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It was exciting to be chosen to participate in The Angling Report’s FREE fishing program. The destination I was chosen to critique is Cattaraugus Creek, a steelhead destination one hour south of Buffalo, New York, by car. Unfortunately, blown-out river conditions caused my intended outfitter, Vince Tobia of Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters, to reschedule my trip twice. Those two postponements weighed heavily on my mind when Tobia sent me a “Let’s do it!” e-mail this past November 29. That was a Friday and we were to start fishing on Sunday. I live in upstate New York, so I knew we had just received one or two inches of rain. How could the river not be blown out again?
The focus of Tobia’s operation is the Zoar Valley of Cattaraugus Creek, known locally as the “Catt.” Tobia has access to private water directly in front of his rental cabins on the Catt, but he has intimate knowledge of the entire region and access to both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario tributaries.
My son is an avid fly fisherman, and I decided to make this trip a father-son outing. Our trip called for a two-night stay in one of Tobia’s cabins, and we arrived late Saturday afternoon. The furnished and heated cabin included satellite TV and was five minutes from a great watering hole, the Zoar Valley Inn. The cabin overlooks a private section of the Catt on which guests can fish. However, much to my dismay, the river was blown out when we arrived.
When we checked in with Tobia, we were informed we would begin day one at 7 am on Eighteen Mile Creek, about 10 to 12 miles north of the Catt. Eighteen Mile Creek is really a small river that drains through a steep gorge into Lake Erie. Because of the rain, I found it difficult to believe that this stream would not also be blown out. However, it turned out to be in almost perfect condition. Compared to the neighboring Catt, it was crystal clear.
We found that there had been a hard frost during the night. Air and water temperatures were both in the 30s. The fishing started out slow, but once the sun came up, the water temperature rose a few degrees and the steelhead became more active. We were using 9.5-foot 7 wt. and 8 wt. rods with floating lines, eight-foot leaders, a single egg yarn fly, and a size 12 bead head pheasant nymph. The amount of split shot and location of the strike indicator varied with the speed and depth of each run. Although we did not have this part of the stream to ourselves, we soon found several runs with visible steelies holding in small pockets.
My son soon started to hook and land numerous fish, which kept Tobia very busy running back and forth between us. After several hours, I hooked and landed several nice fish in the five- to seven-pound range. I have to admit that my son totally outfished me, hooking 15 and landing 12. The highlight of my day came when Tobia and I scouted an upstream pool with several large steelhead finning along a bedrock seam. There was virtually no current in this pool. We crept along the bank, crawled behind trees, and moved into position. Tobia stood behind a tree and I stood in the water upstream of the fish. With only a size 12 unweighted nymph on a 12- to 13-foot leader (no weight or indicator), Tobia “guided” me to present my fly in a perfect dead-drift within an inch of the steelhead’s mouth. No one saw the fish take the fly, but I felt something. I struck and came tight to my fly and the battle began. After a worthy fight, Tobia netted the largest fish of the trip, a 29-plus-inch steelhead.
Day two was 20 degrees warmer but began under threat of heavy rain. Vince felt the lower Catt might be fishable. I had been looking forward to using my Spey rod, but water conditions quickly deteriorated and offered limited clarity. The 12- to 14-inch visibility did not permit swinging flies. Fellow subscribers should know that when water clarity is good, the Catt is one of the few Great Lakes streams where traditional swinging steelhead techniques produce decent results. Part of the reason is because the Catt holds a higher percentage of wild versus stocked fish. That said, the average size of the fish in the Catt is somewhat smaller than other Lake Ontario tributaries.
The steelhead in the Catt seem to have an on/off switch. We saw little activity during the early morning, but after 9 am the fish began to aggressively take our flies. The Catt is a much larger river than Eighteen Mile Creek, and each hooked fish gave a fierce fight, replete with aerobatic jumps and long runs. Our fishing was on and off throughout the morning, with my son again hooking more fish than I. He ultimately landed five or six fish, including two fresh chromers that weighed roughly eight or nine pounds. This productive window was followed by several hours of driving rain, so we decided to call it a day.
The Great Lakes steelhead experience is vastly different than that of the rugged Pacific Coast steelhead experience, but I found the trip to the Catt with my son enjoyable and rewarding. For the last 35-plus years, I have been fortunate to fish in many locations around the globe where I have been exposed to hundreds of guides. Vince Tobia is truly one of the friendliest, most professional guides with whom I have ever had the pleasure of fishing. In sum, western New York is within a short flight or a daylong drive from many major mid-Atlantic cities. Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters provides a unique and enjoyable opportunity to sample “chrome fever” fairly close to home.—Bob Mead.
Postscript: For more information on Vince Tobia’s Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters, call 716-479-2327 or visit them on the Web at www.ccoflyfishing.com.