Cayuta Creek is a wonderful little creek, 40 miles in length, running parallel for much of its length with Route 34 as it meanders to its terminus with the North Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Indian legend has it that its source, Cayuta Lake, is named after a beautiful Seneca princess who was kidnapped by another tribe, causing her mother’s tears to form the lake. An older spelling of the creek’s name, still sometimes used, is “Kayutah”. The name translates to “little gem”, and that is exactly what this creek is to the fly fishers who frequent it.
Cayuta receives healthy stockings of brown trout every year, but is also known for its holdovers and natives. This is classic upstate fly fishing – fast riffles, slow runs, brush-lined pools, and deep, snag-infested holes abound. Every year at least a few large browns are taken; indeed, a coworker once told me his son pulled a 6 lb brown out of the lower section. I had my doubts about this until one bright spring day when my Hendrickson nymph stopped dead as it swept under a downfall. I set the hook and saw the golden flash of a big brown in the murky green depths. The weight of the fish in combination with some heavy current did their thing, but suddenly I was a believer, as they say.
Open all year, Cayuta offers solitude, gorgeous upstate surroundings, and the chance for good trout fishing. While there are only two DEC angler parking areas in the upper section, finding a place to park along most of the creek is not difficult. Wading and navigating the creek, however, can be tricky. The best places to do well are going to be the ones the lazy fishermen pass up.
Staff Hydrologist Dan and I usually hit Cayuta before the traditional NY opener as a warm-up for the season. We fish the special regs section, from the Rt. 223 bridge downstream to the Wyncoop Creek Rd bridge, as this is open to artificial lures only. I’ve fished above this stretch once before and did well. The section below the special regs stretch I’ve yet to explore, but I’ve been told this area can produce some real slabs, if you’re willing to work for them.
I arrived at the special regs section on Sunday afternoon around 2 pm. After stringing up my 7′ 4 wt JP Ross Beaver Meadow rod and getting down to the creek I noticed a few caddis about, and as these patterns typically do well here, I tied on a tan caddis dry to see if the fish were looking up. I worked over a nice riffle, run, pool and another combination of the same and all I could come up with were creek chubs that hurled themselves at the fly. As I fished, I noticed the water had a slight “snowmelt” color to it. The temp was a very cool 52 degrees F. I re-rigged to fish wet, and tied on one of my favorite search patterns – the infamous Picket Pin.
I hiked down the road about a quarter mile to a place Dan likes to fish – a nice brush-lined riffle that spills into a long run and meandering pool. I fished the picket pin upstream dead drift, then let the line belly out with the current, swing down, and hang for a moment. I fished the fly weightless, but let the upstream cast and mend give the fly some depth. A few casts at this spot and I was tight to a fish – a nice 2 year old. He came up slow, head-shaking, then ran upstream. I worked him across into the slack water and quickly released him.
I moved upstream to another good spot – broader in width, shallower in depth, but with good cover.
After much ducking and grappling through those nasty thorn-covered crabapple trees, I was able to position myself across a pool that cut into the bank and had great cover. I watched the water and a flash of butter yellow and silver caught my eye. Looking more closely, I could see a brown trout picking off nymphs. I cast upstream, giving my unweighted fly time to sink as it reached the deep middle of the pool, then I’d let my line tighten and swing the fly through. I did this 3 times before the fly stopped, my line tightened, and I strip set the hook into another nice brown. This fish came to the surface, thrashing the water to a froth, and settled back in the pool to slug it out. I worked the fish out upstream, and released it after a quick photo op…
Pool by pool I worked my way upstream. I fished the riffles, pools, holes, and downfalls, one by one.
I picked up 2 more browns, smaller in size, but just as big in their fighting spirit. Around 5 pm I reached the point upstream where I had parked and decided I had been blessed enough. I stowed my gear, broke out a cigar, and enjoyed the warmth of the late afternoon. Across the creek was a cornfield, partially harvested and mowed, and beyond it, hills turning scarlet, copper, gold, and brown. I felt lucky to be alive…