Photo by Ron Sinfelt
February trout fishing is not your grandfather’s trout fishing, for sure! The part of trout fishing’s legend that begins in the spring with melting snow drifts and muddy runoff is out of date, and has been for some time.
With the trout season never closing on certain streams and rivers because of enlightened fisheries management programs, many anglers continue casting a line through the fall months, and some never quit. By changing tactics with the seasons, and checking the county sections of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s freshwater fishing regulations, trout fanatics can fish all winter.
While they’re joining the ranks of steelheaders and ice-fishermen in that respect, there is a difference: A February trout fisherman can count on having the pools to himself.
A sunny afternoon makes it more comfortable for winter anglers, of course, and raising the water temperature a degree or two may even improve the fishing. In winter, the key will be to work slowly and deep when you’re casting nymphs and streamers or spinners and small stick baits.
A popular misconception is that aquatic life becomes dormant during the winter. It does get pretty sleepy, but insect activity continues year ’round. Small stoneflies will hatch under certain conditions, for example. The food chain remains unbroken, and at the top a stream’s browns, rainbows and brookies are often suckers for what looks like a free lunch.
The following are some streams and rivers that will give anglers a two-month head start on the regular trout season, and provide a lot more fun than tying flies or watching another basketball game.
Although nearly all of the trout water on Long Island is open for February fishing, the best odds for catching a winter brook trout anywhere in the state are on the Connetquot River as it flows through Connetquot State Park. That is because the park hatchery releases trout averaging about 1 pound throughout the season, with plenty of holdover brookies and some sea-run rainbows — trophy-sized fish — populating the stream at the present time.
Also, the Connetquot is a spring creek with year-round temperatures hovering around 52 degrees offering ideal winter fishing conditions.
The Connetquot meanders through the park for about five miles before hitting brackish water leading to Great South Bay, certainly the only blue-ribbon trout water on the planet surrounded by dense suburban development. Streamers and nymphs are reported to be most effective at this time of year, with many anglers trying black or olive Woolly Buggers. Caddis and stonefly nymphs or scuds fished on dead drifts are also recommended.
With a gentle, steady current and a sandy bottom, wading here is about as easy as it gets.
Trout fishing opens Feb. 1 on the Connetquot, and is strictly controlled throughout the season because of the popularity of this unique river –during February and March, fishing is permitted from Wednesdays through Sundays. Thirty areas are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, and each angler has a specific stretch of water to fish for four hours. Two fishing periods are assigned each day from 8 a.m. to noon and noon to 4 p.m.
The special regulations here require catch-and-release, fly-fishing only. A daily fee of $15 is charged. On April 1, the fishing week begins on Tuesdays, with three daily sessions scheduled and special creel limits permitted.
Connequoit State Park is at Oakdale, about halfway out on the south shore, off the Sunshine Highway (Route 27). The park is north of the highway, and access is from westbound lanes — watch for the sign and short exit lane. For more information about fishing the Connetquot, call (631) 581-1005.
Except for the Carmans River in Southaven County Park, and the Nissequogue River in Caleb Smith State Park, trout fishing is permitted year ’round on all of Long Island’s freshwater (non-tidal) streams for rainbows and browns — brookies must be released. There is no size limit and three trout may be creeled daily. Additionally, trout fishing, both open-water and ice-fishing, is permitted in all of the island’s lakes and ponds with the same size and creel limits, except for East (Swan) Lake, Laurel Lake and Deep Pond.
BEAVER KILL AND WILLOWEMOC
These two legendary trout streams, known collectively as the “Beamoc,” were pioneers in modern fisheries management, where DEC biologists experimented with extended open seasons. Both rivers now offer certain stretches where the trout season is open all year to artificials-only, catch-and-release fishing. The fact that these waters are among the most heavily fished during the regular season attests to the success of the program.
In February, “heavily fished” is a relative term. As you buzz along Route 17, you rarely see more than a single angler standing in the quiet current beyond the rim of ice, and most times, you see no one on the water.
On the Beaver Kill, there are two segments of all-year fishing, both downstream from Roscoe, and these are well marked with DEC signs. The first stretch begins at the Sullivan-Delaware counties border and extends for 2.5 miles downstream. Included are several of the best pools on the river, each named by fishermen decades ago. These include Barnhart’s, Hendrickson’s, Cairn’s and Wagon Tracks. The latter makes no sense unless you know that a farmer used to ford the stream there with horses and wagons.
The second Beaver Kill segment is centered on the steel bridge at Horton, extending one mile upstream and 1.6 miles downstream. Even after the recent floods made some changes in the river, the historic pools here remain including Cemetery, Horton Bridge and Acid Factory. The Horton Bridge stretch is such a honeyhole that fishing is now prohibited there from July 1 through Aug. 31 to protect the large numbers of trout that collect there during late summer’s warmwater period. A parking area was included when the new bridge was built.
The Willowemoc joins the Beaver Kill at Roscoe. The artificial lures-only, no-kill water begins at the second Route 17 bridge east of Roscoe and extends upstream for 3.5 miles to a point 1,200 feet above the mouth of Elm Hollow Brook. The Willowemoc is about half the size of the lower Beaver Kill, and low-water conditions make for tougher fishing. If crunching shoreline ice signals your approach, it might be better to move on down to the Beaver
Slowly worked nymphs and streamers are the key at both locations. Sometimes, a fly the fish have not seen, such as a Spruce streamer, will be productive. Woolly Buggers, Muddler Minnows and small black stonefly nymphs are popular.
Small, medium-sinking stick baits are recommended for spinning, as water levels on the Beamoc are likely to be too low for metal lures to be effective.
These special regulations sections are off state Route 17 (The Quickway). Exit at Roscoe, Cooks Falls or Horton to Old Route 17, which borders the Beaver Kill and Willowemoc.
Continuing the theme of southern rivers, the East Branch Croton River in Putnam County north of metro New York City offers excellent chances for holdover rainbows and browns in the 1.5-mile stretch between the Diverting and East Branch reservoirs. This gem of a tailwater fishery, with its warmer water in winter, has long been a favorite of anglers escaping the city for a couple of hours on the stream.
The East Branch produces prolific numbers of aquatic insects, and caddis and midge nymph patterns are effective all winter. A beadhead pheasant tail in No. 16 or 18 should be a good bet, along with various caddis pupa patterns.
Don’t count on it, but you might find some surface action, as occasional stonefly hatches are reported on warmer days. The only tackle restriction is artificials only, and one trout per day of 14 inches or better may be creeled. These regulations ensure that good numbers of decent-sized fish are present year ’round.
The special regulations section of the East Branch is near the junction of Interstate Route 84 and I-684, using routes 6 or 22 to reach the stream. Parking is available at various locations, including bridges and in the village of Brewster.
The border waters of the West Branch and the main Delaware River are open to catch-and-release trout fishing from Oct. 1 to the first Saturday after April 11, making both prime targets for a February outing.
Because the West Branch is a tailwater fishery with warmer water released from the Cannonsville Dam, it’s the best bet for winter fishing. But remember, it is strictly off-limits until it hits the Pennsylvania-New York line, 1.7 miles below the Hale Eddy bridge. The tailwater aspect of the West Branch is both good and bad news. Recently, flows have been restricted to maintain a full reservoir, producing minimum river levels both summer and winter. The New York City water supply regulators, along with Mother Nature, play a hand here in determining fishing conditions.
Regardless of the water management problems, these are blue-ribbon trout rivers, potentially the best in the northeastern states. Winter fishermen are restricted to artificial lures only in the no-kill border stretches of the West Branch. Larger streamers and favorite nymphs, such as Hare’s Ear, are recommended, along with spinners and small stick baits fished deep and slow.
The main Delaware River is border water since it is formed by the West and East branches at Hancock, and is also no-kill for winter fishermen, although there is no restriction on tackle.
Exits 87 and 87A from state Route 17 at Hancock lead to local roads for access to the West Branch and main Delaware River.
A small stream easily overlooked by Capital District fishermen, Kayaderosseras is a favorite of anglers taking the time to explore the pools, runs and pocket water. It is heavily stocked with brown trout, including some 2-year-olds up to 15 inches, during the regular trout season. Last year, the DEC spent $10,500 on the Kayaderosseras for parking, handicapped access and various stream improvement projects.
Trout fishing is open year ’round on the creek, except that section from Saratoga Lake upstream to the first railroad bridge, which is closed from March 16 until the opening of the walleye season. There are no tackle or size restrictions, and fishermen may keep five trout per day.
Kayaderosseras is in Saratoga County northwest of Saratoga Springs, with Creek Road, North Creek Road and other local roads off state Route 29 providing access.
WEST CANADA CREEK
Not a creek, but really a river with a remote sounding name, West Canada is in Herkimer County, north of Utica, within easy reach of central New York fishermen.
For February trips, the only open trout water is the 2.5-mile stretch from the Trenton Falls dam downstream to the mouth of Cincinnati Creek. This is a tailwater fishery with frequent changes in water level that keep the river from icing over. Anglers must keep a wary eye out for rising water.
Known locally as the “trophy stretch,” catch-and-release trout fishing is permitted year ’round with artificial lures. The great thing about West Canada is that it harbors quality brown trout ranging from 12 to 18 inches, with an occasional 20-incher reported. Wild brookies that filter in from various tributaries are also present.
The Trenton Falls segment of West Canada Creek is reached by way of state Route 12 north from Utica to Route 28 east to the river.
OATKA CREEK AND SPRING CREEK
A home stream for Rochester–area trout fishermen, Oatka Creek has three personas: brushy headwaters supporting trout in Wyoming County, a warmwater midsection extending from Warsaw to LeRoy and the premier trout water downstream from LeRoy.
This last dramatic change, putting Oatka on every trout fisherman’s A-list, is because of large infusions of spring water from the locally named “Blue Hole” near LeRoy, and from Spring Creek, which enters the river near Mumford.
Flowing through farmland with the usual pools, runs, riffles and pocket water, Oatka averages about 50 feet in width, making it an ideal fly-fishing stream. The limestone spring creek character of the river produces an abundant array of aquatic life, so scuds, nymphs and streamers are recommended for winter excursions.
Oatka is noted for producing trophy fish, the result of a nutrient-rich environment that is generously stocked annually with brown trout. There is also natural spawning occurring in these waters, which adds wild browns to the DEC’s plantings, and a few wallhanger rainbows are reported, suspected to have escaped from the Calaedonia hatchery. Public access points are at the bridges in LeRoy and Mumford.
No-kill trout fishing is permitted year ’round with artificial lures in a segment from Union Street upstream 1.7 miles to Wheatland Center Road. No-kill, artificials-only fishing is permitted from Oct. 16 to March 31 from Bowerman Road upstream 1.4 miles to Union Street, and from Wheatland Center Road upstream 2.5 miles to the mouth of Spring Creek.
In winter, the key will be to work slow and deep when you’re casting nymphs and streamers or spinners and small stick baits.
Trout fishing is permitted all year in the other portions of Oatka Creek in Genesee and Monroe counties, with no tackle restrictions, no size limit and a creel limit of five fish (with no more than two trout measuring 12 inches or longer).
Spring Creek is the location of the historic Caledonia trout hatchery, site of the first successful introduction of brown trout in North America in 1884. Only two small sections of the creek are open to public fishing, including about 200 feet of water on the hatchery property, open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and nearly 1,000 feet of stream after it leaves the hatchery.
Neither stretch is a big deal, that is, unless you’d delight in holding in your hand a brilliant, gem-like wild brown with some of the same DNA as those few German browns that started America’s fishing revolution.
Diamond-clear water makes for challenging catch-and-release, artificials-only fishing.
The winter fishing stretches of Oatka Creek and Spring Creek are on local roads off state Route 5 in eastern Genesee County, the southwest corner of Monroe County, and northwest corner of Livingston County.
Known as one of the top trout streams in western New York, Ischua offers February fishing on a 2.2-mile stretch at Franklinville in eastern Cattaraugus County. No-kill, artificials-only trout fishing is centered on the Cadiz bridge south of the village. The special regulations section runs for 0.9 mile downstream from the Route 98 bridge and for 1.3 miles upstream from the bridge. The creek averages about 30 feet wide here and is favored by local fishermen mainly because of its easy access and generous stocking allocation received. Anglers can expect a chunky holdover brown or two.
To reach Franklinville from the Buffalo area, take routes 400 and 16 south to the village. From state Route 17, use Exit 27 and proceed north on Route 16.
All of the trout streams and lakes with extended seasons or year-round seasons are listed individually by county in the DEC’s freshwater fishing regulations booklet. More information on trout fishing, including trout-stocking targets also listed by county, are on DEC’s Web site at
www.dec.state.ny.us. Click on Freshwater Fishing.
Additional information is available by calling DEC’s regional offices, also listed in the regulations booklet.