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Lake Ontario Tributary Fishing in Jefferson County

North Country salmon streams host some of the best salmon and trout fisheries in New York. Thousands of anglers travel each year to Lake Ontario's eastern shoreline to try their luck at hooking and landing a trophy-sized salmon. Chinook salmon weighing up to 30 pounds and steelhead weighing up to 20 pounds, provide anglers with spectacular excitement.

The fishery

Lake Ontario once supported an excellent Atlantic salmon and lake trout fishery. However, as a result of habitat destruction, parasitism by sea lamprey and overfishing, the trout and salmon fishery disappeared. In an effort to reestablish a viable salmonid fishery in Lake Ontario, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) instituted a restoration program in the late 1960s. Restoration efforts began in the North Country in the mid-1970s, when Pacific salmon (chinook and coho) and steelhead were stocked in Skinner, North Sandy and South Sandy creeks. In 1980, the first chinook stockings were placed in the Black River and by1983, the river was receiving stockings of coho salmon and steelhead as well. In 1990, the Black River was being stocked with Atlantic salmon and increased numbers of steelhead. By 2003, the Black River was being managed for chinook salmon, steelhead and brown trout. Beginning in 2004 Stony Creek was being managed for steelhead and brown trout. Today, DEC annually stocks millions of salmon, steelhead and brown trout into Lake Ontario. Those fish return to the tributaries where they were stocked from early fall through the spring to make their spawning runs.

Chinook salmon school offshore in August, and begin their spawning run in September, which continues into November. Peak migration is in early October. Steelhead enter the streams a little later, around the middle of November, and remain there until they spawn in spring. Brown trout run mostly in October and November although some are present year round in the Black River.

North and South Sandy creeks and the Black River receive the largest runs of chinook salmon in the North Country. Salmon run up these tributaries to the first impassable barrier, and fishing can be found anywhere along that length. Fish ladders located at the Dexter and Glen Park open another eight miles of the Black River to salmon, steelhead and brown trout. However, salmon and trout may wander into just about any Lake Ontario tributary with sufficient water flows. Mill, Stony, Skinner and Lindsey creeks all get small runs of chinook salmon and trout.

Fishing techniques and lures

During their fall spawning runs, salmon are found in large groups and are therefore much more susceptible to angling. A number of fish are taken off the tributary mouths, but the majority are caught in the streams themselves. Anglers use several methods of catching these beautiful sport fish including trolling, spin casting and jigging.

Conventional methods of fishing in the fall can be quite productive, whether from shore or boat, and any angler who has hooked a salmon will tell you the key is to be prepared! A number of people have been left with their mouths open as that trophy fish either snaps their line or strips all the line off their reel. On an initial strike, salmon will make a long run, so be sure to have plenty of line (200-250 yards) and at least 15-20 pound test. For chinooks, the most popular lures in the fishery are large spoons, such as Locos, Cleos, Kastmasters and Sweedish Pimples, for jigging and casting and Hot Shots and Evil Eyes for trolling. Local bait shops and other anglers can provide up-to-date information on what's working.

Salmon fishing is a summer fishery as well. North Country anglers are consistently able to catch salmon on the open lake. Deep trolling in early August is quite successful and the key is to fish the zone of preferred temperature, which for chinooks is 51 to 55 degrees F and steelhead 59 to 62 degrees F. The most productive area is in "the slot," located near Stony/Calf Islands/Stony Point Lighthouse. Evil Eyes, Northport Nailers, Hooksters and squids in color combinations with black seem to work best. Also try rainbow smelt, alewife and yellow perch imitations. Remember, locations and lures change from day to day, so experiment and fish the zone of preferred temperature!

When fishing for steelhead in spring and fall, egg sacs cannot be beat. Drift fishing from a boat or casting from shore and letting the egg sac bounce on the bottom both work well. One hint for added success is to include a piece of styrofoam or marshmallow in the egg sac.


Public boat launch sites are distributed all along Lake Ontario's shoreline. DEC provides public fishing rights on sections of many of the streams such as Black River, Stony, North Sandy, South Sandy, Skinner, and Lindsey creeks, giving anglers access for wading or bank fishing. Private marinas and individuals also provide access to other less accessible portions of the lake.

Public Fishing Rights Maps

Black River (Salmon Run Section) (511 kb PDF)
Lindsey Creek (723 kb PDF)
Sandy Creek (aka North Sandy Creek) (662 kb PDF)
Skinner Creek - (723 kb PDF)
South Sandy Creek (653 kb PDF)
Stony Creek (384 kb PDF)

Consult the fishing guide for current regulations on Lake Ontario tributaries.

Stream Fishing Techniques

Best times, locations and techniques for catching chinook salmon, steelhead and brown trout
Species Best Times Locations Techniques/Lures
Chinook Salmon September - November Black River, North and South Sandy creeks Some drift fishing and spin casting in downstream sections. Popular lures include Alpena Diamonds, Hot Shots, Evil Eyes, Cleos and Locos in chartreuse and green.
Steelhead November - April Black River, Stony Creek, North Sandy Creek, South Sandy Creek, Stony Creek, Skinner Creek, Lindsey Creek Drift fishing from boat or casting from shore using egg sacs is the most popular methods. The key is to bounce the egg sac along the bottom. Some anglers enclose a small piece of styrofoam or marshmallow in the egg sac to lift it slightly off the bottom.Spinners, flies, wobbling plugs and sponge balls also work well.
Brown Trout October - November Black River, Stony Creek Egg sacs, spinners and flies are most popular.

Chambers of Commerce:

For more information about lodging, guides and campgrounds, please contact:

Greater North Country:
1241 Coffeen St.
Watertown, NY 13601
(315) 788-4400

St. Lawrence County:
101 Main Street
Canton, NY 13617
(877) 228-7810