Friday, March 13, 2009

Skinny Creek Steelies

Steelies add color to a stream's late winter austerity.

Late winter's thaws pour snowmelt into Lake Ontario's tributaries, swelling them to two to three times normal size. All this extra water hooks the hormones of ripe steelies out in the lake, sending them flooding upstream. The big rivers are the first beneficiaries of high water, with skinny creeks getting it soon afterwards.

For instance, last week high water dislodged and removed the ice from the Salmon River, and fresh steelies, and a smattering of browns stormed in. However, skinny creeks like the Little Sandy and Grindstone were still half crowned in ice. Even if you wanted to fish them, you would have had a tough time getting to the bank. And if you hooked a trout, it would have gone under one of the fragments of ice cap punctuating the water's surface, preventing you from following in hot pursuit if the fish headed downstream -- And they always do.

By yesterday (March 12) run-off had swept the remnants of ice cap and jams into the lake, opening clear channels in creeks and brooks for the steelies to climb -- And they came. And even though the banks were still lined in anywhere from two to five feet of snow, the water was accessible and the few anglers who ventured out there caught fish.

This is one of fishing's most magical times of the year. Suddenly, streams so skinny you can reach across them with a 9-foot fly rod come to life with rainbow trout ranging from three to 20 pounds. They can run so thick during the night that in the morning anglers find the floors of pools carpeted with the beasts.

Green-backed, silver-sided and spotted, they blend in almost seamlessly with the stream's rocky floor. When you hook one, and it takes off, it'll spook the rest of the fish and you'll see the floor move. It's as close to a piscatorial miracle as you'll see on this earth.

The action is comparable to autumn's salmon runs. The fish are vibrant, brilliantly-colored and full of life.

Currently, the water is so high it discourages all but the most skilled anglers. But it drops steadily as the days to spring peel off the calendar. Soon, the flow will reach a peak and start petering out. By April, the skinny creeks will be down to levels self-respecting steelies avoid. So you have to go soon or the window will close on you.

Morning is the best time because fresh fish haven't been harassed yet and are far more willing to strike than survivors who have already been jumped and stuck.

They'll hit all the usual suspects: egg sacs, worms, spinners, small, and Northland's Scud-Bug Buggy Tails and Slurpy Small Fry Tails, fished on bottom or below floats.

Little Sandy has an official access site on Norton Road (Take NY 3 north out of Port Ontario, turn right on County Rte. 15 at the second flashing light about five miles later, travel about a half-mile, hook a left onto County Rte. 62, then left again a couple hundred yards later onto Norton Rd.). In addition, the hamlet of Sandy Creek offers limited access at its bridges.

Grindstone Creek boasts several access sites on County Rte. 28, and at its mouth in Selkirk Shores State Park, NYS Route 3.

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