Excellent Lake Ontario Tributary Fishing

angler reeling in an impressive smallmouth bass while enjoying some Lake Ontario Tributary fishing

Summertime on the Tribs

Lake Ontario tributary fishing has become known as a trophy fishery, providing a solid economic boost to that region of New York. Angling on the tributaries draws anglers from all over the Eastern United States and Canada– for every season but one.

The classic pools on streams that are ordinarily elbow to elbow with anglers during the salmon and steelhead fishing season are usually wide open in the summertime, since most steelhead and salmon haven’t begun to run like they will later in the fall. In fact, unless there is a rumor of a run of Atlantics or some Steelhead, chances are you will have the stream all to yourself, free from other anglers while you enjoy some peaceful Lake Ontario tributary fishing.

Summer in New York

While most of the summer certainly doesn’t provide the chance at a trophy steelhead trout and salmon, there still are summertime angling opportunities on the tributary streams for other fish species like walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, brown and rainbow trout.

Many of the bigger streams have a summer fishery in the form of smallmouth bass. Smallies run into some of the tributaries, typically in the lower sections. The smallmouth fishery in the lake itself is quite popular, but the tributary streams also provide easy wading smallmouth action in the summer.

Opportunities Throughout the Tribs

In addition to the the lower sections of the tributaries, some tributaries also have decent trout streams or warm water fisheries in their upper reaches, providing all kinds of opportunity in the summer, including the potential for drift fishing trips to enjoy the full potential of Lake Ontario tributary fishing.

In addition to the smallies, there is also the chance of stumbling into an early run of salmon towards the end of the summer depending on fishing conditions. From the Niagara River to the Black River and beyond, the tributaries promise larger fish, and more of them all summer long.

Lower Niagara River Fishing Spots

The Lower Niagara River is one of the most scenic, interesting places I have fished. The Lower Niagara River is about 14 miles long and can be fished from the Whirlpool all the way to the mouth at Lake Ontario.

While the river can be fished along the shoreline at the access areas created for that purpose, the lower river has a heavy current. The most popular way to fish it is by drift fishing. Anglers motor upstream and let the current carry them along. It takes a bit of boating knowledge and isn’t for a rookie, but this is the most popular way to fish on this tributary, most anglers with a drift boat launching from the convenient access at Lewistown dock.

Spin Fishermen on the Niagara River

The Niagara River is best known for salmon, steelhead and brown trout fishing, but it is largely ignored in the summer. In recent years, anglers have adopted the same methods fishing techniques on the Niagara River that they use for salmon and steelhead fishing to snag good numbers of smallmouth bass and walleye.

Drop-shot rigs fished on a spinning reel with soft plastics work well in this fishery. Most of the bass are going to be in the 2-3 pound range, but there are some large fish in the 6 pound range out there that are caught each year.

One issue to be aware of is that since the Niagara River is the border with Canada, you have to either stay along our shoreline in New York, or purchase a Canadian license to cover your bases.  Also take the time to review the fishing regulations for this water. A fishing access map is available at the following link:


Oak Orchard

Oak Orchard River is another one of those waters where the upper river (above the dam) hosts a prolific bass fishery that most folks ignore because of all the publicity that the salmon and steelhead fishing on the lower river below the dam brings.  The upper Oak Orchard River between Medina and Waterport has plenty of smallmouths, and it is also a great spot for a canoe or kayak trip to catch fish.

The lower portion of Oak Orchard River and nearby Marsh Creek also get runs of smallmouth’s from the lake, and June is a good month to try for them. A good map for finding canoe and kayak access points for Oak Orchard is available at the following website: ww.oakorchardcanoe.com/map.php.

Genesee River

Many anglers associate the Genesee with the salmon and steelhead fishing in the City of Rochester, but the upper portion of the Genesee (Allegany County) is a great trout stream.  From the Pennsylvania border near Shongo, following northward on an upstream path along State Route 19 to the dam in Belmont, New York, the Genesee provides trout anglers with good fishing for brown and rainbow trout. The river gets over 20,000 brown trout and 6,200 rainbow trout stocked annually, including larger browns.

There is 40 miles of trout angling there, including 18 miles of public fishing rights including a catch and release area and platforms.  The best way to get to the PFR is the map at the following link: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/fish_marine_pdf/geneseeriver.pdf.

Paddling The Genesee

If you are looking for a great canoe or kayak angling destination, the middle section of the Genesee River is a top smallmouth bass water. There are miles and miles of river that you can paddle, and fish for smallmouth’s and the occasional walleye.  There are also plenty of access points with boat ramps and public fishing rights.

The best stretch for smallies is in Livingston and Monroe counties just north or Letchworth State Park. Walleye are relatively common in the Genesee, including in the deeper pools below the Mt. Morris Dam.

Salmon River

I vividly remember standing in the Compactor Pool on the Salmon River one June and marveling that I was there fly fishing all by myself. The usual fly fishing crowd was gone along with the salmon run, and I was having a blast catching a few smallmouth’s on my fly rod.

Fly Fish for Bass

Angling for bass on the Salmon River in the summer can be good.  Usually the bass are found in the deep holes along the Salmon River. Typically, the water levels on the river are lower in the summer, and it is another stream where taking a drift trip in a canoe on a hot summer day is a great way to fish. Best of all, there is very little fly fishing pressure during the summer.

The Salmon River is probably the best known among the tributaries, and finding the fly fishing action there is easy. A map of the public fishing rights along the salmon river reservoir, can be found at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/fish_marine_pdf/r7salrivpfr.pdf.

Black River

The Black River in Jefferson County, New York is another great summertime spot to chase smallmouths in a canoe or kayak. The Black River starts out in the western edge of the Adirondacks and flows quite a distance on its way to Lake Ontario near Watertown.

On the lower Black River, water flows through a gorge, so it isn’t a great spot to canoe through. The middle portion of the Black River is a good spot to canoe and fish for smallies.

The middle section of the Black River is a popular paddle-fishing destination, running from Lyons Falls to Carthage for a total of 40 miles. This section of the river is pretty flat, so no white water.  You can also catch northern pike and walleye there. Links for maps for each section of the Black River can be found at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/40570.html

Summer Logistics

a closeup of a smallmouth bass caught while Lake Ontario tributary fishing

They claim there’s safety in numbers, but that’s not true in the summer on the Great Lakes tribs. If you venture there, bring a buddy. If you do try a canoe or kayak trip on one of these streams, wear a PFD. There’s no sense taking chances, even on calm water. Make sure to check for any special regulations, and carry a fishing license while trying your luck stream and river fishing the tributaries

Venturing out to the tribs is a great way to spend a summer day river fishing, especially a drift trip by canoe. Whether you are looking to enjoy some fly fishing, or you’re more of a spin fishing fan, go out and give your favorite stream a try in the “off season.” You might be pleasantly surprised at how much fun you can have while enjoying some excellent Lake Ontario tributary fishing.

Original Article By Robert W. Streeter

About The Author

Rob Streeter enjoys fly fishing for many species, especially trout and salmon in the Lake Ontario tributaries. He has been the outdoor columnist for the Albany Times Union and freelanced for several publications. He has been a member of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and the Outdoor Writers’ Association of America. Get in touch with Rob at robstreeter.com.

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