It is nearly three hundred years from today. You begin to string up your fly line through your guides as you notice a tribe of Iroquois Indian Braves, paddling in unison in birch bark canoes with nets full of brook trout ranging in size from 6 to 10 lbs. You begin fly-casting and hook a 9 pound brook trout in full spawning colors. Your trophy fish is large but not nearly as large as some of the other fish rising in the large expanse of water you are fishing.
Its is now the late 1700’s, the water you are fishing is now a bit slower than it was 100 years ago, and the views of Long Houses have been replaced by fields of corn, stacks of fresh cut lumber and in the far distance you can see a fort, built complete with stockades and cannons. You begin to string up your rod as you hear cannons firing in the distance, as you realize that the sound is slightly east of you in a small village called Oriskany. It is the Oriskany Battle Field and the cannons firing mark a time in history during the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
It is the year 2002 and you string up your fly rod just below one of the largest dams in Central New York. You notice a few carp tailing right up next to the dam, but you know there are some huge Brown Trout just below, and the water which follows downstream holds more wonders than you can even imagine.
The body I am speaking of is the Mohawk River in Central New York. This body of water has been one of the major arteries for run off in New York State, and probably was the most influential river in the settling of the state as well. Nearly all of the rivers in central New York will eventually empty into it and from there will flow over a hundred miles to the Hudson in the Capital city of Albany. At one point of the rivers journey in the city of Rome New York, the powerful Mohawk River empties into the NYS Barge Canal, once known as the Great Erie Canal. From that point leading upriver is the cold water portion of this river. Like many other rivers, each section or branch of it have different characteristics, and different separate ecosystems. The section of water from the Bottom of Delta Dam to the Barge Canal would be considered the trophy section of the stream. It is not designated this by the state nor any other foundation, but merely is a name I will choose to call it because it is easily accessible, stocked heavily, and is the beginning of a tail water fishery. In this branch the river is stocked heavily by the Rome Fish Hatchery with mostly Brown Trout., but on occasion you can be greeted with a stocked brook trout, rainbow or even tiger trout. The major hatches in this section of the river consist of caddis and some mayflies. Much of this section of the Mohawk is a bit silty so some species of mayflies are not abundant. Although you will find a good hatch of Hendricksons, and Sulphers in the spring and Ephrons and Isonychias in the late summer and fall. The beauty of this section of the river is how accessible is can be being so close, in fact running parallel to the city of Rome. Lodging is easy, and abundant. Anglers looking to travel here can call the Rome Chamber of Commerce for a directory. Although the section from the Barge Canal to the Delta Dam is mostly trout water, intermingled along the multi-mile stretch you will also find some Smallmouth bass, a migrating school of Walleye and some Northern Pike. These other species can be targeted quite easily but are found in huge abundances from the Barge to the Hudson.
The headwaters of the Mohawk start out in the town of Ava where the west branch of the Mohawk River gets its water from many streams in the hills, including Ava Brook, Blue Brook, and the Lansing Kill. Some of these bodies of water, especially the lower sections of the Lansing Kill, still hold browns, but most of the other headwaters hold brook trout. The topography of the land changes quite a bit from the main stem to the upper branches, and so does the water color. The upper branches, including the West and East branch are mostly dark with tannin. Many of you are familiar with this type of water with the appearance of tea or light coffee. Although it is difficult to spot fish sometimes, it does have a tendency to color up the fish more from the additional mineral content.
Fishing the Mohawk on the main stem in the city of Rome is easy wading for the most part. The bottom consists of freestone boulders, but nothing too dangerous. The city has also put in a fishing access for children and handicap anglers just outside the hatchery. Wading is the most popular method of fly fishing the Mohawk river in the Middle stem “trophy section” but it also is very effective from a kick boat. Many people I know use this method and in turn have had some very positive results. Drop in and take out points and scattered along the river and the flow is very steady and navigable.
When to Go: The Mohawk is susceptible to some warm water during the summer months like most rivers are, but it usually is in ample supply of water. Temperatures may get a bit warm, and you may catch some more bass than trout in August, but the trout are still there, they just need to be persuaded off the bottom. The best months for the river are April, May, June, and September. For some reason this river always fishes real well in the early spring and fall. There are plenty of hold over fish in the Mohawk so fishing in fall can mean some real productive days.
Tackle: If you are fishing the main flow below the dam, a 9 foot 5 weight or 6 weight works well. As you move up river though, you may go to an 8 foot 4 weight for the Lansing Kill and West Branch, and as for the real small feeders, a 6-7 foot rod works nicely, and provides great fun for catching eager brook trout. Down below Rome however is big fish water. If you are a carp nut, fishing the over flows of the barge Canal can bring some of the best carp fishing I have found in a river setting. In the main Canal, you can find Bass, Pike, Enormous Tiger Musky, and Carp. There is a saying that the Mohawk gets so much water from so many rivers in New York, that if it is in our state, it is in the Mohawk at some point. Fishing the overflows can be done by wading but fishing the big water must be done by boat. There are a number of access pints on the canal, a list of these can be retrieved from the NYS Dept. of Transportation.
Fly Suggestions: I have never been one to admit that there is one particular fly for some magical body of water that only produces fish with an individual fly. This river is no exception to that rule. If you like fishing streamers, this is a great fishery for that in the spring and fall, mostly because there is such an abundance of large browns in here. Other wise Light Cahill’s seem to work well all year as well as Tan caddis patterns throughout the season. Some areas do have high grass banks, so fishing in the summer and fall is good with a grasshopper pattern.
The Mohawk River is a delight to fish. It is often known for its chances to catch a variety of fish and a pretty consistent large trout. Because the hatchery is on the rivers stream bank, many fish are believed to be just dumped into the river un-published. I would recommend that anyone traveling through the state on a fishing outing, or is headed to the Salmon river, not far north from Lake Delta, should give this body of water a try. For those of you who are looking for only native fish, you may try the headwaters area, but for those who are not necessarily looking for un-touched trout, the possible success of this river is often overlooked. Although I promise you will not see Indians paddling down river, nor will you hear cannons sounding in the distance, you may however feel like you are in a part of history, as you glance around the mighty Mohawk and realize what the world might have been like if man had never discovered this most influential body of water.