These proven western-region trout streams are the place to be for hot early-season action. Our expert has the lowdown on where to go this month. (April 2007)
Photo by Lynn Burkhead
Some been-there, done-that anglers claim they don't get too excited about April 1 because on that traditional opening day of the New York state trout season, the cold, damp weather isn't conducive to good fishing.
They'd rather wait two or three weeks to make their first casts of the year -- which is fine with me. Who needs all that extra competition, anyway?
If you spend long winter evenings fussing over your trout tackle and make big black check marks on your
calendar, waiting for April Fool's Day to finally arrive, you'll want to squeeze the following New York waters into your 2007 fishing schedule. Each one is among the more productive streams in the state, and all have reputations for consistent early-season action.
Here's a look at some of our best spring hotspots, working our way across the state from left to right:
LIME LAKE OUTLET
Think of Lime Lake Outlet as a typical small trout stream, only better -- and even more challenging.
Closely paralleled by a busy local road for most of its length, it has a loyal following among Cattaraugus County anglers. Lined by alders and other vegetation, it's also populated by larger-than-average trout that have seen a wide variety of baits and lures -- and turned up their noses at most.
Some dandy browns call Lime Lake Outlet home. Joe Evans, a New York Department of Environmental Conservation Region 9 biologist, has seen fish up to 24 inches in his surveys. The creek holds lots of wild rainbows, too, and there are even a few native brookies in the upper reaches. Evans estimates the outlet's population at around 150 pounds of trout per acre, which puts it in the region's upper crust, fertility-wise.
Be forewarned, though! You will earn every hookup, since the water is usually crystal-clear and the resident trout are exceptionally wary. The stream is no more than 10 feet across in many places, and that doesn't make a stealthy approach any easier.
The outlet flows about seven miles before joining Elton Creek, another decent trout stream. About 3/4 of a mile within the stretch between the Route 16 crossing and Delevan is marked by "Public Fishing" signs, and much of the rest of the stream may be accessed by asking permission of adjacent property owners.
Because of its brushy, narrow contours, Lime Lake Outlet is ideally suited to bait fishing, but expert spin-casters will also do well. Fly-rodders will find some room to rollcast along the stream, but most are bound to be frustrated in most sections.
A 9-inch minimum creel length is in force on the outlet, in an effort to boost the average size of its rainbows.
Newcomers can find Lime Lake Outlet by taking Route 16 north from Olean through Franklinville and on into the hamlet of Lime Lake. From there to Delevan, the creek is generally in view from the road.
More than a few New York residents hold to the opinion that there are two kinds of trout fishing -- rainbow fishing, and everything else. These traditionalists wouldn't think of opening the New York trout season anywhere other than one of the Finger Lakes' tributaries that attract annual spring spawning runs of big, silvery rainbows.
In my opinion, the best of these streams is Naples Creek, which empties into the south end of Canandaigua Lake. Naples and its several prominent tributaries consistently produce 'bows of 2 to 8 pounds, and usually hold decent numbers of spawners at least until the end of April.
Best of all, it doesn't receive heavy fishing pressure after the first weekend of the season, and beginning in mid-April, I can count on having long stretches of the creek to myself.
Last year, I first tried the creek on April 9 and was surprised at the scarcity of cars in the various parking areas for anglers. I fished upstream all the way from the mouth of Grimes Creek to the crossing at Eelpot Road -- a distance of well over a mile -- without seeing one other fisherman.
Conditions were difficult, with low, clear water and bright sunshine. Yet I caught three respectable fish between 15 and 17 inches long. I also spotted several fish that appeared to be 20-inchers at least, hiding among deadfalls and other cover.
Patience is a major advantage for Finger Lakes tributary anglers, especially during the season's first week or so when the water is chilled with snowmelt and most trout have yet to spawn. Until they propagate, lake-run 'bows aren't hungry and must be teased into striking.
Repetitive casts are necessary, and it's wise to give favorite holes 20 or 30 minutes each before you continue upstream. Once the trout have finished their reproductive chores, however, they quickly resume feeding and can be quite easy to entice.
Along with the abundant rainbows, Naples Creek holds a fair number of wild brown trout. Most of these are on the small side, but occasionally you will tie into a whopper. My personal-best brown from the creek is a 21-incher. I suspect it swam up the stream the previous autumn and found the deep pool where I caught it to be just right for a winter vacation.
Before trying Naples Creek, be sure to review the Finger Lakes tributaries rules in the state fishing regulations guide. In particular, note that the creel limit on Salmon Creek -- and other tributaries up to the first barrier impassable to spawning fish -- is three trout a day measuring 15 inches or better.
Another critical rule limits anglers to using single-hook lures only. Conservation officers patrolling Finger Lakes feeder streams do not look kindly on trebles, even if they're tucked away in a forgotten pocket.
Naples Creek flows through the village of Naples in Ontario County. Rochester-area anglers can find it by driving south from Canandaigua on Route 21, which overlooks the west shore of Canandaigua Lake. Although the mainstream is the most consistent producer of big rainbows, tributaries such as Grimes Creek, Tannery Creek and Eelpot Creek are well worth trying, too, especially after heavy rains have muddied their currents.
Two streams in one, Salmon Creek in Cayuga County is transformed by a high waterfall in the hamlet of Ludlowville. Below the fa
lls, it's a spawning stream for Cayuga Lake trout and salmon. Above Ludlowville, all the way upstream to its headwaters north of Genoa, it's a fine fishery for wild and stocked brown trout.
Anglers who get to know Salmon Creek can mine its last mile or so for 3- to 6-pound rainbows in spring and for lake-run browns and landlocked Atlantics in October and November.
From late April through the summer, the creek's upper end is noted for its stream-bred browns, many of which measure more than 15 inches.
In the mile-long piece of water between the Ludlowville falls and the mouth of the creek, early-season anglers will often find themselves casting to rainbow trout that are plainly visible against a backdrop of smooth slate or light-colored gravel.
The creek muddies quickly after a spring shower, but clears rapidly as well. The transparent water snakes around large boulders and glides over long, slippery slices of bedrock.
Anywhere you can't easily glimpse the bottom is a likely haven for a big spawner. But don't be surprised to discover fresh-run rainbows in knee-deep riffles or tail-outs. 'Bows in the 18- to 24-inch range often hide among the schools of white suckers that run the stream in April.
The lower section of Salmon Creek can be reached by heading north from Ithaca on Route 34 to South Lansing. Once there, bear left onto Route 34B. The first right off that road takes you into Ludlowville. Parking lots for anglers and public fishing areas are clearly marked.
Before you wet a line, give your regulations guidebook a quick review. The Finger Lakes tributary regulations mentioned above, under the Naples Creek heading, also apply to this stretch of Salmon Creek.
Above the Ludlowville falls, standard trout regulations are in force, but the angling opportunities are anything but routine. State hatchery crews stock Salmon Creek and its main tributary, Little Salmon Creek, with about 4,000 brown trout per year, and many of those fish hold over from one season to the next. In some of the deep pools above and below the Cayuga County village of Genoa lurk browns in the 20-inch class.
To get in the neighborhood of such fish, either head north on Salmon Creek Road from Ludlowville or go south from Auburn on Route 34. Between Scipio Center and Genoa, a dozen side roads cross the creek.
There's intermittent public fishing access in the section of the creek above Ludlowville, but don't be afraid to expand your horizons by politely asking private landowners for permission to fish.
In the mid-1990s, state sampling crews discovered marginally high levels of a suspected cancer-causing class of chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls -- PCBs -- in the flesh of trout living in Skaneateles Creek.
That finding, and the ensuing state health advisory about eating fish from the stream, led to a 10.2-mile-long catch-and-release or "no kill" fishing zone being established between Old Seneca Turnpike in the Onondaga County village of Skaneateles and the Jordan Road bridge crossing in the village of Jordan.
Though controversial at first, the no-kill area has proven to be one of the better places in the Syracuse area to catch wild browns and both wild and stocked rainbow trout. Early-season prospects vary considerably from year to year, however, because the narrow creek is the outlet for Skaneateles Lake, which is 315 feet deep and covers almost 9,000 surface acres.
After a harsh winter and heavy snowfalls, the creek may not recede to a good fishing level until the third or fourth week of April. On the other hand, if winter makes an early exit from central New York, Skaneateles Creek may afford excellent opening-day action. More than once I've caught good fish there on April Fool's Day by drifting artificial nymphs through the deep pools in and above Jordan.
On the no-kill section of the creek, ingle-hook lures and flies are the only legal options, and all the trout you catch must be quickly returned to the water after landing them. Hendrickson and Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear nymphs are deadly on this stream, particularly when fished with one or two BB-size split shot on the leader.
Bait-fishing is permitted from the Route 31 bridge in Jordan downstream to the creek's confluence with the Seneca River. And every season, some very nice browns are caught under the low dam behind the Jordan Post Office. Below that dam, be prepared for an occasional piscatorial surprise in the form of a northern pike or walleye. Now and then, one of these warmwater species swims out of the river and up the creek after a spring freshet.
Skaneateles Creek is paralleled by Jordan Road as it flows north out of Skaneateles. It crosses under Route 5 in Elbridge and then winds within sight of a partially abandoned highway, Route 31C.
To approach the abandoned part of the Route 31C stretch, which is perhaps the prettiest water on the creek, take Route 5 east into Elbridge and turn left at the stoplight to continue north on Jordan Road.
Much of Skaneateles Creek winds through pleasant villages. I suspect that's one reason the stream is lightly pressured compared to many other western New York waters. Some anglers are put off by its suburban feel.
However, you'll encounter few posted signs along the creek. And most of the residents in Jordan and Elbridge seem to enjoy watching polite anglers in their back yards hooking 10- to 15-inch trout.
Having fished it since I was too small to wear hip boots and my Dad had to carry me on his back across its side channels, I feel hesitant to tell the rest of the world what a special place Ninemile Creek is.
Still my home water, Ninemile begins at the Otisco Lake outlet dam in southern Onondaga County and ends where it flows into Onondaga Lake on the outskirts of Syracuse. The entire creek, except for its last several hundred yards, supports wild trout and many thousands of stockers and holdovers. But the prime reaches are from Marcellus Falls north through the village of Camillus.
Everyone in the central part of the state seems to know it, too. On April 1, opening day, it's not unusual to count 100 or more anglers' cars from the falls downstream.
Ninemile is seeded generously -- some might say too generously -- with more than 20,000 trout annually by the Onondaga County-owned Carpenter's Brook Fish Hatchery. Some 80 to 90 percent of those fish are browns; and, perhaps one-fourth of the browns are plump 2-year-olds.
Yet from June 15 through the end of the season in mid-October, I guarantee that at least two-thirds of the trout you catch in Ninemile Creek will be wild. The pressure is simply too much for most of the stockers to last the spring.
Ninemile has also acquired a bit of reputation for rainbow trout. Last season, I caught 'bows up to 13 inches long in the creek, and the year before that, I reeled in a 20-incher.
Amazingly enough, these sleek, high-jumping trout seem to be of natural origin, with vibrant colors and perfectly formed fins that put their hatchery cousins to shame.
State biologists don't know where they came from, but suspect they migrated out of Seneca Lake or Cayuga Lake into the Seneca River, swam east to the Onondaga Lake outlet, then entered the lake and finally shot up Ninemile Creek. My 20-incher, which had spawned before I captured it in April 2005, looked remarkably like a wild Finger Lakes rainbow.
In any case, the presence of these silversides makes Ninemile even more desirable to trout fishers.
The creek parallels Route 174 from Otisco Lake through the towns of Marcellus and Camillus before veering north toward Amboy and Onondaga Lake. Early in the season, fishing for stocked trout is very good south of the village of Marcellus. But after early June, the better water by far will be found from the vicinity of Marcellus Falls down to Camillus, where a series of large limestone springs infuse the creek with cold water all summer long.
Early-season fishing in Ninemile Creek can be productive with live bait or artificial nymphs, depending on water level and clarity. In April of 2006, fly-fishing was better than usual because heavy hatches of tiny black stoneflies (Capnia gracilaria, matched by No. 16 nymph and dry patterns) caused resident fish to strap on their feedbags. At month's end, excellent midge hatches triggered some surface feeding in the flat water upstream from Camillus, too.
Ninemile Creek is about 10 minutes from downtown Syracuse. Take Route 690 west to Route 5, turn left off the Camillus-Marcellus exit ramp. Turn right at the stoplight and then take a quick left onto Route 174.
For more information on trout-fishing opportunities in western New York, contact the DEC's field offices in Region 9 at (716) 372-0645, Region 8 at (585) 226-2466, or Region 7 at (315) 607-7053.
Think you need help finding lodging and other amenities while visiting the streams mentioned above? Just contact the state Tourism Department at 1-800-I-LOVE-NY, and ask for brochures on Cattaraugus, Ontario, Cayuga and Onondaga counties.