Fly Fishing in the Finger Lakes

As my fly slowly drifted downstream, I could only imagine what it would feel like for a trout to slurp it down, sending the tip of my fly rod on a trembling frenzy. I had been a novice fly fisherman for almost a year and had yet to land a trout. I wasn’t looking for a monster to mount on the wall, just a tug on the line, any tug.

Fly fishing had been something I wanted to try since college. My trips home to Long Island brought me through the Catskills, down Route 17 over the east and west branches of the Delaware River, the Beaverkill River and Willowemec Creek. Fishermen stood waste deep in the water, waving their fly rods in long delicate arcs, as I drove to a place far from peace and solitude just miles outside New York City.

It wasn’t until last spring that I decided to act on it, purchasing my fly rod outfit, a pair of waders and some wading shoes. How hard could this be? I thought. I was fairly successful as a fisherman with spinning tackle. One year and 4,657 knots in my line later, I discovered how hard it really was.

Then one day it happened. Standing knee deep in Spring Brook in Caledonia on a cool March morning, my fly was drifting downstream as it had hundreds of times over the past year. This time, however, was different. I had managed to convince a respect­able brown trout that my offering was in fact a meal and not a jerk on the other end of a line. My rod twitched feverishly as my new best friend and I danced. After a brief tango, I landed the trout gently in my net, admired its beauty, then sent it back to the deep cold pool in Spring Brook. What was a minor inconvenience for this trout ended up being one of my life’s highlights.

The quest for my first fish brought me to some of the Finger Lakes’ best trout fisheries and beyond. The Cohocton River in Steuben County is a treasure of the Finger Lakes, which is often overlooked for the more legendary waters of the Catskills. Fishermen in search of great fly water, reminiscent of the movie “A River Runs Through It,” are more likely to look out West as opposed to the Finger Lakes region. The area, however, contains some fine trout fishing, as well as neighboring some world-class fishing destinations, such as the Salmon River on the eastern shores of Lake Ontario.

The head waters of the Cohocton begin their journey south in southern Livingston County, however the primary trout waters begin near the village of Atlanta with some opportunities for brook trout. As you travel south through Cohocton, the river becomes prime brown trout habitat south through Bath. Each year, the NYSDEC stocks over 10,000 brown trout in the river and in­cludes a significant number of two-year-old fish. There is also a substantial holdover population of fish, as well as naturally reproduced trout, adding to the quality of this fishery. Below the village of Bath, the Cohocton is primarily a warm-water fishery.

The Finger Lakes host quite a few quality trout streams, including Cayuta Creek, Canaseraga Creek, Catherine Creek, Fall Creek and Naples Creek. Many of the tributaries that feed the Finger Lakes directly host some fantastic runs of trout during the spring and fall.

The Finger Lakes are overflowing with opportunities for still-water fly fishermen in search of species other than trout. Lakes and ponds of all sizes dot the landscape and are filled with bass, northern pike and panfish. Fly fishing for bass is an exhilarating opportunity for explosive top-water strikes which make grown men giggle like children. Honeoye Lake on a warm summer evening is a prime spot for targeting bass with a fly rod.

I am writing this article out of my absolute love of fly fishing. However, I am certainly not an expert on local hotspots. There are several excellent publications and websites on this area’s fly fishing opportunities. The best resource is to visit the nearest fly shop to where you want to fish. Your local chapter of Trout Unlimited is another excellent source of information as well as an opportunity to meet some great people and potential fishing partners. The Trout Unlimited national website is www.tu.org.


by Steve Chesler
Steve Chesler lives in Canandaigua with his wife Sue and two children, Sarah, 5, and Cade, 18 months. He has a professional photography studio in Canandaigua. For more information visit www.cheslerphoto.com.