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Western NY State Steelhead

Finally brought to a boil something that’s been simmering for a long time.  I’d researched Cattaraugus River steelhead fishing after a friend from PA emailed his experiences there to me a few years back.  It’s one of the chief breeding rivers for steelhead coming up from Lake Erie.  There are many “tribs” as the locals refer to tributaries.  All of them hold steelhead too.  Peak time is late fall, so, I booked a flight to Buffalo the second week of November.  Two days before my arrival, three inches of rain fell on the region, blowing out the Catt and all of the tribs.  The stream beds there have a high clay content and when it gets stirred up, the water turns chalky.  A local Orvis guide told me that the smaller tribs clear fast, so I went anyway.  I sure am glad I did.

The first day, I went to the Orvis shop near Buffalo to get up to speed on the fishing. The word was, “go to the Niagara.” It was huge and fast, but steelhead, king salmon, brown trout and lake trout were holding to the shorelines.  The hike in was steep and treacherous.  You could hear the river long before you got there.  Weighted wooly buggers and egg imitations were the recipe for success, so I was well-outfitted.  On the way in, I met a fisherman coming out.  His Hardy 11′ switch rod had been broken in the mid-section by a fish!  He said it was probably a king.  “He got out in the current and headed for Canada,” he said, “and that was that.”

Within half an hour, I was to learn exactly what that’s like.  The rod didn’t break, but the leader did–10 lb Maxima Chameleon.  I’d never felt such force on a fly rod.  Just before breaking off, this king salmon jumped to show me what I was up against.  I estimated his weight at 25-30 lb.  I even tried the ancient trick of putting the entire fly rod underwater to relieve stress and help turn the fish.  Nothing doing.

I felt better about things in general after landing a 5-6 lb brown trout, as pretty a fish as I’ve ever seen.  The feeling was short-lived, as another king took my fly and headed for heavy water.  This time, I prepared myself for the same outcome, and it all happened again.  I watched shooting head, running line, and backing disappear at breakneck speed until, “Bang!” and he was gone.  Still, of all the things I might’ve been doing that day, this had to be one of the better choices.  On the way back to the hotel, I called the Orvis guys to thank them for the good advice.

One of the smaller tribs had cleared en0ugh to fish the following day.  In four hours, Walnut Creek gave up four steelhead to a newbie who knew next to nothing.  Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters guide Rick Fisher steered me ar0und, jibed and joked to lighten the mood when I made rookie mistakes, and was there to photograph my first-ever steelhead.  He also set me up to fish on my own for the rest of my stay.  Can’t say enough about CCO!