Onondaga Creek


Painting by Peter “Trout” Thompson

Rising some 27 miles south of the City of Syracuse, Onondaga Creek flows north by northwest to Onondaga Lake. Its headwaters are in Tully, where, slightly downstream from its origins, are found the now infamous “Tully Mud-boils.” Contributing fine particulate matter to the Creek in widely varying amounts, the mud-boils are responsible for the Creek’s never getting what we could rightly call “gin-clear.” At their highest level of input, they can make the entire Creek turn the color of chocolate milk, with or without a heavy rain.

The Creek has a number of tributaries, beginning in the south and moving north, these are: Fall Creek, West Branch Onondaga Creek, Hemlock Creek, Williams Creek, and Furnace Brook. All these inflows may safely be considered natural trout hatcheries and nurseries. The dominant trout species found in the Creek and its tributaries are Browns, with remnant populations of Brook trout and Rainbow trout, and, in any of these species, we can justifiably say that most have been hatched in the system. Others are “hold-overs,” migrants from the Lake, and some stocked Brown and Rainbow trout.

Fishing opportunities in the southern headwaters are rather scarce as much of the surrounding land is privately owned. Anyone finding access to those waters is advised to consult someone familiar with that section and, even then,  exercise extreme caution in approaching the stream as the mud-boils are inconspicuous and can be considered potentially fatal to anyone who gets in over his head, in the vernacular, it’s called “quick-sand.” A piece of advice? Use the “buddy system.”

Further downstream (north), the Creek flows through the lands of the Onondaga Nation, and should also be considered “private” by any who don’t have good connections with the Tribe and permission to access the stream through Tribal land.

At the north end of Nation land, the stream makes a 90 degree turn to the west, then in about another 1/8th of a mile, another 90 degree turn back to its northerly direction. Between that 2nd turn and Dorwin Avenue, the Creek is easily accessible from its west side by parking at the public lot adjacent to a small pond situated to the west of Dorwin Avenue, near its intersection with South Onondaga Road. There is a good foot path along the west shore, although it is posted by the cement company that owns the land there in an attempt to keep motorized vehicles out. The water in that section is very easy to fish, but not very productive. That said though, Onondaga Creek Brown and Rainbow trout, especially the larger specimens, are migratory, and can be found in some rather unexpected places.

This writer favors the section of the Creek below (downstream from) Dorwin Avenue. I usually go in via the road-side parking area just to the west of the Dorwin Avenue bridge, at the small gravel parking lot at the outlet of the Kelly Brothers’ Park access road. Again, The Creek is very easily accessed in this section. Productive? Well, it can be. It’s open water with no stream-side cover, but, again, because the water never completely clears, the trouts’ visibility is reduced, a factor definitely in the angler’s favor. I’m an Atlantic salmon fisher and a big advocate of swinging streamers for trout and salmon whereever I fish….That form of fly-fishing has been productive for me downstream from Dorwin Avenue. Throw dries, wets, soft-hackles, nymphs in that water and I’m sure you’ll meet with at least occasional success.  Suit yourself. There is roughly a mile of fishable water from the Dorwin Ave. bridge downstream to the next road access to the Creek at Seneca Turnpike. There is no parking at the Seneca Turnpike bridge, but there is along the nearby streets. In all these sections, the Creek hardly looks anything like a traditional “trout stream.” It  is not very deep, nor does it have any obvious “structure.” That said, bear in mind that, in part because of its lack of obvious holding water, Onondaga Creek is a prospector’s stream. Keep casting, keep changing flies, keep moving, “put in your time,” there are trout to be caught.

About ½ mile north of Seneca Turnpike the Creek enters its “walled” section at Ballantyne Road. As just mentioned, the water in the section up-stream from “the walls,” is open and easily fished. I know fly-fishers who fish in the walled section of the Creek and claim that there are any number of large Brown trout keeping residence there, but because there is no easy access either in or out of that water, for the purposes of this informational web site, we’ll pass it by, that is, until you’re close enough to the Lake to be at the newly constructed Creek Walk section. This part of the accessible Creek begins to the west of Armory Square in downtown Syracuse and allows walking access to the water from there to Onondaga Lake. Again, your “typical trout stream?” absolutely not. But, as is the case with the up-stream water, the Creek Walk section does hold trout, and some of them are of impressive size…….It’s all prospectors’ water. In this section, parking is on any of the adjoining streets……

Disadvantages? It ain’t the Beaverkill. Advantages? If you live in central New York, it’s one of your “home waters,” it holds some 5 lb. trout, and it’s very lightly pressured………Those of us who are TU members are all at least loosely committed to the preservation and restoration of our cold-water fisheries. In spite of its present and future trout stream potential, Onondaga Creek could be called an orphan in need of some friends. Try it, you just might like it.