Hotspots For New York's Spring Trout

Hotspots For New York's Spring Trout

Try these top-rated spring trout streams for hot angling action. Our expert explains how to find and catch lunker browns, rainbows and brookies this spring.

It is hard to exaggerate the quality of Empire State trout fishing, which compares favorably with anything east of the Rockies. To put in perspective the scope and diversity of our cold-water resources, you have to realize that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation hatcheries will funnel 2.3 million brown, rainbow and brook trout into various streams, lakes and ponds this spring.

But collectively, they're just a big drop in the bucket. Most stockers will have to compete with wild trout or holdovers from previous plantings, since very few of New York's fish-farm graduates are deposited in environs not suited to the trouts' long-term survival.

New York boasts more than 10,000 miles of trout streams, including some 1,200 miles of creekbanks and riverbanks with designated public access. These fisheries are at their productive peak in May, when the spring runoff has ended and water temperatures rise to the 55- to 65-degree range that triggers mayfly hatches and stirs the appetites of cold-blooded trout. Streams that were too high, muddy and cold to fish properly a week or two earlier now have a "live" look to them. Experienced anglers recognize the signs and venture forth with rod and reel at every opportunity.

Hundreds of prime trout waters in New York are generous to sportsmen at this point in the season, but the following half dozen are surely among the state's best spring-season fisheries:

LIMESTONE CREEK

Do you enjoy fly-fishing in an urban-suburban setting, for a mix of recent stockers and holdover brown trout that have grown fat and colorful during their first year of free living? How about dunking worms in rural headwaters populated by wild, brilliantly colored brownies? Limestone Creek is a split-personality stream that offers both experiences.

From DeRuyter Reservoir in Madison County, Limestone flows north for about 28 miles, passing through the Onondaga County towns of Pompey and Manlius before merging with Butternut Creek north of Minoa. In the 1950s and '60s, most anglers rated it as one of two or three best, if not the best, trout stream in the Syracuse area. But rapid development along Limestone's banks has caused its reputation to be somewhat sullied since then. Many Onondaga County residents who haunted the creek in its heyday have since shifted their allegiance to other local streams, such as Ninemile Creek or Fabius Brook. That's their loss, for Limestone remains a top-notch trout stream.

I'd recommend that New York Game & Fish readers test the creek's potential in May, when weather and water conditions are ideal for bait, spinning and fly-fishing enthusiasts alike.

Credit the Onondaga County-owned Carpenter's Brook fish hatchery for playing a key role in sustaining Limestone's trout resource while housing developments and shopping centers mushroomed along its banks in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. The local hatchery currently supplies the creek with about 11,500 trout annually. They're mostly browns, with a few brookies sprinkled in. Perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 of the brownies in a typical spring will be chunky 2-year-olds that average 13 inches long.

Hatchery crews and volunteers from the local Iroquois Chapter of Trout Unlimited do a fine job of distributing those fish, but the heaviest concentrations of stockers will usually be found in the bustling villages of Manlius and Fayetteville.

Although no official public fishing access is available in either community, local anglers get along just fine by parking unobtrusively in the corners of shopping plazas, supermarkets and other businesses off main streets, including Route 173 in Manlius and Route 5 in Fayetteville. A short walk from the commercial district puts hip-booted anglers in casting range of gorgeous pools and riffles that tend to run slightly off-color after May showers.

You can sample the pastoral side of Limestone Creek upstream from Manlius, between the bridges on U.S. Route 20 and state Route 80. Here, the creek meanders back and forth across the border between Onondaga and Madison counties. It runs swift and less than knee-deep in most places, and fishes best after a heavy rain has muddied its currents. A mix of wild and stocked browns is present, along with the occasional brook trout that drops down from one of Limestone's cold tributaries.

Public fishing signs sprout intermittently along Cardner Road north of Route 80 and again in the vicinity of Delphi Falls and the Oran-Delphi Road, but angling pressure is light. Anglers who ask permission to try posted pools here frequently receive a positive answer.

A map showing the location of public fishing rights along the creek may be downloaded from the Department of Environmental Conservation's Website: www.dec.state.ny.us. Mouse-click on "Getting information from DEC," scroll down to "Maps," click again on "Recreation Maps" and sift through Region 7 until you land on Limestone Creek.

The Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, at (315) 470-1800, can advise you on lodging alternatives if you plan to make an overnight trip in the area.

WEST BRANCH TIOUGHNIOGA RIVER

Cortland-area fly-fishers often kid each other about the so-called "Shopping Cart Pool" on the West Branch Tioughnioga River (pronounced Tee-off-knee-YO-ga). Situated off the McGraw exit from Interstate 81 in the city of Cortland, the pool is adjacent to a shopping-center parking lot upstream from the local Holiday Inn and a short roll-cast away from the drive-through at McDonald's. Not surprisingly, the knee-deep run gets its share of litter, including the occasional shopping cart. Locals are well aware, though, that the pool fishes better than it looks, with wild and stocked browns rising freely during the Hendrickson and Blue-winged Olive hatches that occur in early to mid-May.

If urban fishing doesn't appeal to you, perhaps suburban angling will. Where the West Branch winds along U. S. Route 11 through the village of Homer, which borders Cortland's north side, the sounds of traffic and youth soccer games are muffled by streamside vegetation. The river is 30 to 40 feet wide here, offering ample room to cast in most spots, and the browns are just as fat and pretty as the ones in the Shopping Cart Pool.

Where it joins the East Branch Tioughnioga, a short hike downstream from the Holiday Inn, the West Branch harbors some genuine whoppers. DEC electro-shocking crews and a few lucky anglers have caught 24-inch browns in the junction pool.

Hatchery crews and volunteers from the local Iroquois Chapter of Trout Unlimited do a fine job

of distributing those fish, but the heaviest concentrations of stockers will usually be found in the bustling villages of Manlius and Fayetteville.

Although no official public fishing access is available in either community, local anglers get along just fine by parking unobtrusively in the corners of shopping plazas, supermarkets and other businesses off main streets, including Route 173 in Manlius and Route 5 in Fayetteville. A short walk from the commercial district puts hip-booted anglers in casting range of gorgeous pools and riffles that tend to run slightly off-color after May showers.

You can sample the pastoral side of Limestone Creek upstream from Manlius, between the bridges on U.S. Route 20 and state Route 80. Here, the creek meanders back and forth across the border between Onondaga and Madison counties. It runs swift and less than knee-deep in most places, and fishes best after a heavy rain has muddied its currents. A mix of wild and stocked browns is present, along with the occasional brook trout that drops down from one of Limestone's cold tributaries.

Public fishing signs sprout intermittently along Cardner Road north of Route 80 and again in the vicinity of Delphi Falls and the Oran-Delphi Road, but angling pressure is light. Anglers who ask permission to try posted pools here frequently receive a positive answer.

A map showing the location of public fishing rights along the creek may be downloaded from the Department of Environmental Conservation's Website: www.dec.state.ny.us. Mouse-click on "Getting information from DEC," scroll down to "Maps," click again on "Recreation Maps" and sift through Region 7 until you land on Limestone Creek.

The Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, at (315) 470-1800, can advise you on lodging alternatives if you plan to make an overnight trip in the area.

WEST BRANCH TIOUGHNIOGA RIVER

Cortland-area fly-fishers often kid each other about the so-called "Shopping Cart Pool" on the West Branch Tioughnioga River (pronounced Tee-off-knee-YO-ga). Situated off the McGraw exit from Interstate 81 in the city of Cortland, the pool is adjacent to a shopping-center parking lot upstream from the local Holiday Inn and a short roll-cast away from the drive-through at McDonald's. Not surprisingly, the knee-deep run gets its share of litter, including the occasional shopping cart. Locals are well aware, though, that the pool fishes better than it looks, with wild and stocked browns rising freely during the Hendrickson and Blue-winged Olive hatches that occur in early to mid-May.

If urban fishing doesn't appeal to you, perhaps suburban angling will. Where the West Branch winds along U. S. Route 11 through the village of Homer, which borders Cortland's north side, the sounds of traffic and youth soccer games are muffled by streamside vegetation. The river is 30 to 40 feet wide here, offering ample room to cast in most spots, and the browns are just as fat and pretty as the ones in the Shopping Cart Pool.

Where it joins the East Branch Tioughnioga, a short hike downstream from the Holiday Inn, the West Branch harbors some genuine whoppers. DEC electro-shocking crews and a few lucky anglers have caught 24-inch browns in the junction pool.

ST. REGIS RIVER

My wife and our two kids -- now both grown and on their own -- have fond memories of camping and fishing on the St. Regis River in eastern St. Lawrence and western Franklin counties. Frankly, the camping was better than the fishing because we usually made the trip from our Syracuse-area home during the summer, when school was out and vacation scheduling was hassle-free.

Water temperatures on most of the St. Regis are marginally warm in July and August. We'd have fared better with rod and reel if we had come in late May or early June, when one must brush aside clouds of black flies to get a good look at the mayflies and caddis taking flight from the St. Regis' pocket water.

Despite my bad timing, I always managed to catch a few stocked browns and rainbows in the boulder-strewn pools and runs that flowed through the town of Waverly campground, at the village of St. Regis Falls.

The St. Regis River spills out of Lower St. Regis Lake and winds northward for about 80 miles before crossing into Canada. Roughly the first 30 miles of the river -- that segment upstream from Nicholville -- is bona fide trout water. Below Nicholville, smallmouth bass and walleyes are the dominant species.

To reach the St. Regis, take Route 11B east from Potsdam to Nicholville. Turn right onto Route 458, which leads to St. Regis Falls. Above the falls, South River Road parallels the water upstream to Santa Clara, where wild brook trout are common.

Except in the headwaters, St. Regis River fishing is largely hatchery-dependent. However, some wild fish work their way into the river from tributaries, and a small percentage of stockers hold over from one year to the next.


New York boasts more than 10,000 miles of trout streams, including some 1,200 miles of creekbanks and riverbanks with designated public access.
 

All of the state stockings here are carried out in May. The Franklin County section of the river receives about 1,500 rainbows and 2,200 browns annually, with 900 to 1,000 of the latter being 2-year-olds that measure from 12 to 15 inches. In St. Lawrence County, from the impoundment at St. Regis Falls downstream, the water is seeded with about 4,600 8- to 9-inch 'bows and 4,500 browns, of which 650 to 700 are 2-year-olds. Despite those generous allocations, angling pressure on the river is light.

The DEC's Region 6 office has a booklet, Fishing & Camping the St. Regis River in St. Lawrence County, available free at (315) 785-2261. For lodging information, try the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce at (315) 386-4000.

SALMON RIVER (MALONE)

Of New York's several Salmon Rivers, the best for old-fashioned trout fishing is not the famous Lake Ontario tributary that fills up with Chinook salmon in October, but the unsung stream that slips under U. S. Route 11 in the Franklin County village of Malone. That "other" Salmon River has a decent brook trout population in its upper end, and a midsection filled with wild and stocked browns. Downstream of Malone, the widening river offers visitors what is arguably some of the finest fly-fishing water in the East. Picture a mix of deep pools and pocket water teeming with browns up to 18 inches long. Blend in a smorgasbord of aquatic insect hatches, and you'll have an accurate portrait of the lower river.

Rich Preall, a DEC Region 5 senior aquatic biologist, rates the below-Malone stretch as superior to the legendary West Branch Ausable, which many writers have dubbed as the best trout stream in the Adirondacks.

"I especially like the eight miles or so between Malone and Westville," he said. "It gets a fair amount of f

ishing pressure, but it's very good for browns and rainbows in the years when rainbows are stocked there."

Most years, about 8,000 of the Salmon River's total allotment of hatchery transplants are rainbows. The other 22,000 or so are browns.

Route 11 is the straightest road to the Salmon River from the Potsdam area. At Malone, take Route 25 south to Whippleville or Chasm Falls for a mix of browns and brookies, or turn north onto Route 37 to get to the best fly-fishing water. A series of maps on the DEC Website will help anglers find their way.

If you plan to visit the Salmon River for the first time, be sure to wear felt-soled waders. Bring along a wading staff too, since the North Country Salmon River is nearly as slick-bottomed as its namesake in Oswego County.

For lodging assistance, contact the Franklin County Tourism office at (518) 483-6767.

WILLOWEMOC CREEK

May is prime time on most Catskills trout waters, but no stream in the region fishes better during the month than Willowemoc Creek, the under-appreciated major tributary of the lionized Beaver Kill. If you want to test your hatch-matching expertise, pitch a tent or book a bed-and-breakfast room and fish the Willowemoc daily in May; by June you'll be cross-eyed from tying flies to your leader. In approximate order, Hendrickson and Blue Quill mayflies usher in the month, followed by March Browns, Gray Foxes, Light Hendricksons (Ephemerella invaria), Pale Evening Duns and large Blue-winged Olives.

Along with those major mayflies, you'll encounter blizzard hatches of some caddis, most notably the Grannom or "shad caddis," and mini-blitzes of lesser-known aquatic insects.

If hatch dissection isn't your thing, Willowemoc trout may be caught quite readily in May on a classic string or "cast" of three wet flies swung down and across; or even (where bait is permitted) on a dead-drifted garden worm or salted minnow.

The best wet-fly and bait fishing will be found in the middle and upper thirds of the river, roughly between Livingston Manor and the junction with Fir Brook, which is upstream from the hamlet of Willowemoc. Brown trout measuring 7 to 12 inches and slightly smaller brookies are the norm in this water, and if you hit it right, you might tussle with 20 to 30 such fish in a single afternoon.

For the ultimate in hatch-matching, focus on the 3.5-mile no-kill stretch that flows along old Route 17 from the mouth of Elm Hollow Brook to the second new Route 17 span east of Roscoe.

The lower Willowemoc is visible to passing motorists on Route 17, which is in the process of being converted to U. S. Route 86. As you drive east from Binghamton or west from the New York City area on the busy highway, watch for the Roscoe and Livingston Manor exits. From either ramp, it's a short hop on local streets to old Route 17 and the adjacent Willowemoc.

Information about accommodations in the Roscoe-Livingston Manor area is available from the Sullivan County Economic Development, Promotion and Planning office at 1-800-882-CATS.

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