Cats on the Genesee

By on July 17, 2017

The Genesee River is one of rare rivers that flow north in the United States. It starts down in Gold, Pennsylvania and spills into Lake Ontario 160 miles later. The river is clear and swift in the Southern Tier and has some good trout fishing in that section. As it meanders north, it gets lazier and muddier. The color turns from gin clear to chocolate milk. This change is not due to pollution, but to the muddy bank runoff from the Genesee Valley farm land. Trout don’t like chocolate milk and start to disappear as the flow heads north.

Old river rat Butch Miller with a nice mess of Genesee River cats. Provided photo

Old river rat Butch Miller with a nice mess of Genesee River cats. Provided photo

But there is a game fish that loves brown water, the channel catfish. The catfish gets no respect here in the north, but in the southern U.S. they are second only to bass in popularity. If the Genesee River was running through a southern state, there would be cat fisherman all over the waterway.

Cats are vastly underfished here in Western New York only because they have bad PR in the north. These handsome devils are a great fighting fish and, for those of you unfazed by the muddy environment they swim in, are excellent table fare. The section of the river from Avon north to Rochester is stacked with big channel cats in the 2 to 10 pound range and hardly anyone fishes them.

Boat access to this section of the river is limited, but there is an excellent free boat launch at the mouth of Black Creek in Chili just off Scottsville Road. From there you can zip a boat out into the river in seconds. Most of the time, the summer current in the Genesee is unhurried but be aware that it can quickly pick up after a big rain. One nice feature of boating the river is that you never have to worry about it getting too rough.

As for catching these scent-oriented creatures, there are many commercial types of bait on the market that claim to catch catfish but I personally haven’t had much luck with any of them. Worms work well but you will be bothered by smaller fish constantly nibbling your worm off. Chicken livers work fine because they are nice and bloody, but for my money you can’t beat fresh cut-bait. That is freshly cut pieces of any fish. You can ask your bait store for recently deceased minnows and most are happy to give them to you.

What I like to do is set up a fishing pole using a small #6 hook with a piece of worm that will usually catch a small sucker quickly in the river; I cut that oily fish up into small chunks about the size of a half dollar and you have the perfect catfish bait. If you get bit on cut bait it is going to be a cat.

When fishing catfish, it is better to be mobile; fish a spot for 20 minutes and move. If there are cats in the area they will scent your bait and bite it within a twenty-minute window. If you don’t catch anything in that time frame move on down the bank, or if in a boat, down river. If you are fishing from a boat, try fishing up current from the numerous log jams. The cats live in those jams and if your bait is upstream they will smell it and come out for lunch.

I fish the river all the way south to Avon and the fishing gets better the further south you go. I believe there are catfish up there that haven’t seen a hook. If you bank fish there are several shore fishing access points: a nice one on Route 253 in Henrietta and the next bridge south on Rush Scottsville Road in Rush.

There are some walleye, northern pike and smallmouth bass in this stretch of the Genesee but to my knowledge they aren’t caught in any numbers. Cats, on the other hand, can be. Heavy rods and braided line are your best bet for hoisting the cats out of the cover. Snags are common, so bring plenty of tackle. I like 2/0 circle hooks; the cats literally catch themselves. All I have to do when I see a bite is pick up the rod and start winding. Try to avoid using round sinkers because they will roll with the current, getting you snagged. I like a flat two ounce sinker; a flat sinker will lie on the bottom and the heavy weight will stay put.

In the dead of summer when much of the in-shore fishing here in Western New York gets slow, go herd some cats. They pull hard and their looks get much better when floating in hot grease. Chances are you will have the river to yourself. Give the muddy Genesee a try. I think you will be surprised the number of channel cats that live there.

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