Brown trout come big in N.Y. stream
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Thursday, 24 November 2005 11:39

I've been lucky enough to fish some of the top brown trout waters in the world. New Zealand offers the best chance to catch a brown bigger than five pounds on a dry fly. And in Chile, it's almost scary to watch yard-long shadows streak from behind underwater rocks to grab a streamer.

But most famous brown trout waters cost a lot of money to get to, and sometimes it costs a lot to get permission to fish them.

That's why for numbers, size of the fish, cost and access, this village boasts one of the best brown trout streams in the world for a few weeks each fall -- and it's barely a four-hour drive from Detroit.

After paying two bucks at the parking area, I ambled along the banks of 18-Mile Creek toward the pool at the base of the dam. In 20 minutes, I counted 56 anglers playing brown trout, steelhead or chinook salmon.

When I mentioned it to Mark Nowicki of Tonawanda, N.Y., he grinned and said, "Make that 57," as a big brown grabbed his spawn sack drifting below a clear, European-style float.

He worked the fish in close enough to see that it would go six to seven pounds, then it spat out the hook. But a lost fish that would have triggered a spate of cursing in most places only earned a shrug and the comment, "There's more where that one came from."

Dave Niethe, a Lake Ontario charter captain and fishing guide, lives in nearby Olcott, a village on Lake Ontario at the mouth of 18-Mile Creek. He was fishing for big brown trout.

"I really love this river," he said. "I'll fish 100 days here every fall and winter. The biggest brown I caught this year was 24 pounds, but we get a lot of 10- to 15-pounders. What I'm really looking forward to is the coho run. There are a few in now, but they'll really get thick in December. To me, a great day is when you can catch browns, steelhead and cohos one after the other."

This isn't wilderness angling by any stretch. The concrete supports of a long-vanished bridge are covered with colorful graffiti, and I counted 21 anglers in a 75-yard stretch around the pool below the dam.

Most were using eight- to 10-foot spinning or fly rods and suspending the lure beneath a float, but about 20% had 12- to 14-foot rods with center-pin reels. Center-pins look like large fly reels, but they revolve so easily that when a float is cast into the water, it takes line off the spool effortlessly and the lure or bait moves through the water virtually drag-free.

"A center-pin will out-fish a spinning rod three-to-one in current like this," said Ken Smith of Salamanca, N.Y., as he landed a six-pound brown, the 16th fish he had hooked that day. "I bought a center-pin last year, and it made a big difference when you're fishing current, like here."

The most popular lure was a spawn bag with three or four salmon eggs, but many anglers seemed to do well with orange or chartreuse egg flies and cream-colored nymph and egg patterns that looked like bits of salmon flesh.

Mike Wilkinson of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said a number of Lake Ontario streams have developed runs of big brown trout. Eighteen-Mile Creek gets a stocking of about 20,000 a year. The fish imprint on the stream before dropping down to Lake Ontario, where they find a huge food supply for the three to five years it takes them to reach sexual maturity.

"They really seem to do well in a situation where they can go to the big lake and then return to spawn in the stream where we planted them," Wilkinson said.

The Slippery Sinker tackle shop in Olcott is a clearinghouse for local fishing information, and owner Wes Walker said brown trout angling on 18-Mile Creek usually is good "through the second week of December, although you normally catch some browns right into February. The cohos are usually in by the first week in December, and they can be as thick as the browns.

"But it all depends on water flow. If we get good flow, we get good numbers of fish. That's why we're always doing rain dances around here."

Kevin Babus of Roxbury, N.J., and Glenn Gruen of Milford, Pa., have been coming to the creek each fall for 15 years.

"I don't know any place like it for browns," Babus said. "We've seen good years and bad, but that's because the fish aren't on a schedule like we are. We have to plan a vacation in advance and hope the fish are here when we come. But if you hit the run right, it's hard to describe."

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