The region surrounding Buffalo boasts some of the best steelhead trout fishing opportunities in America, if not the world. With more than 118 miles of fishing access, a long season — October through April — and stunning scenery, the steelhead trout fishing in the Buffalo area is simply exceptional.
First things first: “What is a steelhead trout?” A steelhead trout is a species of rainbow trout that lives part of its life in open water – in this case Lake Erie. The trout migrate to the colder depths of Lake Erie in the spring before the creeks and streams heat up in the summer and then move back to the well oxygenated moving water in the fall to spawn and spend their winter. This back-and-forth migration is called a run and is the best time to cast a line.
My wife Christian and I recently had the opportunity to head out on one of Erie County’s premier fishing streams, Eighteen Mile Creek, with one of the region’s top guides, Tyler Hageman. Hageman has been a full-time trout fishing guide for ten years. From October through April he fishes the waters of Western New York and as the season changes to summer he migrates to trout fisheries in places like Montana and Alaska.
We spent two days fishing Eighteen Mile Creek with Hageman. Eighteen Mile Creek is an amazing place to be in nature with several county and state managed fishing access points in this superb gorge south of Buffalo. One of the larger watersheds in Western New York, the creek’s two branches come together in the town of Hamburg at a fishing hole known as “the confluence.” When the water levels are right Eighteen Mile Creek will have a lovely greenish tint accentuated by the gorge’s steep dark shale walls mixed with some pine and deciduous vegetation. There are dozens of waterfalls that come into the gorge throughout the creek’s 14 miles of accessible fishing.
We arranged to meet Hageman at the Route 20 access site. When we pulled up we were the only two cars at this popular fishing spot with a weather forecast showing some rain. We quickly geared up, walked down the hill and were at the first hole in minutes. We stopped under the I-90/New York State Thruway Bridge and Hageman pointed into the deep pool under some moving water.
“Do you see those long black lines, those are steelhead, there are a ton of them in there,” he said. He handed me a rigged fly rod and on the second cast I had a fish on the line. “Keep tension but when the fish starts to run let some line out,” Hageman said. He advised me to walk downstream while reeling in the fish and before I knew it the medium sized rainbow was in the net. It was the biggest trout I had ever caught. It felt good.
We proceeded upstream just a few hundred yards to the next hole. “There’s a lot of fish right there,” he said. We cast a line and no bites. He adjusted the depth of the fly in relation to the small split-shot and then released the bait with a roll cast just upstream. Within seconds there was a large hit on the line and rod was bent towards the water.
“This feels like a big one,” Tyler said while walking downstream and finding the perfect balance between reeling in the line and letting line out when the fish wanted to run. He fought the fish for a solid 20 minutes before it began to tire and he was able bring it close enough to net. When he scooped the fish up I couldn’t believe how big it was. A trophy steelhead trout that would stack up to any fishery in the world was in his hands and we had only been there an hour.
It was my turn to try and I took a few casts before getting a big hit on the line. The fish ran into deep water and I let line out to relive the tension. I walked downstream and had the fishing fight of my life. The fish was huge and I felt a rising thrill and excitement when it came to the surface. As Hageman was about to net the trout it rolled a few times and managed to work itself free from the hook. The Big One had gotten away! Hageman smiled and we reveled in the excitement we had shared.
By the end of the day, I had probably caught more steelhead than I had in my entire life and I understood like never before why people say steelhead trout fishing in the Buffalo area is a truly special fishing experience.