The Brown Trout Buffet on Ninemile Creek

Heading into Memorial Day weekend I had my sites set on traveling across the border into Canada to fly fish the Grand River. I had all my planning done and was ready to roll and then Friday afternoon I called Grand River Outfitting & Fly Shop. I found out that water levels on the Grand River had been raised due to high water in the reservoir and in five minutes my weekend plans had to change. Fortunately I had a Plan B ready to put into action. Plan B consisted to heading to New York to fish Ninemile Creek, just east of Syracuse. Ninemile Creek is a 22-mile tailwater that begins at the Otisco Lake and runs east to the Onondaga Lake. Within these 22 miles of water, there are approximately 5 miles of accessible water with Public Fishing Rights (“PFR’s”). The stream intrigued me because it has a wild population of brown and brook trout, but is also heavily stocked by the Carpenter Brook Fish Hatchery. This hatchery puts a lot of fish in the river. I’ve read numbers from 18,000, all the way up to 24,000 annually. I figured if I headed here there was a good chance I could get into some fish.

Early Saturday morning I headed north on Rt. 81 towards New York. It was a strangely familiar drive as I’d made the trek on multiple occasions during the fall to fish for salmon in Pulaski. In doing my research, I had decided to start fishing Ninemile Creek near the town of Camillus. Although The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) map showed a Catch & Release Special Regulations section, but access didn’t look easy. I decided to fish one of the clearly marked PFR areas off of State Rt. 174. My GPS landed me at the marked parking lot around 7:00AM. When I arrived it was drizzling. There was already one car in the dirt lot but there was plenty of water to fish so I wasn’t worried. I got geared up and headed down a small footpath to the creek. As I was walking, a young guy and girl with spin tackle came up the path. I asked them how the fishing was and they said terrible, didn’t catch a thing. When I got creek side, there was a beautiful run coming out from an old stone road bridge built into the side of the mountain.

 The first run I fished on Ninemile Creek.

The first run I fished on Ninemile Creek.

The water looked incredible. It looked as if the flows may have been a little high, but the water was generally clear. I started by fishing a brown Squirmy Wormy dropped off of a Lively Legz Hare’s Ear. I haven’t fished Lively Legz nymphs much because I use J:Son Nymph Legs from Sweden. However, someone had given me this one, so I figured I’d give it try. I used a 9’-5X leader with a foam football indicator and started casting my line into the run and dead drifting my two-fly rig. Almost immediately I started getting hits. Within the first ten minutes I’d caught a handful of small brown trout. They were taking both of my flies. It was difficult for me to tell if these smaller fish were stocked fingerlings or wild brown trout, but there were a lot of them.

 My first Ninemile Creek trout that took the Lively Legz Hare's Ear Nymph.

My first Ninemile Creek trout that took the Lively Legz Hare's Ear Nymph.

 Is this a wild or stocked trout? Let me know your opinion in the comments below.

Is this a wild or stocked trout? Let me know your opinion in the comments below.

I started working my way downstream and as I did I noticed that there was a lot of green vegetation on the creek bottom. At some point it hit me that this vegetation was reminiscent of the vegetation I see in some of the spring creeks in southeastern Pennsylvania, like Big Spring or the LeTort. And on those bodies of water, one of the key staples in a trout’s diet is the scud or freshwater shrimp. I made that connection and decided to tie on a tan scud pattern. As soon as I tied this fly on I was catching fish, a lot of them.

About 100 yards downstream of where I started I hooked into a large brown trout that took to the air after hitting my scud. I fought this fish for a good 20 second before it jumped a second time and threw the hook. I was disappointed not to land this fish. I worked my way downstream, catching small brown trout every so often until I got tired of whacking through the overgrown foliage and weeds on the bank. I hiked back out to my truck and sat down to have a sandwich for lunch.

 A beautiful riffle on Ninemile Creek.

A beautiful riffle on Ninemile Creek.

By lunchtime it had stopped raining and I decided to head to some of the other PFR access points on the NYSDEC map. I drove upstream to another lot off of Rt. 174. While getting my rod prepped I noticed a sign on a tree. The regulations specified that you were allowed to keep up to five trout in this section but that no more than two of them could exceed 12 inches in length. It was strange fishing in an all tackle body of water since almost all of the water I fish in Pennsylvania is either Delayed Harvest or Artificial Lures, Fly Fishing Only water. This section of Ninemile Creek was a long set of runs and riffles. The water looked incredible. Within the first few minutes of fishing I hooked into my two best fish of the day. Both were beautiful brown trout. One was definitely a stocked fish because of the short pectoral fins, but the other was either a healthy hold over or a wild brown trout. I worked my way downstream about 200 yards and caught a good number of small to medium sized brown trout. Again they all appeared to be a mix of stocked and wild fish, it truly was a brown trout buffet!

 This brown trout has all the classic markings of a wild trout.

This brown trout has all the classic markings of a wild trout.

After fishing this water I drove another mile or two upstream and found another well-marked public lot. Here the creek ran right next to the parking lot and wound upstream to a large rock formation that I’m sure is well known. On the lower half of this stretch I got into a couple of areas that were just loaded with medium sized wild brown trout. I must’ve caught a dozen out of one small 10-yard section. It was a lot of fun. I fished this section until it was late evening at which point I was exhausted and ready for dinner, a hot shower, and a hotel bed. I wrapped up fishing around 6:00PM and headed south to stay the night in Binghamton, New York. The following day I’d head to Roscoe, New York to fish the Beaverkill, and then to Scranton to fish the Lackawanna. Those are fish stories for another day.