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Cayuga Inlet

Cayuga Inlet is a small to medium-sized stream located in Tompkins County near the city of Ithaca. Cayuga Inlet is a major spawning tributary for Cayuga Lake rainbow trout and is a popular destination for anglers on the opening day of trout season. The thrill of watching a big rainbow trout leaping out of the water as it peels line from the reel draws anglers from across the region. The average rainbow trout caught in the Inlet is about four pounds, but fish up to ten pounds are also landed each year.The DEC Cayuga Inlet Fishway, which is located on the Inlet, is an important rainbow trout egg collection and sea lamprey control facility.

Hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant, was found in Cayuga Inlet in August 2011. Hydrilla can easily be transported into uninfested waterbodies as plant fragments on boats from infested waters. For information on Hydrilla, control measures being taken and what boaters can do to prevent its spread, please view Hydrilla Information Cornell Cooperative Extension under Links leaving DEC's Website (to the right).

Public Access

There are 7.9 miles of Public Fishing Rights (PFR) located along Cayuga Inlet. There are five official PFR parking areas along the stream and numerous unofficial pull-offs.

Parking Areas

Blakeslee Hill Road. Take Route 34&96 south from Ithaca, left on Blakeslee Hill Road.
Newfield Depot Road. Route 34&96 1.2 miles south of Blakeslee Hill Road, right onto Newfield Depot Road.
McDaniels Road. Route 34&96 1.2 miles south of Newfield Depot Road, left onto McDaniels Road.
Brown Road 1. Route 34&96 a half mile south of McDaniels Road, left onto Brown Road.
Brown Road 2. One mile from Brown Road 1.

Cayuga Inlet Public Fishing Rights Brochure and Maps (PDF) (459 kB)

General Fishing Information

The most popular gamefish in the Inlet are rainbow and brown trout, Atlantic salmon and smallmouth bass. White sucker, rock bass and common carp can also be caught in the Inlet. In the spring, rainbow trout enter Cayuga Inlet on their annual spawning run. The timing of the run varies from year to year, with water temperature often influencing. how long fish remain in the stream. A cold spring usually slows spawning and more fish remain in the stream through April 1st, the opening day of trout season. If it's an early or warm spring, many of the rainbow trout may have finished spawning and left the stream before opening day.

Good baits for the rainbow trout are egg sacs (trout or salmon eggs), egg imitating flies and plastics, trout beads, streamers, and night-crawlers. Depending on the state of the spawning run, fish may be holding in the deeper pools, actively spawning in shallow riffle areas, or both. When fishing pools, the most active fish are usually found at the head or tail of the pool, with less active fish in the middle. Use just enough weight so that your bait just ticks bottom and drifts through the pool or riffle naturally. For more information, view Fishing for Stream Trout. Like many Finger Lakes tributaries, the Inlet is often crowded with anglers on opening day, and stream etiquette can go a long way in making everyone's day a pleasurable one. Some good tips to follow are:

  • Elbow room to fish is a common courtesy.
  • The stationary or slow moving angler should be given room by over taking them noiselessly out of the water and re-entering as far away as practical.
  • Wading right up to another angler could disturb a pod of feeding fish and no one appreciates this type of conduct.
  • Pleasant conversations are OK, so long as you don't disturb other anglers.

In the fall Atlantic salmon and brown trout can be found in the lower Inlet from the fishway to the lake. During high water events in the fall, it's sometimes possible for fish to make it over the dam and be found in the upper Inlet as well. The same baits mentioned for rainbow trout will also work for the brown trout and salmon. Unlike rainbow trout, brown trout and Atlantic salmon spawn in the fall, usually from mid-October to November. Stream level during this time of year can often affect when the trout and salmon enter the stream. High water events often trigger fish to run, while low stream levels often prevent or delay fish from moving into the streams. Water levels are often low this time of year which can make the fish spooky. When fishing during low water levels, try some of these tips to improve your luck:

  • Work your way upstream (against the current) whenever possible because trout will usually face into the current and are less likely to see you approaching from behind.
  • Wear camouflage clothing and hats or "natural colors" rather than bright colors.
  • Move slowly and disturb the water as little as possible.
  • Polarized glasses will aid you when wading, and in seeing fish and fish holding areas.

Fisheries Management

The West Branch of Cayuga Inlet and Enfield Creek, both tributaries to Cayuga Inlet, are each stocked annually with around 10,000 Finger Lakes strain rainbow trout. Cayuga Inlet is managed under the Finger Lakes Tributaries Regulations, so please be sure to check that section of your Freshwater Fishing Guide. There is a NO FISHING zone around the Cayuga Inlet Fishway between the NO FISHING signs located 500 feet upstream and downstream of the Cayuga Inlet Fishway.

Cayuga Inlet Fishway

Fisheries technician stripping eggs from rainbow trout

The Cayuga Inlet Fishway was constructed in 1969 to allow fish passage around a low head dam that had been constructed on the Inlet as part of a flood control project. The Fishway was run by Cornell University staff and students from 1969 to 1974. The DEC took over operation of the Fishway in 1975. Cayuga Inlet is a major spawning stream for rainbow trout in Cayuga Lake. On average 76% of the rainbows handled at the Fishway are wild fish. The Fishway is also used as a biological data and egg collection point for the Finger Lakes strain rainbow trout. Biological data collected for the rainbow trout generally consist of length, weight, sex, age, spawning condition, wild or stocked, and the number of sea lamprey wounds and scars. Eggs taken from the Cayuga Inlet rainbows are transported to the DEC Bath Fish Hatchery. After the eggs hatch, the rainbow fry are raised at the hatchery for about a year; they're then stocked back into Cayuga Lake as well as some other Finger Lakes. The rainbows stocked in Cayuga Lake are fin clipped (adipose clip) so wild and hatchery reared fish can be distinguished from one another.

Cayuga Inlet Sea Lampreys

Cayuga Inlet also has good spawning habitat for sea lampreys and, in the past, up to 90% of the lampreys in the lake originated from the here. Sea lampreys are an invasive species of fish that parasitize other fish, especially trout and salmon. Adult sea lamprey attach to a host fish with their sucker-like mouths which are ringed with rows of horny teeth. They then rasp a hole in the side of the host fish with their tooth covered tongue and feed on the fish's body tissue and blood. When adult lamprey density in a given waterbody is too high, many host fish die after being fed on by multiple lamprey.

Sea lamprey in a holding tub

To prevent upstream movement of adult lamprey, a barrier screen is inserted within the Fishway, during their spring spawning run. The adult lampreys are then trapped and removed from the system before they have a chance to spawn. In an average year, around 1,000 lampreys are captured and removed. One adult female lamprey has the capacity to carry 100,000 eggs or more. Occasionally high water events in the spring have allowed adult lampreys to get over the dam and spawn in the prime habitat upstream of the fishway. If annual monitoring for juvenile lamprey indicates that high numbers are present, we than have to consider the use of a lampricide to eliminate them before they migrate out to the lake. Fortunately, in most years the barrier at the Fishway has successfully blocked spawning run sea lampreys, so the use of the chemical lampricide TFM (3-triflouromethl-4-nitrophenal) has not been needed. The use of TFM has only been required three times at the Inlet (1986, 1996 and 2014) due to the success of the trap at the Fishway. Unfortunately, sea lamprey can spawn successfully in other Cayuga Lake tributaries, so there are always some adult sea lampreys in the lake.

Angler Diary Cooperator Program

An ongoing angler diary cooperator program on Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco Lakes, and their tributaries provides DEC fisheries staff with useful data on gamefish population trends. We are always looking for new cooperators, so if you are interested please contact the Region 7 office at (607) 753-3095 ext. 213 or email the office. Past years angler diary results can be viewed at Angler Diary Cooperator Program.

Fish Survey Report 2015

Overview

Operation of the Cayuga Inlet Fishway continued in spring 2015. A total of 681 rainbow trout were handled for the season; the second highest total we have handled since 2003 (table 1). The average length of rainbows handled was 20.7 inches (525 mm), which was well above the ten year average of 18.9 inches (480 mm). Forty-five percent of the rainbow trout handled at the Fishway had a hatchery fin-clip.

Egg collection

Region 7 Fisheries and Bath Hatchery staff worked cooperatively to collect a total of 190,000 eggs which will be used to supplement the populations of wild rainbow trout in Cayuga, Skaneateles, Owasco, Seneca, and Canandaigua Lakes. In addition, another 29,000 eggs were used to create our "hybrid" rainbow trout which are simply a cross with our male domestic rainbows from our hatchery system. These hybrids are primarily used in Skaneateles Lake.

Sea Lamprey Numbers

Nearly 6,000 adult lampreys were captured and killed at the Cayuga Inlet Fishway during the spring 2013 and 2014 spawning runs - well above the ten year average of 2,349. It is clear that the 2007 year class of lamprey has passed on as less than 300 adult sea lamprey were trapped in 2015.

Our management threshold for the rainbow trout wounding rate is 27 active wounds per 100 fish. Wounding rates greater than 27 means that there are enough parasitic phase lamprey in Cayuga Lake to substantially increase both mortality of trout and salmon in the lake and the number of unpalatable fish the anglers catch. Lamprey wounding of rainbow trout at the Fishway was 0.24 wounds per fish in the target index group of rainbow trout in the 19.7-21.6 inch size range in 2015. This is below the 0.27 threshold rate and below last year's 0.34 lamprey wounding rate. We expect lamprey wounding rates to decline even further given last year's successful lampricide treatment in Cayuga Inlet.

Table 1: Cayuga Inlet Fishway Rainbow Trout Spring Passage from 2003 to 2015
Year Fish
sampled
Average
length (inches)
Average
weight (pounds)
Percent
wild
Lamprey
wounding rate
2003 403 20.0 3.4 90% 7%
2004 267 18.3 2.7 77% 0%
2005 493 20.2 3.8 77% 2%
2006 146 19.2 3.2 87% 0%
2007 141 15.8 2.0 58% 0%
2008 528 17.4 2.6 60% 12%
2009 677 20.4 3.7 70% 5%
2010 583 19.4 4.4 74% 1%
2011 196 17.5 2.5 68% 0%
2012 464 19.2 3.3 78% 2%
2013 692 18.3 2.6 80% 18%
2014 549 19.5 3.2 66% 34%
2015 681 20.7 4.0 55% 24%