials.

"I tell people fishing with salties or worms to put a piece of split shot or Sticky Weight - soft, moldable tungsten - on their line about 10 inches above the bait," Daher said. "Then you just cast upstream and let the current carry the bait down into the likely areas where trout will hold - either tight to the stream bank or right on the bottom below some object in mid-stream."

Many beginners, and over-eager veterans as well, make a huge mistake by striding up to a pool at full height and flipping a long first cast.

"If you do that, you'll probably spook some nice fish that are along the near bank, right at your feet," Daher said.

He advises covering each piece of water in systematic fashion, starting with the closest fish-holding spots and then gradually working up and across before moving on to the next pool.

Mickey's employees make the store's salted minnows by immersing emerald shiners in a "secret recipe." The shiny baits are offered in small and large sizes, about 11/2 and 3 inches long.

"When the water is high and off-color, you can't beat them," Daher said.

Many of his customers prefer to thread a double-hook rig through a saltie, while others simply poke a size 8 or 10 bait hook through the fish's eye. Either set-up is effective, according to Daher.

Red worms should be hooked lightly in their mid-section, allowing both ends to wiggle freely.

Although they aren't normally in heavy demand in April, Daher said meal worms "are very effective trout baits, especially fished below a bobber for rainbow trout in Green Lakes State Park."

Spawn sacks, consisting of salmon eggs tied up in a ball with bridal-veil mesh, are a perennial favorite of anglers who fish for rainbow trout in the Finger Lakes tributaries but don't seem to get much use in Syracuse-area streams, based on Daher's sales.

Nightcrawlers, which generally run two or three times as large as red worms, are a popular April bait, although many anglers feel they work best later in the season.

"Some of the old-timers swear by crawlers for brook trout," Daher said.

One advocate of the outsize worms was Mickey Letterman, who founded Mickey's in the 1940s. The store started as a vegetable stand before branching out into bait and tackle.

While Daher looks forward to the event, he says opening day "isn't as big a deal as it used to be" because current fishing regulations give New Yorkers opportunities to fish for trout year-round.

Although the regular season spans April through mid-October, the Finger Lakes tributaries stay open through December and Lake Ontario feeder streams may be fished all year up to the first dam or other impassable barrier. In addition, dozens of other rivers and creeks in the state are open 12 months a year, to accommodate trout-fishing fanatics.

"Many of the guys who get out on the first day now are interested in the camaraderie, seeing their old friends and that kind of thing, as they are in the fishing," Daher said.

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