Western New York's Cattaraugus Creek
The Crown Jewel of "steelhead Alley"
Don Dfishinfool Mathews
It seems as time stands still in Western N.Y. Not
much has changed since I was first introduced to the
"Catt" in 1982. It is still the premiere destination
of serious anglers to fish for the magnificent
steelhead. Over time it has been dubbed the Crown
Jewel of "Steelhead Alley". I suspect the unmolested
beautiful scenery and relatively light crowds have
earned her this title. The fishable water of the "Catt"
starts below the Springville dam. This dam stops all
steelhead migration. Its upper reaches above the dam are very turbulent quick flowing water.
A nice trout fishery exists above the Dam. The Catt
is a very long river that drains the Appalachian
mountains in New York . It takes a long time
to clear after a high water event. Some years
there are few fishable days on the Catt. It
needs to be flowing 600 CFM or below for me to
consider fishing there.
Just above the town of Gowanda the Catt flows
through one of the most beautiful places on earth,
the Zoar valley. This wild and scenic area is home to a huge
heard of deer and it is a rare day that you hike its
banks without encountering deer and wild turkeys
along the way. Long walks and rugged terrain should
be expected. It is one of the
few places where one can escape the huge weekend
crowds that "Steelhead Alley" is so famous for.
In the Zoar valley the Catt flows through
a area of massive high wall cliffs. This area contains the
highest cliffs of any lake Erie Tributary. It is
very scenic but due to the shale bottoms most fish
quickly run through this section searching for prime
spawning gravel below Springville. There are some
good holding pools in this section but be prepared
to hike. THe South Branch joins the main river in
the Zoar Valley. The South Branch can be a
very good place to fish at times. Downstream
from Gowanda the Catt flows
through the Seneca Indian Reservation. It shores are
undisturbed and seldom can you see any sign of
development from her banks. I often wonder how
similar of view the Native Americans must have had hundreds
of years ago as they fished her magical waters.
Seneca reservation is a real fish factory.
The stream bed is very wide through most of the
reservation. It contains many deep holding spots for
the steelhead. Between these deep holes It contains
many areas of gravel bottoms that the steelhead find
to be excellent spawning habitat. It is for this
reason that the Catt has the best wild reproduction
rates on the south side of lake Erie. It also
has a small population of wild Chinook and Coho
estimated that about 30% of the steelhead on the
Catt are wild or native fish. For these wild fish to
survive they must have something to eat. Again the
Catt fits the bill. It is a virtual bug factory.
Turn over almost any rock in the river and a variety
of nymphs will scurry away. The steelhead of the
Catt gobble these abundant nymphs up like candy. A
well presented stonefly nymph on the fly rod is hard
to beat and is sure to bring explosive excitement.
Time and time again I have had clients ask me why
these fish of the Catt seem to fight so much harder.
I suspect the reason for the toughness of these fish
is their genetic background and the high numbers of
wild fish present. New York stocks fish raised in
their Salmon River facility in Pulaski. This very
hardy Lake Ontario strain of steelhead have adapted
well to the rich waters of the Catt and Lake Erie.
Fishing the Catt can be very intimidating. It is
big water. Sight fishing opportunities are rare.
Numbers of fish are much lower than the Pennsylvania
tribs. I find a much greater sense of satisfaction
bringing one of these beauties from the Catt to the
net. This is the essence of steelhead fishing and I
find it very rewarding. This big water of the Catt
lends itself well to a variety of fishing methods
that don't work as well on the other Erie Tribs. It
is a great place to use the Spey Rod or the
Center-pinn float rod. Both of these methods can be
very effective when applied on the Catt.
Myself and my staff of guides have met the very
strict requirements are fully licensed by the state
of New York as fishing guides. We book a
select number of trips to the Catt in the productive fall
months of Oct. and November only. We feel we can
offer clients the best trip possible to the Catt.
Often our trips start with a exciting ride in our
4WD trucks to the riverbanks. Once at the river we
can hike for literally miles in either direction.
After a morning workout with the steelies we retreat
back to the truck where a cooler of cold beverages
and a comfortable lawn chair await. After lunch I'll
break out one of the Amish cooked
pies that have made me so famous! Laughing!
It is a
great setting to shore up a business deal or just to
renew ties with old friends. We have done several
very successful corporate trips to the Catt. My
staff of licensed guides can handle any number of
anglers from two-twelve. I recommend a two day trip
for those who can get away.
Lets go fishin!! Don
We fish the
Catt in October and November only. Due to runoff
from snow melt in the mountains it is seldom fishable in
the spring months