Throughout much of this harshest winter in decades, the Conhocton River in New York
has lain beneath a shroud of ice and snow. It’s been so cold that even Lake Superior is basically frozen over at this point. Each day en route to work I cross over the Conhocton River and get a glimpse of water that I haven’t fished in a long while. In fact, I’m starting to imagine ways to hurry the river’s transition into spring.
A little background might be helpful here. For many years I put off fishing the Conhocton, which flows southeasterly out of Livingston County until it joins the Tioga to form the wide Chemung River in Corning, New York. I put off fishing the Conhocton because I live a little closer to the northward-flowing Genesee River and generally prefer its somewhat wilder habitat. The Conhocton River always seemed a little less remote, and so I gave it less of a chance to show its full potential as a fly-fishing destination.
Although the river seemed to parallel the interstates too closely for comfort and my ability to mute the irritating traffic sounds, I’d been listening to persistent rumors of the good fishing to be had. With that, I finally surrendered to the lure of exploration and discovered, once again, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or a river by the company it keeps.
Fishing the Conhocton for a year, from headwaters to the trout pools near Bath, I found that the river may not rank “among the best of them” (as I had read), but it was well worth my efforts to explore. There were brook trout in the rivertops (above the village of Atlanta), and browns, both wild and stocked, from Atlanta down to Bath.
Although the river is most commonly known as the Cohocton, the technically correct name is Conhocton. Cohocton is the name of a village along the river banks. “Conhocton” is derived from a Native American word translating into “log on the water.” Log has been interpreted to mean “tree,” as in the wooded swamps near Atlanta, or “canoe,” referring to the history of the river as a travel route.
Perhaps the best Conhocton stretches for the fly or spin angler can be found on the special regulations water. There are two long stretches where the season remains open all year, where the trout kill must be limited, and where artificial lures only can be used. The lower stretch runs from Kanona to the VA Hospital in Bath; and the upper stretch runs from the mouth of Neil Creek down to the village of Avoca. Anyone interested in trying these waters should refer to the NYS fishing regulations for more specifics.
One year, after an early spring had me facing high and difficult stream conditions, and when the noise of traffic almost had me quitting the Conhocton for good, the river suddenly bloomed. The season had quickly become (in the words of Chaucer) “fair as is the rose of May.” The Hendrickson hatch was off, but a rush of new caddis and mayfly hatches brought the river into vibrant focus. The new growth of leaves and grasses muted the distractions stirred by our mobile society and brought peace and quiet to the pools and riffles.
At a river hole that I call the Grey Fox Pool, in honor of a mayfly hatch and a fox that I observed chasing a woodchuck through the ferns and Dames-rocket blooms, I netted a wonderful caddis-gulping brown. The wild fish had fought hard, and ultimately had put a set in the tip of the little bamboo rod that I’d been casting.
With a shroud of ice and snow on the stream today, I think about the headwater springs that keep the water cool and deep enough for trout in summer. I think about the nutrients that allow the fish to grow big and healthy (browns to 24 inches and beyond are caught each year).
I think back to the pre-season float trips that I took on the Conhocton in those years when I helped out with the stocking program. I remember high, cold waters bringing on joyful and hair-raising action…