Last Chance for Skinny Creek Steelies

Spider Rybaak

Little Sandy Creek is starting to emerge from winter’s blanket.
Oswego County is steelhead country. Fast water anglers from around the world come up for the rich veins of ironheads running the Salmon and Oswego Rivers autumn through spring. As exciting as tackling a spawn-minded steelie in big rapids is, however, anyone worth his weight in glo-bugs can tell you taking one out of a skinny creek is even more fun and challenging.

Problem is, this winter has been so severe, most slim waters have been entombed in impenetrable ice caps since January. Steelhead ain’t complaining–they like the cover. On the other hand, die-hard creek fans are a little sore. But we’ll have our day… real soon.

You see, all that snow we had this year has gotta melt. When it does, run-off will swell the streams, sending their plumes deep into the lake, their ice caps into next winter. Steelhead cruising the open water cross these warm paths and follow them upstream, into the embrace of ideal spawning habitats.

All this promises to happen from now until mid-April. If the current weather patterns hold, the thaw will be slow and gradual, keeping the creeks at the optimal 40 to 44 degrees Fahrenheit for much of next month.

Some experts feel that this winter is a lot like the ones we had in the 1960s and 70s, and make predictions based on past experience. Fran Verdoliva, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Special Assistant for the Salmon River, says no matter what the weather does, the near term is going to be a win-win situation.

“If we get a burst of unseasonably warm weather, the thaw will be rapid and the water levels high and muddy, drawing a lot of fish all at once. If the thaw stays moderate like it’s been, the steelhead will run steadily, most likely extending the season for a week or two,” says Verdoliva.

Regardless of what the weather does, spawn-minded steelhead face a now-or-never situation—they gotta mate soon. Each of Oswego County’s Lake Ontario tributaries will see runs of regular strain steelies for the next few weeks; Salmon River tributaries Trout and Orwell Brooks will likely have them all of April; and the Salmon River itself will boast ironheads into May, followed by runs of Skamania and Atlantic salmon all summer long.
The Salmon River is still in winter’s grip.