By Scott Sampson
WATERPORT, N.Y. — Oak Orchard Creek — or “The Oak,” as it’s called by local anglers — is a classic tailwater that remains ice-free throughout the winter because of the water releases from the Niagara Mohawk hydro plant on Lake Alice at Waterport.
What: Winter steelhead on New York’s Oak Orchard Creek.
Where: The Oak is a 6-mile tributary from Lake Alice to Lake Ontario, 30 miles west of Rochester or 50 miles east of Buffalo.
Access/hot spots: The first 2 miles of water from the dam is classic tailwater, and holds big fish.
Why: The Oak is one of the premier tributaries to Lake Ontario and is stocked with 21,000 steelhead each year. Winter’s the least crowded time.
Guides/info: Orleans Outdoor (585-682-4546) can provide you with a list of guides, as well as lodging info.
Other contacts include the Oak Orchard Fly Shop (585-682-4546) or Coleman’s Fly Shop (585-352-4755).
From the dam, the walk/wade portions of this New York steelhead river extend 2 miles downstream to just past the Archery Pool.
The river within this section is easy wading, and pools run up to 7 feet deep, depending on the water release.
Below the Archery Pool and 4 miles to Lake Ontario is a small-boat fishery, where plugging and back-trolling are the rule.
You can launch a small boat at the Bridges where Marsh Creek joins Oak Orchard Creek, or at the County Marine Park on the east side of the river just off the lake proper.
Right now you can hunt your fish and work the pools and riffles without tangling lines with fellow anglers.
The New York Department of Environmental Control stocks 21,000 steelhead, 180,000 salmon and 20,000 landlocked salmon each year, in this water.
The Oak is also known for its fall runs of big brown trout, which are not stocked.
Dam(n) high water
If there’s a problem with the Oak, it’s the potential of high water due to power-prodducing releases (although the utility has traditionally done a good job of trying to accommodate anglers).
Should you find high water, retreat to Marsh Creek or nearby Johnson Creek and salvage your day.
There are two channels at the dam. One is the hydro release, and the other is the spillway.
The hydro channel is the prime water, as is the point where the two channels merge.
This is egg heaven, either artificial egg flies or the real deal.
At this time of year, the object is to drift the offerings at the speed of the current directly along the bottom.
That means different weights for different currents.
Remember to maintain a leader of less than 4 feet, as required by the special regulations governing Great Lakes tributaries.
The most common leader is 4-pound test, even though you may be hooking steelhead of 10 pounds or more.
You might even look at some of the specialty cold-water lines such as Stren Ice as a more pliable leader material.
This is also where the long rod is important to protect the light leader, be it a fly rod or a noodle rod.
There’s also a whole host of specialty rods and spey rods that are gaining popularity.
Use a slinkie or pencil lead for weight.
A net at this time of year is a good idea, although I prefer to tail the fish.
Perhaps the most important equipment will be a towel to dry your hands or the fingertips extending out of your fishing gloves, and of course at least two hand warmers (and perhaps the chemical toe warmer to slip into your 5mm insulated boot waders).
Even though the bottom of the stream is largely golf-ball-sized rubble, Korkers are essential for navigating the shore ice.
You also want to be careful of snow and ice buildup on the bottom of your boots, which can turn waders into ice skates.
Parking at the dam is provided by the utility company, but under crowded conditions of late spring and fall, you might find local private parking at $2 per spot a bargain.
The Archery Pool is the largest portion of the wade-and-walk section, which ranges from 75 to 250 feet in width and is a favorite of late-winter anglers.
Its name is taken from an adjacent bit of property that is owned by a local archery club.
The fish will usually lie in the deeper west side of the pool, and when water warms, the majority of fish will bulk up near the dam.
Not only does the Oak have massive runs of fish, but it is also within a reasonable distance of major population centers.
Thirty miles west of Rochester and 50 miles east of Buffalo, it has its own Point Breeze exit off the Lake Ontario Parkway.
You can also exit I-90 at Exit 48, Batavia, and take Route 98 through Albion and 9 more miles north to Park Avenue, turn west and follow the road to the dam.