Trying to get an accurate fishing report out of western New York for specific Lake Ontario tributaries can be difficult. New York’s Department of Environmental (“NY DEC”) Conservation offers a western New York fishing hotline and that is probably the most consistent place I’ve found to get up-to-date information. Otherwise, when wanting to fish water like 18 Mile Creek near Newfane, I’ve learned to guage fishing by following the Burt Dam Facebook page. The more frequent the posts of fish pics, the better the fishing. This past week the NY DEC report was saying that the salmon had all turned to post-spawn zombies and the steelhead and brown trout were in the Lake Ontrario tributaries in good numbers. I made up my mind on Thursday night that I was going to take one last shot at hitting my goal of landing a trophy lake-run brown trout before giving in to the coming winter.
Early Saturday morning I had my truck packed and I hit the road for 18 Mile Creek in Newfane, New York. I was looking forward to getting back to 18 Mile Creek because although it was crowded on my first trip back in October, it had a certain aura about it that made it memborable. I arrived at the Burt Dam Fishermen’s Park around 7:00am. To my surprise and delight, there were only a dozen cars in the lot. Then I remembered that my buddy Mike had mentioned that Saturday was the first day of gun season for whitetail deer in New York. So there’s a tip for all you folks looking for a time to fish New York tributaries when they’re not crowded. After I got geared up I headed down to the path that leads down to the trestle bridge. 18 Mile Creek was low and semi-clear, even lower than when I’d visited back in October. Most of the fishermen were congregated at the run under the trestle bridge, and the rest were scattered at the base of the dam. I decided to start fishing in the run that starts below the flats about 100 yards above the trestle bridge.
When I started fishing the air temps were around 55 degrees. Because I had no interest in targeting zombie salmon, I had set-up my rod to give me the best chance of catching a brown trout. I used a 3X 9.5ft fluorocarbon leader tipped with 3X fluorocarbon tippet. I decided to stay away from egg patterns and instead use a standard Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph tied to a size 14 hook. I thought a smaller fly with natural colors would be a better fit for the low water conditions. I decided to fish with a small indicator as well. On my second drift through the run something stopped my indicator and I set the hook. I suddenly had a good fight on my hands. I saw a trout race out of the deeper water and then I saw a flash of pink and knew I had a good steelhead on my line. I fought this fish for a couple minutes and then he threw the hook. The fish sat in the riffle where he threw my line and I was able to get reset and cast again. On a new drift, he hit my fly. This time the hook up felt more solid and within a few minutes I had him in my net. He was my best steelhead of the season. I measured him with a tape and he was 20” long and probably weighed around 8lbs.
Thirty minutes later I heard splashing in the riffle behind me and turned around in time to see a fish swim up through some shallows and hold in a run. I waded upriver and with my polarized glasses could see a nice brown in the current. I placed a cast above him and when my fly got to him, he hit it. He took off upstream and gave a good fight. I was able to land him. I measured him in the net and he was about 20”. He wasn’t a heavy fish but I’d still consider him my first trophy lake-run brown trout.
No sooner had I released that fish and I saw a large fish swim into the run in front of me. I couldn’t make out what type of fish it was but I could see him well enough to get a fly in front of him. After several drifts, my indicator stopped and I set the hook. I watched a really good brown trout break the surface with a violent head shake and I realized this was the type of fish I’d been after. He had weight to him and when he started moving upstream, my reel knew it. My Frog’s Hair leader, which was designed for lake-run brown trout and steelhead, really peformed well. It had some elasticity to it so when the head shakes hit, it absorbed them well. I worked this fish carefully as I didn’t want to lose him and when I saw him in my net, I let out a sigh of relief. I’d wanted to catch one of these for months. I measured this fish at 24” in length and the digital scale put his weight in the net to 9.5lbs. After snapping a couple of pictures, I returned him to the creek and I probably would have been happy ending the day right there.
Of course I didn’t end the day there. I fished 18 Mile Creek until lunch time and after my morning action, things slowed down considerably. Except for some folks snagging zombie salmon, I didn’t see much happening anywhere. So at lunch I decided to do some exploring. I drove east to a small tributary named Johnson Creek. When I arrived the water levels were very low, but there was enough water to hold fish. I grabbed the fly rod and took an hour walk. I covered maybe a mile of creek in my walk and I came across four decent steelhead, none of which I could convince to take a fly. I also saw a small spawning salmon. There wasn’t much happening at Johnson Creek, but I can see how with higher flows, this creek could be a hidden gem for lake-run fish.
For the rest of the afternoon, I decided to drive further east to the Oak Orchard River. I arrived at the Waterport Dam around 2:30pm and the weather was drastically changing. The air temps had dropped almost 20 degrees, it was starting to rain, and the wind was gusting over 25mph. There were only five cars in the Waterport Dam parking lot and more were leaving when I arrived. I questioned my sanity as I put on my rain coat and rigged my fly rod. I figured the Oak might be somewhat protected from the wind because of the steep banks surrounding it. I also figured if there was ever a time to fish the Oak, it would be in this weather because it’s normally so packed. I spent the next couple of hours walking the river. I saw several post-spawn salmon on my walk, but not much in the way of anything else.
When I arrived at the Archery Hole, there were a large number of guys there and a group of club members had started a fire and were enjoying beers and staying warm. I watched a couple of guys hook up with steelhead while I watched. I also watched a guy with a spey rod trying to entice a couple of smaller browns that were feeding on eggs below two salmon, but he didn’t have any luck. I was really disappointed in the Oak, there were not many fish and I decided around 4:00pm to head back to my truck as another fisherman told me they were now forecasting several inches of snow for that evening. When I got back up to the top of the lot, it was surreal to see the sunset breaking between clouds in the distance as the rest of the sky was covered with dark gray winter clouds. I had a smile on my face because I found my trophy lake-run brown trout and New York had given me a lot of great memories during the autumn of 2016. With snow showers starting to come down I got my gear put away and started my drive back home.