Top Ten Finger Lakes Trout Streams

A brown trout caught (and released) in Grout Brook. Photo by J. Michael Kelly
Excerpted from Trout Streams of Central New York
by J. Michael Kelly.

 New York can justly lay claim to having some of the world’s best trout streams flowing within its borders, and at least a couple of those fishing holes are located in the Finger Lakes Region. Would you believe that the trout fishing around here is so good that the majority of anglers who frequent them no longer feel the need to exaggerate their catches?

Me, neither. There’s something compulsive about catching a big one and then fudging on the facts afterward.

Yet the fishing (and catching) in these parts is world-class by any standards, especially during the first month or two of New York’s annual trout season. That’s when rainbow trout as thick as fire hydrants fill certain Finger Lakes tributaries on the way to their spawning grounds, and wild brown and brook trout start sipping mayflies from stream surfaces.

Over the years, skilled anglers develop a sense of when the trout will bite, and where. Just for fun, they might even make lists of the better streams in the Finger Lakes region. My contribution, “The Finger Lakes Top Ten Trout Streams,” begins with a heavily fished creek that’s within a 15-minute drive from downtown Syracuse.

1. Nine Mile Creek, my chart-topper, is the outlet of Otisco Lake, the easternmost body of water in the Finger Lakes chain. Stocked with more than 20,000 trout a year, it fishes best between Marcellus Falls and Camillus, in southern Onondaga County. Most of the trout caught here are brown trout, including many wild ones that run between 12 and 16 inches, plus a few genuine monsters that should be weighed instead of measured. Nine Mile also holds some impressive tiger muskellunge. These 20-pound brutes swim over the Otisco dam and keep going downstream until something much bigger than they are yells “stop.”

2. Close to Nine Mile in terms of its overall fishing quality is Chittenango Creek, which journeys northward through Madison and Onondaga counties before spilling into Oneida Lake near Bridgeport. It is fished hard by anglers north and south of U.S. Route 20, but I love the pocket water along Route 13,  downstream of Chittenango Falls State Park. It is stuffed with wild and stocked brown trout and provides dry fly anglers with countless chances to take them on the top.

3. Having arrived at stream number three, I feel obliged to whisper to one all that they must try Factory Brook, but with a great deal of caution. I say that because the stream flowing under Route 41 in the Cortland County village of Homer has been hurting lately due mainly to drought. Yet I have caught a couple of 20-inch brown trout in the last couple of years, and plenty of brook trout, too. All of the trout that swim in this 15-foot-wide stream are wild. They go crazy in late May when the sulfur-colored mayflies are hatching.

4. Owasco Inlet, the deep, rural creek that flows north from Groton through Locke and Moravia in Tompkins and Cayuga counties has a fairly heavy run of rainbows from Owasco Lake in April, followed by some great fishing for brown trout the rest  of the season. The Inlet has approximately 14 miles of public fishing rights along its banks.

5. Catharine Creek is number five on my trout top hit list, and famous around the world for its spring rainbow run. Rainbows weighing up to 10 or 12 pounds run all the way to the creek’s headwaters near Pine Valley in Chemung County, and these trout hit worms, minnows, salmon eggs and artificial nymphs.  Angler behavior used to be a turn-off on “Queen Catharine,” but the observance of stream etiquette has been much improved in recent seasons. The creek flows into Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen and is closely paralleled by Route 14 for most of its length.

6. Sort of a condensed version of Catharine Creek, Naples Creek makes this list by virtue of its all-around excellence. Rainbow runs have been increasing in recent years due to tighter fishing regulations, and anglers who used to keep everything they caught now are more inclined to catch and release. Some guys even say good-by to the whoppers, which in this creek can weigh between 8 and 9 pounds. Surprisingly, Naples Creek isn’t nearly as crowded as Catharine, these days. Located in the village of Naples at the south end of Canandaigua Lake, this 10- to 30-feet-wide stream is worthy of more attention than it gets from trout fishers.

7. If this article ranked fishy-looking waterfalls, it would be a winner-take-all affair, because Ithaca Falls is in a class by itself, among shutterbugs. The falls is near the downstream end of Fall Creek, which happens to be within easy walking distance of Ithaca High School and Cornell University. Best of all, the giant pool at the base of the falls is loaded with trout in the spring – mostly rainbows and a few bonus browns. Ten-pounders are rare, yet not implausible. The falls pool is perfectly suited for casting streamer flies with 9-foot fly rods and weight-forward lines.

8. Skaneateles Creek is the outlet of Skaneateles Lake, and, due to some unusual circumstances, is definitely under-fished throughout the season.   After making a quick run under U.S. Route 20 in the picturesque village of Skaneateles, the stream proceeds north through the hamlet of Mottville and then makes numerous bends through Elbridge and Jordan before emptying into the Seneca River. Since the 1990s, the creek has been contaminated by PCBs, which are used most notably for insulating electrical power transformers. Although the contaminants are found in soils adjacent to Skaneateles Creek, conservationist-anglers and key DEC officials determined eating the fish was not a healthy practice, and a 10.2-mile stretch of between Old Seneca Turnpike and the Bennett Bolt factory in Jordan was declared a catch-and-release fishing area in which anglers are permitted to use artificial flies and spinning lures, but no live bait. The creek’s finest fishing is in this stretch, where all caught fish must be set free immediately after they are landed. The creek’s best  fishing comes in early May, when Hendrickson mayflies are hatching. Wild browns of 12-15 inches and slightly smaller wild and stocked rainbows are fun to play with when the aquatic insects are cavorting on the surface.

9. Number nine on my Finger Lakes trout stream rankings, Grout Brook is one of the better rainbow spawning grounds in the region, and also holds surprising numbers of wild brown trout, including a few between 18 and 22 inches long. Only 10- to 15-feet wide, this brook doesn’t look like an April-through December hotspot, but is exactly that.  It is located at the south end of Skaneateles Lake, and it runs through the tiny hamlet of Scott before making a sharp turn and heading due north along lower Glenhaven Road. Check the special regulations pertaining to Finger Lakes tributaries before you get into fish, since the brook is actively patrolled by regional state conservation officers.

10. Last to list but arguably as good or better than several other creeks that squeeze it out of contention is Mill Creek, a marvelous brown trout stream which is southwest of Naples in Steuben and Livingston counties. You can find it easily by taking Route 21 south from Naples.  After driving through Wayland you will notice the Gunlocke furniture factory on your left.  Take your next right, just before the entrance ramp onto the Genesee Parkway (Route 390). Fishing is good for 8- to 12-inch browns with beautifully colored flanks, from the unofficial access where the creek slips under Michigan Road to the gorge which takes Mill Creek through the tiny communities of Patchinville and Perkinsville.  Be forewarned that this is clear, mostly flat water populated by 100-percent-wild browns. You can catch them readily after a heavy rain, using live bait or weighed artificial nymphs, but there will be many other occasions when these super-wary trout say “no” to everything you offer.

Trout Streams of Central New York
J. Michael Kelly
Burford Books

J. Michael Kelly was a writer for 36 years at The Syracuse Newspapers, including the last 16 as the outdoors columnist for the Syracuse Post-Standard. Kelly has contributed thousands of articles to outdoors publications and won numerous first-place awards from the New York State Outdoor Writers Association. His earlier title, Fishing the Finger Lakes, was reviewed in the magazine’s Summer 2014 Book Look.

In this guide Kelly combines his lifelong trout fishing experiences with an engaging   writing style.  A resident of Marcellus, the author presents in-depth information on what he refers to as the “forgotten” trout waters found in 18 of New York’s central counties. These waters offer trout anglers comparable fishing experiences to those available at the more widely known creeks and streams of the Catskills or the Adirondacks regions of New York. In Part One of this book the “under-appreciated” trout fishing locales of the Central New York region is divided into three geographical groupings: “South of the Flower City,” or the Rochester area; “Trout in the Heartland” which focuses on the Syracuse area streams; and “Trout Waters of the Southern Tier” covering counties close to the Pennsylvania border.  In total, 100 trout streams and rivers are presented with starred ratings, noteworthy information specific to each locale, along with the best time to fish there.   

Part Two of this handy and detailed resource offers helpful suggestions to a trout fisherman wherever he casts his line. The reader will learn more about fly selection, hatch-making, lures and techniques for spin-fishing and bait-fishing, among other topics.  One chapter, Trout-Fishing Manners and Ethics, deals with “commonsense” trout-fishing etiquette and acceptable behavior for the trout angler.

The book is indexed and well-illustrated with maps, as well as black and white photographs of many specific locations, and two full-color pages of effective flies for Central New York trout streams.


  • I enjoyed this article very much. I’m going to visit the Watkins Glen area for a few days with my kids and I am trying to figure out what streams and brooks I can fish – even for tiny brook trout. It’s very difficult to learn what’s allowed and where even a few fish are. Usually, it’s trial and error when I travel and some luck. *I can’t even figure out if you can fish the waterfall creeks up that way. There’s no internet language that I can find. Watkins Glen, Shequaga Creek, Montour Falls…pools downstream from falls my way all have small brookies. But I can’t find any literature here. Your article was great and a educational. Thank you!

    • Mark Stash says:

      Scott, thank you for your wonderful comments! We really strive to bring pertinent information about all things that are “Finger Lakes” to readers. Another source of information that may help you is through the New York Department of Conservation (NYDEC).

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