DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Cattaraugus Creek in New York

If you’re looking to plan a fly fishing trip, you don’t have to rely on the assistance of a professional guide. Sure, it might be handy, but it can also be costly. Why not plan your own trip instead? 

Thanks to this guide, you’ll be able to plan the perfect getaway to Cattaraugus Creek. Fly fishing can be a great relaxing pastime. When you know you’re not spending a fortune on the trip, it’s even more enjoyable.  

In the guide below, we’ll help you learn where to go, when to go, and what you’ll need to have a great fly fishing trip to Cattaraugus Creek.

Fly fishing for Steelhead in Cattaraugus Creek in New York

Cattaraugus Creek is located in Steelhead Alley in Western New York. Known as the Cat to locals, this creek is one of the best streams for steelhead on Lake Erie. It’s known for fall fishing and produces the largest run of steelhead in the area. 

The NYSDEC stocks the creek with 90,000 "Washington strain" steelhead smolt annually. Natural reproduction of steelhead also occurs in several tributaries to the Cat and accounts for up to 25% of the fish population.  Most anglers practice catch-and-release on the Cat to help preserve this amazing fishery. 

There is quite a bit of public fishing on the streams and tributaries that flow into Cattaraugus Creek, in addition to the creek itself. Bear in mind, though, that the wild trout and holdovers here are sometimes picky about what they’ll eat.

The best water temperature for steelhead is between 40 and 55 degrees, but other fish can be found in differing temperatures. The fish get aggressive and are easy to find in the fall.

There’s a popular 14-mile section that runs downstream from Gowanda through the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Cattaraugus Reservation, but you’ll need a seasonal fishing license from the Seneca Nations tribe to fish here. 

The upper part of the creek is where you’ll find all the trout, mostly stocked although some wild fish are present here and there.

You’ll also want to avoid fishing during January and February as snow and low visibility usually make for poor catches. You’ll probably do best to get a fishing and weather report if you’re planning a trip between December and April, just to be safe.

Cattaraugus Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites

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Best Places to Fish Cattaraugus Creek

This creek offers so many different fishing opportunities. Upstream, you’ll find plenty of brown trout and rainbow trout, and the steelhead run the length of it. From the Scoby dam to Lake Erie, you’ll find the best fishing in the Seneca Nations reservation area, which is downstream from Gowanda. 

The Zoar Valley Gorge is beautiful and productive, but requires a strenuous hike in to access.  If you are looking for solitude, this is the place to head.

The area upstream from Yorkshire above the Springville dam will have plenty of trout for your liking. This area is known as the “upper Cat”, and is where the stocking usually happens. Fishing is open year-round here. 

Hiking in to the Zoar Valley Gorge on Cattaraugus Creek to fly fish for Lake Erie Steelhead

Downstream, you’ll find all kinds of steelhead, and they’re quite active which makes them less picky about what flies they will eat. You’ll find that the most popular locations are near the Senaca Nation Reservation and the tributaries right near where the creek meets the lake.

You’ll find access off major roads like Route 20, Route 62, and Route 219, with the best sections laying between Irving and Gowanda.

Best Time to Fish Cattaraugus Creek

Fly fishing Cattaraugus Creek in Steelhead Alley in New York

The steelhead start coming into the stream in September, but until the water cools in October, the numbers are small. October and November see huge numbers of steelhead and are the prime time to plan your fly fishing trip if you want the best catches. In some years, the fishing will last through Christmas. 

However, the stream is small and ices over quickly, so the winter months are usually off-limits until the spring thaw. Fish start to drop back to Lake Erie in April after the spawn and the fishing can be good but you’ll also have to battle low visibility. The clay banks and heavy rain are a bad combination. 

There are limited fishing restrictions in some areas. From the Aldrich Street bridge to the Springville dam, you can fish for trout and salmon all year. In Spooner Creek, North Branch Clear Creek, and areas from Taylor Hollow Road to Clear Lake, fishing is prohibited from January 1 to March 31st to protect spawning fish.

If you want the best fishing experience, despite the crowds, you’ll want to plan your trip during October or November. You can have a good time during the rest of the year, but this is the peak time for a true experience on Cattaraugus Creek.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

The Cat muddies quickly after a storm and can take up to a week to clear.

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Cattaraugus Creek. The USGS stream gauge at Gowanda, NY provides a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.

CATTARAUGUS CREEK AT GOWANDA NY

  • Water Temp: 32 ° F
  • Water Level: 2.05 ft
.
USGS

Fly Box - What You'll Need

The Cat is well suited to swing flies as well as nymphing.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Cattaraugus Creek:

  • Glo Bug (#8 - 16)
  • Sucker Spawn (#8 - 12)
  • Nuclear Roe (#10 - 16)
  • Black Stonefly (#12 -18) 
  • Brown Stonefly (#12 -14)
  • Hare's Ear (#10 - 12)
  • Woolly Bugger (#6 - 10)
  • Muddler Minnow (#6 - 10)
  • Pink Panther (#6 - 10)
  • White Bunny Spey (#6 - 10)
  • Pot Bellied Pig
  • M.C. Hammer (#4)
  • Spawntruder (#4)

Gear Recommendations

A single-hand 10-foot, 6- or 7-wt fly rod with a weight-forward floating line is perfect for fishing nymphs and small streamers on Chautauqua Creek.  

Similar weight switch rods 10 and 11.5 feet in length are also popular. If you like to swing flies, a 12-foot-6, 6- or 7-weight rod is all you need. 

A 9- to 14-foot leader, tapered down to 10- or 8-pound-test is pretty standard.  In super clear water conditions you may need to taper down to 6-pound-test.

A standard leader configuration for use with a floating or intermediate line is:

  • 2 feet, 25-lb monofilament (mono)
  • 2 feet, 20-lb mono
  • 2 feet, 15-lb mono
  • 2 feet, 12-lb fluorocarbon (fluoro)
  • 2 feet, 10-lb fluoro
  • 2 feet, 8-lb fluoro

A standard heavy sink-tip leader is:

  • 2- to 5-feet straight 15-pound Maxima
  • 2-feet straight 12-pound Maxima

Cattaraugus Creek Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Cattaraugus Creek fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of New York requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a New York State fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Trip Planning Tips

Since this creek is right in the heart of Steelhead Alley, you can trust that it will be easy to find. It will also be close to plenty of lodging and dining in the villages and elsewhere along the way. 

You’ll find the creek in the region that’s about halfway between Buffalo and Erie, Pa, where all the tributaries flow into Lake Erie. I-90 provides easy access to the area and you’ll find plenty of signs pointing you toward the public fishing areas.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in New York

Feature image CC by USACE

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