In many cases, the fish and animals targeted by licensed sportsmen in our state are so abundant that the only obstacle to an action-packed trip is finding a place to crash between sunrise and sunup. Fortunately, there is a resource that can help — one that is sometimes overlooked and under-appreciated by average hunters and anglers. This resource is the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which welcomes thousands of outdoors-lovers to its functional but unpretentious log cabins, one year after the next.
These cabins, most of which are designed to accommodate two to six guests per day, are perfect for traveling hunters who need little more than sleeping bags from home and a couple of bags of groceries to assemble an efficient deer or turkey camp. Along the same lines, any angler appreciates the glow of a sturdy, battery-powered bright lantern that shows the way home after darkness falls on a dense mayfly hatch and spinner fall on a nearby trout stream. New York has 118 state campgrounds sprinkled across the map, and most of them have offer a variety of facilities, from tent sites to rustic-yet-comfortable cabins. Many state campgrounds feature good fishing or hunting (or both) on the premises or just a short drive away. We would like to give you a couple of examples of these happy campgrounds, starting with Allegany State Park.
ALLEGANY STATE PARK
It was my good fortune to have been invited to explore Cattaraugus County, with several other members of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association, during a "cast and blast" outing during that organization's 2001 Spring Safari. Good sport and good friends are the basic ingredients of a great time, and that long weekend had it all. The setting was a cool, six-room cabin in the 65,000-acre Allegany State Park, between the Seneca Nation lands along the Allegheny River. I hunted turkeys on two consecutive mornings. There were no carcasses to lug back to the cabin at mid-day, but as I remember the trip, a couple of the local toms were at least willing to say "come and get it." They were, that is, until one or more approached Wolf Road, where I was hiding, and decided the "hen" with the scratchy yelp was playing awfully hard to get. None of the timid toms came close enough to shoot, but they offered a realistic test of my calling and tactical skills.
At about 11 a.m. each day, I hiked down a steep hill to my car, grabbed a quick lunch at the cabin kitchen, then prowled local brook trout creeks until 4 or so. The native fish were eager to bite, but not stupid. You needed to approach the park's clear, tumbling streams cautiously, or you were doomed to catch naught but 5-inchers. The big boys, measuring 9 or 10 inches long, lurked in shady spots where streams veered away from the park's road system, and were far from pushovers.
When recalling a bare-bones trout trip, participants sometimes skip the accommodations, but in my experience, a toasty sleeping bag can make the difference between a successful expedition and a mediocre one. Our group could have opted for tent sites with cold running water, at one end of the spectrum. On the other hand, we might have bunked at one of the fancy Native American-run casinos near Salamanca. Neither would have been a good fit for us.
One of the best things about our park cabin was its price. Even today, years after that first trip, it would cost our quintet only $250 or so for a five-day visit. The exact amount would depend on which amenities — propane stove, on-site shower, and so forth — were available in our humble hut.
You can reserve a cabin in Allegany State Park up to nine months ahead of your scheduled vacation. The park's main entrance at the north end is just south of Salamanca, and you can telephone park staff at (716) 354-9191. Look for the signs on Routes 17 and 86 as you drive west between Olean and the reservation.
Because the park is bordered by the Seneca Indian reservation in many places and by Pennsylvania near its southwest corner, first-time visitors would be wise to stop by the park rangers' office to discuss access issues, as well as fishing and hunting. It's also a good idea to make cabin reservations, months in advance if possible. Your state licenses are good inside the park boundaries.
allegany state park - Route 1, Salamanca, NY - (716) 354-9101
Lodging: 335 cabins, each accommodating between two and six persons, plus trailer and tent sites. Weekly rates for log cabins (and yurts, too) start at $160 and go to $280 per person, plus small fees for amenities available at some cabins but not all.
Extras: The park has a convenience store plus two swimming and fishing lakes -- Red House and Quaker --with sandy beaches that beckon to families in the warm months of the year.
LETCHWORTH STATE PARK
I do not like heights, not even a little bit. I've never felt comfortable in a tree stand, and I did not really enjoy my one and only view of the breath-taking falls in Letchworth State Park, a.k.a. "The Grand Canyon of the East."
My turkey hunt at Letchworth, on the other hand, was an immediate success although I saw neither tom nor hen before my morning was over. It was another NYSOWA event, and a guide who was coaxed by the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce pointed each of us, in turn, toward some very birdy-looking habitat. I had barely sat down against a gnarly fallen tree when I heard a rustling in the narrow woods along the park's main access road. After a minute or two of heart-pounding suspense, the noisemaker walked into plain view. It was not a turkey, but a 10-point buck with a half-hard, half-velvet rack. I sat very still while the whitetail crept to within 15 or 20 feet of me, then abruptly lay down. If it were the autumn deer season, I'd have been focused on dropping him with an arrow. Since it was spring and not fall, I remained motionless and hoped a tom would stroll by, possibly appearing in an adjacent crop field behind my back. The plan didn't come together that time, but one of my private sources on Genesee Region turkey hunting assured me the park still is one of the prime places in the state to corner a trophy gobbler.
Letchworth Park officials do their best to ensure safe hunting seasons without unduly restricting the crowds of Western New Yorkers (and quite a few Pennsylvania- and Ohio-born sportsmen) who have found the place to be quite sufficient for their purposes. It's extremely popular, so eagerly awaited that more than 200 permits may be issued for opening day of the spring turkey season, and getting one of the 50 permits drawn for the early November to mid-December archery season in the park is like finding the Holy Grail, in some western New York circles. To cover the details, would-be park hunters should call the office number listed below, then follow up with questions to park staff. Naturally, readers should also request copies of the pamphlets that spell out the park's special hunting regulations.
Once you have a permit in hand, arrange to do more than a little scouting. There's no excuse for failing to try a few evening owl hoots before a hunt. In fact, it will also be worth your while to let loose with a squawky crow call around fly-down time some morning prior to the start of the turkey season in the park. Look for broken-off feathers, J-shaped droppings and other signs of mature toms, as well. Most of the hunters who fail to score at Letchworth don't bother to scout.
Castile, NY 14427 - (585) 493-3600
Lodging: Weekly rates for log cabins run from $132 to $512, plus fees for amenities.
Extras: Swimming in pool but not in the Genesee River (prohibited). Also consider a side trip to Silver Lake State Park. The 750-acre lake hides bass, pike and walleyes, all of better-than-average size. It is only about 4 miles west of Castile.
SELKIRK SHORES STATE PARK
Looking over Lake Ontario's east shore, it is easy for a fisherman to feel a bit overwhelmed. Where should I fish, he wonders? What should I use for bait? The answers to these questions, today as always, depend on the passage of time and the unpredictable behavior of trout and salmon in big bodies of water. Now you see them, and now you don't.
With one exception, that is. Selkirk Shores State Park, a motor boat sprint west from Port Ontario in Oswego County via Route 3, is a public-fishing landmark truly seems to be visited by sizable trout and salmon of one specie or another just about year-round. Fishermen, depending on their equipment, rod-and-reel skill levels and boating experiences, can try three excellent trophy-angling vectors while using the park as a base camp. These checkpoints include the mouth of the Salmon River, Grindstone Creek, and Little Salmon Creek. Most impressive, to me, is the shoreline fishery tucked among near-shore boulders and man-made pier structures that hold fish in spring and fall as they mill around the shallows before charging upstream to fight with their cousins over favored spawning areas in the tributaries.
The Salmon River's mouth is best fished from drift boats in and around a series of braided channels around the Route 3 bridge, using all sorts of legal implements designed for the task. Here I'm referring to Little Cleos, salmon egg clusters, Bomber Long A-type stickbaits, and Super Blue Vibrax spinners dressed with single 1/0 hooks instead of the trebles that come across the counter in most tackle shops.
Down the shore a mile and change, the state park holds big runs of salmon in September and respectable schools of steelhead and brown trout, too, well into November or even December. The trout may be packing an average of 8 to 10 pounds or more at spawning time, but the lake's Chinook and coho salmon average 20 and 12 pounds, respectably. Heck, the average trout or salmon in Lake Ontario are all pigs, size-wise. Remember, though, these pigs can swim, and you usually can't stop their long runs unless you use medium- to stiff-action rods.
Most of the fish are caught along the park shore or near the pier that stretches about 300 feet into deep water. Heavy spoons facilitate extra-long casts.
Two paved boat launches service anglers in the park. One is at Pine Grove and the other at the mouth of the Little Salmon River. Fishermen should know that Selkirk Shores has about 120 trailer-type camping sites, but only 28 of the cabins that many anglers seem to prefer. Of course, there are also hundreds other lodging possibilities in the Salmon River corridor and in or around Oswego.
Lodging: When a park staffer picks up the phone, ask if any of the 28 cabins at Selkirk Shores are open during your vacation time.
Extras: Duck hunting can be red-hot just before ice-cold temperatures shuts down the lake. Don't try it if you lack big-water skills, however.