It’s September, and the salmon run has begun.
A handful of Chinook have ascended the Salmon River in Oswego County from Lake Ontario, signaling the start of the annual onslaught of anglers hoping to connect with lake-run fish.
By the end of the month, Chinooks and cohos will be churning up the river, and steelhead trout will have joined the fun.
The Salmon River is New York’s most popular destination for steelhead, but Cattauragus Creek may soon give it a run for its money if a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers moves forward.
The Corps wants to chop down most of Scoby Dam at Springville on the Catt, a Lake Erie tributary south of Buffalo that sees a great steelhead run but has only limited access.
Lowering the dam and building a fish ladder would double the amount of the creek accessible to the steelheads, and open up the creek’s headwater tributaries, too. One central New York angler called the prospect “epic.”
Most of the creek’s steelhead are hatchery-reared and planted in the creek as juveniles. Letting the trout reach the gravel beds of small tributaries may result in more
steelhead spawning naturally.
“We expect to see a lot more wild fish in the system,” Department of Enivronmental Conservation’s supervisor of natural resources Paul McKeown told the Buffalo News. “If this takes off as we expect, you’d see it become popular far beyond resident fishermen.”
Allowing steelhead to reach the upper Catt would bring about an “immediate and drastic” improvement in free public access, said Dejon Hamann, who lives in Springville and has fished for lake-run species most of his life.
“At the moment, access to steelhead fishing on the Cattaraugus is paltry at best,” he said. “In fact, if it were not for the Seneca Reservation’s unlimited access, I would have to knock the overall grade of lake-run fishing on the Catt down by a couple solid letters.
“With steelhead migrating past the impassable dam, it’s almost hard to calculate the miles upon miles of publicly accessible water that anglers could enjoy if the steelhead filtered high into the system — not only on the Catt proper, but the many excellent upper river tributaries,” Hamann said.
Meanwhile, the Douglaston Salmon Run, the pay-to-fish preserve at the lower end of the Salmon River, has announced a new schedule of rates. It’s a little complicated, but it offers anglers lots of new options.
Through Sept. 19, a full day on the Run now costs $40 Monday through Thursday and $50 on the weekend. But you can now buy a pass just for the afternoon for $25 and $30, respectively. You can also fish all day Monday through Thursday for $120.
Crowding won’t be an issue. Access is limited to 65 anglers.
From Sept. 20 through Oct. 31, the height of salmon season, a day pass jumps to $60 Monday-Thursday, $75 the weekend; $35 and $45 afternoon sessions; and $180, Monday-Thursday pass.
From Nov. 1 through Dec. 14, the rates go back to what they are now. But here’s the good news: during the winter steelhead season, the prices go way down — even below the 2013 rate of $50 per day.
From Dec. 15 through March 31, full-day passes are just $25 Monday-Thursday and $35 on weekends. Weekday afternoons will cost just $15, and a weekend afternoon, $20. The Monday-Thursday all-day deal will be just $75. Only 30 anglers will be allowed in during the winter season.
Think of it — for a little more than the price of a movie, you can spend a winter afternoon on one of the prettiest parts of the Salmon River, accompanied only by 29 or fewer fellow anglers and the freshest steelhead in the whole river.
That might just be the best entertainment bargain around.