Low Water and Managing Tributary Crowds


It’s no secret that angling pressure ramps up in October and November.  Thousands of salmon and trout bring in a thousands of fisherman.  Recently, two friends counted 35 cars at the Sandy Creek/Route 19 Bridge.  The other day, I counted 8 cars at a tiny, 12′ wide creek well East of Rochester.  Yesterday, I counted dozens of cars parked along Oak Orchard.  There must have been at least a hundred fisherman from the Archery Hole to the lower island.  In many cases, there was a mere 20′ separating each angler.  In other cases, friends fished side by side.  Ironically,  anglers commented that on Oak Orchard, the pressure had substantially lessened since the morning rush.

These places are popular because of the density of fish.  In most of our tributaries, low water conditions are sandwiching fish together.  Heavy water and lots of rain disperse fish.  Our lack of rain in WNY has compacted fish, with many still remaining in the estuaries.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn most cases the small creeks are too skinny and larger systems are more reliable.  We’ve all got the basic choice, to fish or not to fish.  It’s not ideal, but it is what it is.  It’s easy to complain about the crowds, out of staters, snagged fish, increased trash, lack of privacy/serenity, etc.  You won’t get any argument from me, that some of our tributaries are being loved to death.  However, when all is said and done, I still choose to fish.

Like many fellow fisherman, it’s my passion.  Add this affinity for chasing fins and the fact that there’s tremendous fishing, and it’s tough to pass up.  Water temps are reasonably warm, the fish are still active and you find an odd fish that’s willing to move to inhale a streamer/swung fly.  Besides, I’m averse to letting increased crowds color my fishing experience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy last trip was more of a scouting expedition.  First, I checked out 3 small creeks to see if our latest rain changed things.  I spied fish in the lower portions on 2 of the 3 creeks.  A few darker salmon and some browns, were milling about in deeper holes.  They are waiting for more water.  At one of the creeks, I decided to fish and drifted an oversized egg pattern towards a female brown.  Attempting to target the brown, I accidentally hooked a salmon.  Luckily, I was able to tip top unbutton that mistaken hook up.  The salmon moved downstream and a few casts later, the brown tipped downward to gently inhale the egg pattern.  It was a nice 5 lb fish and not a bad way to start the day.  There were more fish compacted together, but that one fish was enough to sate me for that creek. Upstream, there were several salmon and paired browns trying to spawn in the riffle, with their backs well out of water.  Due to the low water and nowhere to run, it wasn’t much sport targeting them.  Despite seeing plenty of fish, I didn’t have the heart to chase them in those skinny conditions.  Low water makes these beautiful tributary fish look like goldfish in a fishbowl!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext, I checked out the scene at a larger system, West of Rochester.  I didn’t quite count 35 cars at the bridge, but there were plenty.  It was enough just to take a few pictures of the line of anglers plying a run.  Finally, I ended up at Oak Orchard River.  Generally, I make it a rule of thumb not to fish the Oak until after Thanksgiving.  I know that I’m missing out on stellar fishing, but I also manage to miss the crowds.  To my surprise, I didn’t have to pay for parking and actually located a public parking spot.  It was nearly noon and several out of state cars were packing up to head home.  Reports from departing anglers indicated that it was a slower morning.  I walked down the trail and observed the scene.  Over the next hour and a half, I chatted with spin fisherman, center pinners and fly fisherman.  Despite the quantity of anglers, only a few were hooking up.  I sat on the bank and enjoyed surveying the scene.  There were plenty of salmon carcasses in the shallow water, gulls feeding on scraps and plenty of fishing being done.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeveral friendly center pinners from Toronto were camped out on an especially productive run.  There were 4 of them and every fifteen minutes, one might hook up.  One came over and after some sharing of notes/info, I suggested that he might consider a jig, instead of a bead.  Minutes later, he was hooked up.  In return, he encouraged me to swing a fly through their run.  I’d already squandered enough of my precious fishing time exploring or talking with anglers.  It was time to fish!  I obliged and cast a 4″ oversized spandex/hackle brown bugger into the melee of water being plied.  Around my 10th cast, a nice female brown gulped my swinging streamer.  She put up a nice fight and it was fun to yield all the questions from fellow anglers about my pattern.  Curiously, it was one of the larger browns, fair hooked and landed during my time on the Oak.  It’s circumstantial, but throwing that larger fly might have been the trigger.  It was different than all the other offerings and just enough to aggravate a predatory response from the brown.  I fished for another ten minutes and didn’t manage another hook up, despite changing to 3 other streamer patterns.  Two fish for the day wasn’t stellar, but I didn’t really pay my dues fishing for several hours.  It was more of a chance to get outside, scout around and catch up with the fishing scene.  I also managed to pick up a net full of bottles and cans that were stream side trash.

My hunch is that we’ll still be treated to quality angling over the next two months.  The crowds will gradually thin out each week.  There’s also plenty of tributary time to fish between now and early May, 2014.  If you have to fish, grin and bear it with the crowds.  Extend some friendship and hospitality on behalf of WNY.   Share a little knowledge, help pick up track and let’s all get along on the river.  Rare is the angler that heads to the stream, looking for a conflict.  Let’s all try to leave the water a little better off, or kinder than when we found it.  Lastly, consider throwing something a little different.  On heavily fished systems, these fish are repeatedly exposed to particular patterns.  Sometimes these local fish like a change of diet!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Craig Dennison

This is Craig and I host Fly Fisher's Workshop. My fly fishing experiences include plenty of travel (Montana/Florida/North Carolina/Maine) and a few years part time guiding for trout. While I primarily target trout and steelhead, I still manage to chase warm water species and enjoy chasing stripers and bluefish. I'm a 3rd generation fly fisher trying to share the passion with my two sons!

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