American Fly Fishing

By Mike Valla

Owasco Lake is one of the smallest of the long, narrow Finger Lakes clustered in west-central New York. Owasco Inlet, a major tributary that pours into the south end of the 11-mile-long lake, provides excellent trout fishing throughout its 25-mile run. The little farm-country stream flows south to north through the villages of Groton, Locke, and finally Moravia, where it surrenders to the lake. Scattered along its entire length, more than 13 miles of public fishing rights provide anglers with plenty of easy access to trout-filled waters.
   Rainbows spawn in Owasco Inlet and provide sport for fly fishers, but these spawning runs don’t reach the size of those that occur in neighboring Finger Lakes inlet streams. Owasco is a smaller lake, and its rainbow population is minor in comparison. Moreover, predator fish, such as walleyes, have reduced the salmonid populations in Owasco Lake and its tributary streams. The situation may improve, though, because the state has decided to cease stocking the lake with walleyes.
   During my early years fishing Owasco Inlet, I occasionally netted rainbows that delayed their return to the lake. A beautifully colored, 14-inch wild rainbow took my fly during a Sulphur hatch one May evening in 1978. The fish surprised me, because the section I was fishing normally produced only brown trout. In 2014, I returned to that same stretch and was surprised to find lots of 4- to 7-inch juvenile rainbows. Some of these had no doubt been stocked by the state as fingerlings in 2013. But the smallest fish were probably wild, naturally spawned.
   Rainbows aside, Owasco Inlet is presently stocked with 8- to 15-inch brown trout, but anglers often hook much larger browns. The stream’s browns will take dry flies during early-season hatches. In the mid-1970s, my friend Ron Howard, formally a staffer at nearby Cornell University, made a believer out of me. I often popped into his office for fishing reports on my way to class. On one occasion, he sent me scrambling to Owasco Inlet when I learned of an 18-inch brown he took on a Quill Gordon dry fly on a final cast at last light one evening. Thereafter, Owasco Inlet became one of my favorite fisheries.
   I often fished a few miles downstream from Groton, along State Route 38, and today there’s a formal New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) parking area next to the bridge at that location. Many of the old log and stone stream-bank stabilization structures that I remember from years ago are now obliterated, buried in sediment, or washed away, but local Trout Unlimited members have completed some great fish habitat improvement work along the stream in that area.
   Another productive stretch, punctuated by deep pools, flows under the SR 38 bridge next to the fairgrounds in Locke (located less than a mile north from the intersection with SR 90), with good water both up- and downstream from the bridge. This stretch has long harbored nice brown trout, and on one recent outing here I hooked (but did not land) a beauty that I had spotted from a vantage point on the stream bank. The big brown sucked in a deer-hair ant pattern plopped over its nose.
   Additional excellent stretches of Owasco Inlet are found between Locke and Moravia. Check the DEC website for detailed maps that indicate Owasco Inlet public fishing stretches (
   A 7- to 7.5-foot 4-weight rod is ideal for this fishery, and a selection of basic mayfly and caddisfly dries, along with an assortment of nymphs, serves well. My friend Mike Hogue, who owns Badger Creek Fly Tying in nearby Freeville, fishes an old Wisconsin pattern he imported from the Midwest called the Pass Lake Special, tied on size 14 or 16 dry-fly hooks: tail, rolled mallard flank fibers; body, peacock herl; wing, white calf tail tied Trude style; hackle, natural brown.


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