Oswego County’s Fast Waters for all Tastes

By Spider Rybaak

Rob approaching a promising log on Orwell Brook

Rob Barker has helped me with my kids fishing classes at Wellesley Island’s Minna Anthony Common Nature Center for the past five summers. He’s been especially useful in the fly-fishing section. When he informed me last fall he was thinking of retiring, I feared I’d lose a friend and trusted helper.

To my surprise, he called me in April, inviting me to go fishing for brookies in the wilds of northeastern Oswego County. I hadn’t fished up there in years, and decided this was the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the fabulous menu of trout fishing opportunities this magical swath of New York offers.

We had to wait until the middle of May for the waters to finally go down enough to fly-fish. Our first stop was the stretch of Public Fishing Rights on Orwell Brook; more specifically, at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservations access site on County Route 52, north of Altmar.

Extraordinarily scenic, Orwell Brook slices through gently rolling hills. Only averaging three giant steps wide, it twists and turns constantly, digging out pools and undercut banks lined with brush and root balls. Broad stretches of shallow ripples punctuate its ideal trout habitats.

Unfortunately, we didn’t land any brookies. I had an 8-incher nail my nymph at the bend rounding a root ball, but it jumped immediately after feeling the hook, wrapped my line around a stick when it landed and got away. We did, however, catch several young-of-the-year native born rainbows.

Like all the area’s tiny creeks, some of the banks along Orwell Creek’s upper reaches are lined with brush so thick, that it covers the stream in long stretches of leafy cathedral ceilings. You’ll have to trudge quietly upstream, stooping most of the way, even walking on your knees in spots, but a well-placed fly under such difficult conditions will reward you with a trout decked in an aura of brilliance few people ever earn the right to experience.

A couple hours of struggling through the sinewy growth clinging to the brook’s banks does a number on an old man’s stamina, so Rob and I elected to try a stream that was a little more open. Since Orwell feeds the Salmon River, we had the perfect candidate just a few minutes south. We packed up our gear and headed for the special, fly-fishing only section on County Route 22.

Once again, water levels were perfect. We replaced our nymphs with stylized wooly buggers Rob tied and started swinging them across the current.

The pocket water along the massive boulders the NYSDEC placed to shore up the bank at the rapids upstream of the Paradise Pool rewarded our efforts with feisty, fingerling Atlantic salmon, brown and rainbow trout. The famous pool below gave us a few 8-inch fallfish that hit–and fought–as hard as trout twice their size.

Afterwards, we thought of trying Grindstone Creek, a brookie- and rainbow-rich blue ribbon trout stream that feeds Lake Ontario at Selkirk Shores State Park. But by the time we got to Pulaski, the sun only had about another hour‘s hang-time so we decided to try it another day.

Northeastern Oswego County is as close to wilderness as you can get in Central New York and one thing’s for sure: this country ain’t for the weak and lazy. But if you can handle the challenge of hoofing it through slippery terrain paved in sliding rocks, you’ll find solitude and beauty punctuated with trout that are the top of their class.

Each of these streams is thoroughly covered, complete with directions to access sites, in my newest book “Fishing the Great Lakes of New York: A Guide to Lakes Erie and Ontario, their Tributaries, and the Thousand Islands” (Burford Books, 224 pages, $16.95). They’re available at all the usual suspects. For signed copies, drop me a line at [email protected]

Making his cast.
Fallfish may be small but they sure put up a good fight.