The Lake Ontario tributaries have created a trophy fishery, providing a solid economic boost to that region of New York. Fishing on the tributaries of this Great Lake draws anglers from all over the Northeast and Canada- for every season but one, Summer. The classic pools on streams that ordinarily elbow to elbow with anglers during the salmon and steelhead trout season are usually wide open in the summertime. In fact, unless there is a rumor of a run of Atlantics or migratory rainbow trout (aka steelhead), chances are you will have the stream all to yourself.
Summertime Smallmouth Bass Fishing
While most of the summer certainly doesn’t provide the chance at a trophy salmon or steelhead, there still are summertime fishing opportunities on the Lake Ontario tributary streams. Many of the bigger streams do have a summer fishery in the form of smallmouth bass. Smallies run into some of the tributaries, typically in the lower sections. The smallmouth fishing in Lake Ontario itself is quite popular, but the tributary streams also provide easy wading smallmouth action in the summer.
In addition to the fishing in the lower sections of the tributaries, some of them are also decent trout streams or warm water fisheries in their upper reaches, providing all kinds of opportunities in the summer, including the potential for drift fishing trips. 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 stream conditions.
Lower Niagara River – Whirlpool State Park To Lake Ontario
The Lower Niagara is one of the most scenic, interesting places I have fished. The Lower River is about 14 miles long with many great fishing spots that can be fished from the Whirlpool (near Whirlpool State Park), past Devils Hole State Park, Art Park (check out the Artpark Drift), Lewiston Landing Waterfront Park (the Perch Beds are just North, followed by the Upper and Lower Stella Drifts, Peggy’s Eddy and Johnson Drift). Finally, right at the mouth of Lake Ontario near Fort Niagara is Coast Guard Drift.
While the river can be fished along the shoreline at the access areas created for shore fishing, the lower river has a heavy current, and 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 drift fishing is the most popular way to fish there, with most boats launching from the Lewistown dock. If you are unsure how to drift fish in fast-moving water, consider hiring a charter the first time out and learn from the pros.
The Niagara River is best known for steelhead trout fishing, and also gets solid runs of chinook salmon, walleye, and brown trout, but it is largely ignored in the summer. In recent years, anglers have adopted the same methods that they use for steelhead trout and chinook salmon fishing to catch good numbers of smallmouth bass and walleyes. Drop-shot rigs fished on spinning tackle 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 6-pounders out there that are caught each year.
One issue to be aware of is that since this is the border with Canada, you have to either stay along the US shoreline or purchase a Canadian fishing license and brush up on Canada’s fishing regulations. Also take the time to review local regulations. A fishing access map and New York State Lower Niagara River fishing regulations can be found here – https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/67913.html
Oak Orchard Creek and Marsh Creek
Oak Orchard River and Marsh Creek are other one of those waters where the upper river (above the Westport Reservoir dam) hosts a prolific bass fishery that most folks ignore because of all the publicity that the chinook and coco salmon, brown and rainbow trout and steelhead fishing 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 enjoy the bass fishing.
The lower portion of Oak Orchard River also gets runs of smallmouth’s from Lake Ontario, and June is a good month to try for them. A good map for finding canoe and kayak access as well as several Public Fishing Rights (PFRs) or permanent NYSDEC easement points for Oak Orchard is available here – https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/fish_marine_pdf/pfroakorchrv.pdf
Lake Ontario tributary regulations apply.
Genesee River Sports Fishing
Many anglers associate the Genesee River 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 through Wellsville to the dam in Belmont, the Genesee provides trout anglers with good fishing for browns and rainbows. The river gets 20,600 yearling browns and 6,200 yearling rainbows stocked each year, as well as 2,300 two-year-old browns averaging 14 inches long.
There is 40 miles of trout sports fishing there, including 18 miles of public fishing rights including a catch and release area and fishing platforms. The best way to get to the PFR is the map at the following link: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/fish_marine_pdf/geneseeriver.pdf.
If you are looking for a great canoe or kayak fishing 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 smallmouths and the occasional walleye. There are also plenty of access points and public fishing rights.
The best stretch for smallies is in Livingston and Monroe counties just north of Letchworth State Park. Walleyes are relatively common in the Genesee, including the pools below the Mt. Morris Dam.
I vividly remember standing in the Compactor Pool one June and marveling that I was there all by myself. The usual crowd was gone and I was having a blast catching a few smallmouths on my fly rod.
Bass fishing on the Salmon River in the summer can be good. The best fishing spots on the Genesee River for bass are found in the deeper pools along the Salmon River which, starting from Port Ontario at the entrance from Lake Ontario, include Black Hole, Compactor Pool, Sportsman’s Pool North, Sportsman’s Pool South, Trestle Pool North, Trestle Pool South, Wire Hole (on Orwell Brook), and Paradise Pool.
Typically, the water levels on the river are lower in the summer as most Lake Ontario know, and it is another stream where taking a drift fishing trip in a canoe on a hot summer day is a great way to fish. Best of all, there is very little fishing pressure during the summer.
The Salmon River is probably the best known among the Lake Ontario tributaries, and finding the fishing action there is easy. A map of the public fishing rights along the river can be found at: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/fish_marine_pdf/r7salrwpm.pdf.
If you want to get away from all the fishermen on the Salmon River during the September to November salmon run or steelhead fishermen from November to April, head about 10 miles to the North to South Sandy Creek. South Sandy Creek and Skinner Creek are hot spots for Chinook Salmon and Rainbow trout.
The Black River in Jefferson County is another great summertime spot to chase smallmouths in a canoe or kayak. The Black River starts out on the western edge of the Adirondacks and flows quite a distance on its way to Lake Ontario near Watertown. The lower portion of the river flows through a gorge, so it isn’t a great spot to canoe through, but 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 pike and walleye there. Links for maps for each section of the Black River can be found at: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/40570.html
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.
To learn more about fishing Lake Ontario tributaries, check out the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation website. Or poke around our site.
Venturing out to the Lake Ontario tribs is a great way to spend a summer day fishing, especially a drift trip by canoe. Go out and give your favorite stream a try in the “off-season.” You might be pleasantly surprised at how much fun it can be!