The Steelhead Access Blues

Spooner Creek is one of two or three exceptional steelhead spawning streams in western New York. Fishing is closed on Spooner from New Year’s Day till April 1, so  the large adult rainbows that have traveled from Lake Erie can reproduce unharmed. Last April my largest Spooner rainbow measured nearly 32 inches in length. Over the last 10 years the Spoon has been purchased piece by piece and posted bank to bank, with some exception for the leasing out to fishing guides. This year the final public access point was kicked away by private ownership. Spooner: a rugged flowing tributary of the Cattaraugus Creek managed by New York for the evolution of wild steelhead…

ain’t gonna fish the Spoon no more

A tributary entering Cattaraugus on the opposite bank remains open to the public, thankfully, but its lower half is seriously damaged, blown-out annually by floods, pulling the steelhead on their annual run, attracting more and more displaced anglers seeking the enjoyment of a big-fish-in-a-small-stream catch. The upper half of this stream, to a point where a waterfall stops the steelhead run, is a beautiful stretch of water flowing through a wooded glen, but this year I didn’t reach it for the first time in 13 years– the run was early, starting with a winter thaw, and fishermen killed the trout for weeks…

don’t know how I’ll fish through the crowd again

Sure, we can fish the big Catt on the Seneca reservation, beautiful water with gravel beds, but it’s farther for me to travel, another annual license to buy. No, I’m not complaining, just lamenting another loss for the common guy. The river down below the Springville Dam has less and less public fishing each year. The rich guys buy up properties and post them or arrange to lease, especially to guiding outfits. If you’ve got the money for Atlantics on the Miramichi, then you’ll have no problem fishing for Great Lakes steelhead when you’re otherwise bored. New York State has been trying to buy new public access, but the landowners seem to prefer a deal with the monied rods…

it’s easy to see what’s happening

Nobody’s making more steelhead water; more and more anglers want the big fish; access areas are frequently trashed; there’s greed in the mix; the human element of steelhead fishing is as ugly as it’s beautiful, and I’m not yet ready to give it up…

this year I caught a small fish only, and lucky to have that

I got pinched into a half mile access area in a time when most of the adult fish had already dropped back to the lake. Earlier, on the old familiar ground upstream, I’d seen new posted signs along the road. The word “Ask” was tagged on a corner of each sign, so I asked the owner of a new home site there. I introduced myself and inquired if I could still gain fishing access through his river corridor. He’s a retired professional, and he looked me straight in the eye. “Two years ago I bought a mile-and-a-half of this river, and you know, the guys now pay me to fish it. Thirty bucks a day, and you picked an excellent time to fish. Beautiful day. I had guys from Maryland and New Jersey workin’ it yesterday, and you know, they had an awesome time of it. You ready?”

I’ll fish the public water watching where she goes

ain’t gonna fish the Spoon no more

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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4 Responses to The Steelhead Access Blues

  1. Fred Beaudry says:

    I just discovered your blog – I enjoy it and look forward to digging into older posts.

  2. Fred, I’m glad you found RR and invite you to drop by often. Alfred is part of my old stomping ground (AU grad eons ago). Vandermark Creek plays a role in an older post called “Brook Trout and Beaver Dams,” in case you’re interested. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Fred Beaudry says:

    It was an interesting read. I take students out to Vandermark Creek to survey for stream salamanders; beavers add to the ecological story of that place. I also liked your piece about Keeney Swamp, that’s a place I’ll be birding soon. We’ve been here less than 2 years so there are tons of places to explore.

    • Fred, It’s interesting that you’ve studied Vandermark salamanders. Do you see any trends there with amphibians? Keeney is a good birding locale. Once, in mid-May, I counted about 85 species there, many of them migrators. Today I watched a common loon and a couple buffleheads on Whitesville marsh.

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