Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Winter angling tips for the tributaries

By Bill Hilts Jr.

Contributing Writer

Winter fishing tributaries for New York’s Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario is not an easy proposition. Some of the most severe conditions that anglers can encounter will take place from December to February and even though we have seen some record-breaking warmth on the calendar in December, we have still seen some snow and cold so far. A “green” Christmas was in the forecast so it might be a good time to sample any fishing gear that you may have received under the tree from jolly ol’ St. Nick!

Scott Feltrinelli of Ontario Fly Outfitters is one of those diehard tributary anglers that will stick it out to target trophy trout no matter what the conditions are. If there is some open water, he will often been seen casting a fly, wooly bugger or other hand-ied offering to try and catch a steelhead or brown trout. Here are some tips that he shares with Outdoor News readers to help improve your winter catching for trout.

“Safety first,” insists Feltrinelli.  “Cold weather brings on slippery conditions. Make certain you have good footwear. Studded boots are a must wear while fishing the tributaries.”

“Dress for the weather,” he continues. “Wear layered clothing, pack a small First Aid kit and fully charge your cell phone. Be prepared for the unexpected.”

Water is colder this time of year. Fish your fly or other offering “low and slow.” That means fish near the creek bottom and slow down the retrieve rate.

When you fish can make a difference on your success, too. “Fish later in the day,” says Feltrinelli. “Fish are sluggish in cold water. Water warms up as the day unfolds. The bite picks up later in the day.”

“Snow melt can offer varying water conditions throughout the day,” says Feltrinelli. “Know your weather conditions and understand how your home waters react to changing weather. Snow melt can offer changing water conditions from little stain in the water to a complete creek blow out.”

The U.S. Geological Survey monitors many of the streams along Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. For example, in creeks like Sandy Creek in Monroe County, the agency will monitor waterflow, water temperature, oxygen levels and turbidity.  Turbidity is the telling gauge for many of these streams. Google USGS data Sandy Creek and the current readings will come up. The key will be learning the various streams to figure out what levels work best for stream fishing under certain conditions. This is a game changer for Feltrinelli. Anything above 7 with turbidity is not fishable on Sandy according to Feltrinelli based on his previous experiences.

Feltrinelli also encourages anglers to go fishing often in the winter. You will enjoy beautiful scenery and experience less pressured fishing waters.

On a final note, Feltrinelli is a guide on these same tributaries with a focus on fly fishing. Hiring a guide can help provide a short cut to learn the basics while getting on some new waters. He is also involved with the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo (set for Feb. 17-20, 2022). This is what he has to say about attending this education-filled show:

“This show offers the largest fly-fishing experience in New York State. What makes this entire Fishing Expo unique is the learning aspect of the show. The organizers have created an event focused on comprehensive programs teaching every aspect of fishing targeting beginners and professionals alike. Not to be missed is the ‘Friday Fly Social.’ This event will offer an opportunity to enjoy a craft beer, gourmet foods and mingle with the industry’s best and biggest fly-fishing professionals like George Daniels. Top notch casting instructors, a casting area, retailers, and fun presentations are all on the docket for the fun and very relaxed Friday Fly Social. Come learn, relax, have fun, and cast away those winter doldrums.” Find out more information at

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