Western New York Great Lakes tributaries offer a diversity of angling opportunities for truly World Class trout and salmon flyfishing. There exists the legitimate possibility of catching migratory salmon and trout 10 or more months out of the year in small, peaceful creeks to brawling rivers and everything mid-sized in between. The quarry for die-hard tributary anglers includes steelhead, brown trout, King salmon, coho salmon, Lake trout and Atlantic salmon. And western New York has this phenomenal fishery to offer so close to home and within easy reach of the northeast and Mid Atlantic states.
In the Lake Ontario and Erie tributaries, anglers can find themselves latched onto trophy trout or salmon measured in pounds, not ounces! Not that the quality of the experience should be judged by strained scales or strung out measuring tapes, but the remarkable truth is that flyfishers can have a quality outing and the World Class fish are just a consequence. Imagine the legitimate chance to hook 15 pound brown trout or steelhead, 30 pound chinooks and 15 pound cohos! It can happen for the flyfisher during the Fall, Winter and Spring tributary migrations. Read on for a river by river account of western NY tributary opportunities.
OAK ORCHARD RIVER and EIGHTEEN MILE CREEK
Two medium size tributaries that typify western NY Lake Ontario flyfishing opportunities are the Oak Orchard River in Waterport and Eighteen Mile Creek in Olcott. These two gems consist of relatively short watercourses that concentrate migrating trout and salmon in numbers that are sometimes hard to believe. Don't be intimidated by the angling pressure either. During peak runs there are enough fish to satisfy all the legal anglers. Fall fishing on the Oak Orchard in October, November and December offers the possibility of hooking brown trout, King or coho salmon and steelhead. Even some respectable Atlantics are caught each year. The catchability of the brown trout is renowned and provides the biggest thrill for Oak Orchard Fall anglers. Big steelhead are encountered in the 'Oak' too. The steelhead seem too big for the waterway and are best targeted in January, February or March and are a spirited quarry for the hardy angler.
Eighteen Mile Creek closely parallels the angling on the Oak and provides the chance for tussling with 30 + pound salmon. Eighteen Mile Creek always seems to harbor some fresh fish each day during migrations and likely benefits from it's close proximity to the Niagara Bar.
The number one flyfishing technique on the Oak and Eighteen Mile is dead drifting egg imitating flies. Sucker spawn, scrambled eggs, carpet flies, nuclear roe bugs and glo bugs are popular patterns. These simple yarn flies sink well and are thus effective fished near the bottom. Tiers who haven't invested an hour on each fly are more apt to present the flies down deep. Floating line rigs with tapered flylines are the method of choice for Oak Orchard and Eighteen Mile Creek anglers. Reduced lead on the leader with sink tip flylines and sinking leaders will produce as well as typical chuck-and-duck techniques.
The Genesee River in Rochester may be the most consistent steelhead river in western NY. It is often overlooked by traveling anglers and fished more frequently by a core of die-hard local anglers. The Genny is not typical steelhead water for the casual fly angler. It is surrounded by suburban Rochester, yet located deep in a wooded gorge. Save for the noisy hustle and bustle on the banks, an anglers eyes won't tell him he's fishing in the city. The water is often big and intimidating, so break down the water into what you can effectively cover. The steelhead hold in lies the angler will soon recognize through careful observation of the green tinted water. The lies include pocket water created by large boulders, heavy runs broken by seams and bottom hydraulic pushes and large, deep pools. Don't overlook the water right by the banks too. The reward for fishing the big water is big, strong steelhead. Chrome bright and shimmering, they seem to posses extra vigor even in the chill of January water temps.
Steelhead are catchable in the Genny legitimately every month of the year save for July and August. Flyfishing in Winter in January and February is probably the most personally rewarding and it is possible to have days in the Spring in May or April where you will lose track of the number of hookups.
The Genesee River can be effectively flyfished with a floating, tapered flyline and a long leader. The long leader (minimum 11 feet) is the key to allowing flies to get to the strike zone. Lead will need to be placed on the leader via split shot, pencil lead or slinkies. Spey fishing is gaining in popularity on the big flows of the Genny. It's no wonder, it is tailor made for covering the expansive flows and controlling your drift. Using spey techniques, flyfishermen can swing the long hackled imitations across lots of productive water. Be prepared to lose some of the gear on the end of your leader. The Genny will take its share of tackle. Perhaps the most interesting spey technique is dead drifting small marabou or bucktail jigs below strike indicators the size of golf balls. Definitely a little off from traditional, but deadly effective.
Perhaps the ultimate big water for flyfishers, the Niagara River (more commonly called just 'the River') offers up some unique opportunities. The River is a consistent producer of quality tributary trout and salmon. The successful fly angler fishes only near the bank in water quickly dropping to 15 – 20 feet or in accessible glides. In the Lower River there is perhaps 15% fly fishable water for the bank angler. That 15% at times seems to hold the majority of the fish. Two of the best bank drifts are at Artpark and Devils Hole. The aforementioned glide water can be found at Devils Hole. The one unique specie inhabiting the Niagara River from mid – October through the Winter is the lake trout. These are not the lake trout you may have heard about, but instead, hard fighting with bulldog like fortitude. They average 8 to 10 pounds, with lunker lake trout seemingly weighing in heavier each new year.
There is a no kill slot limit for lake trout between 25 and 30 inches and a closed season dictates strict catch and release before December 31.
At times the lakers are so heavy that some steelhead fishermen malign them because they can't get drifts through to the lakers. Imagine a fish so willing to strike that they are not held in high regard! The lakers are usually pushovers for egg patterns early in the run and streamers later on in the end of November. White zonkers or similar streamers will usually catch so many fish it can be incredible. Not withstanding spey tackle, the true meaning of chuck and duck is exemplified here. Running lines and pencil lead are standard fare when you are probing the 15 to 20 foot depths. When winds in Lake Erie churn things up and turn the River turbid, tapered floating line rigs can work close to shore. Be sure to equip yourself with the appropriate 8 wt. or similar rod.
The four rivers mentioned above don't represent all the tributaries that can be productive. The rivers are certainly home to the most prolific runs, but there are other jewels many flyfishers purposefully don't boost about.
Some are spate fisheries, fishing well only on and just after high water events. Check out Marsh Creek, Keg Creek or Four Mile Creek when the flows are up. Other small rivers suffer from not looking like classic tributary water. Don't expect to find the perfect gravel run or holding pool around every bend in Johnson Creek, Twelve Mile Creek, Eighteen Mile Creek (Erie) or Maxwell Creek, but the great runs of trout and salmon can attest to the quality of the fishery. And then there is Cattaragus Creek off Lake Erie. Over thirty(30) miles of picturesque water that is home to amazing runs of both stocked and native fish. Watch the weather, though, as the 'Cat' is notoriously prone to flowing turbid far too long for many eager flycasters. Have some rivers been omitted? You bet, but you be the judge whether it was by choice or by chance!
If you've cut your teeth on tributary fishing elsewhere, take a look at the quality, diversity of species and techniques to flyfish in western New York. The area has much to offer for the angler willing to become familiar with some new water. Flyfishing has a growing tradition in WNY, and anglers can enjoy the pursuit in wading friendly creeks and rivers or brawling currents. Choose Oak Orchard brown trout, Burt Dam chinooks, Genesee River and Cattaragus Creek steelhead or Niagara River lakers and you'll find that the fishing opportunities can indeed best be described as World Class. And if you should find yourself having a multiple hookup morning (likely), consider conservation through catch and release or selective harvest and the quality of the WNY fishery will be around for many years to come.
Ron Bierstine is the owner and operator of Orleans Outdoor, Fly Shop and General Tackle, located along the southern shore of Lake Ontario between Rochester and Buffalo. Ron can be contacted at (716)682-4546 or at Orleans Outdoor, www.orleansoutdoor.com
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