South Sandy Creek Steelhead Fishing: Jefferson County, NY

South Sandy Creek Steelhead caught on a fly

The first time I fished South Sandy Creek for steelhead was because the nearby Salmon River was flowing too high and was hard to fish. A local mentioned we try South Sandy because it can be lower and fishing well when other rivers are too high.

There is more than one Sandy Creek in New York, and this article is about the South Sandy Creek in Jefferson County just east of Pulaski.

South Sandy Creek is a mid-sized river that can provide excellent steelhead fishing from October to April. Steelhead fishing on South Sandy Creek is not the only fishing available, anglers will also find plenty of big Chinook Salmon and some migrator brown trout in the river in the fall.

South Sandy Creek Steelhead Fishing

This South Sandy Creek is a small tributary to Lake Ontario in Jefferson County, located just 10.8 miles from Adams, in New York, United States.

South Sandy Creek is sourced from the Tug Hill region westward and flows through the Ellisburg village and then finally empties into Lake Ontario.

South Sandy Creek, together with other close tributaries like North Sandy Creek and Little Sandy Creek, receives a stocking of about 28,750 yearling steelhead each year.

The South Sandy Creek has just over 20 miles of water body in length and the steelhead fishing is limited to the section below Monitor Mills Dam at Ellisburg.

As small as this creek may be, it has the record of providing some of the most memorable steelhead fishing in the state of New York, in the United States. See The 13 Best New York Steelhead Rivers.

Local river guides and anglers will tell you that it takes a decent rain to raise the water levels enough for the steelhead to enter, but once they do, the big steelhead will hold in the many deeper pockets and pools.

The upside is that when other more popular rivers like the Salmon River are too high or too crowded, South Sandy Creek can be perfect for fishing with fewer anglers around.

Thanks to its quality runs, good mix of pools, many access points, and a fair amount of spawning gravel, South Sandy Creeks can produce some big fish and allow for great steelhead fishing opportunities in NY.

Anglers are sure to find a variety of fish such as chinook salmon, coho salmon, brown trout, and steelhead here.

Best Time To Fish South Sandy Creek

Fishing can be easy if you know how to predict the runs and the right time to fish. Typical of every Ontario tributary, steelhead will run up the creek after significant rains raise the water levels, and this can happen from September through May and thus gives anglers nine months to target steelhead.

However, it’s still possible to fish for steelhead in Ontario rivers like South Sandy Creek even in the summer for smallmouth bass near the mouth of the river, giving anglers as much as twelve months of fishing.

Steelhead Fishing South Sandy Creek In Fall

If there is enough rain and cool nights, fishable numbers might start as early as late September. This marks the beginning of the steelhead spawn migration. As the fall season progresses, the temperature of the water in South Sandy Creek drops to suit steelhead migration (usually 45-60 degrees F).

Together with the onset of cold nights and October and November rains, steelhead migration continues with more steelhead and anglers farther up the creek.  November is one of the best times to target these silver bullets in the fall.

Anglers who know how to adapt to the changing fall conditions and temperature drops, and are knowledgeable about steelhead location shifts are those that have the most success.

Learn my most effective methods at Fall Steelhead Fishing.

Steelhead Fishing South Sandy Creek in Winter

The winter season is characterized by declining river temperatures, gradually getting close to the freezing mark, which typically stalls upstream steelhead movement. Steelhead runs slow down considerably, and steelhead in the river will hold in deep slow pools.

Most anglers avoid steelhead fishing during the winter as it becomes so difficult to catch fish.

However difficult, the steelhead are there, and they will feed at times. Experienced anglers can still take advantage of these icy cold conditions and land some great steelhead.

There is less pressure on the creek and I find that some of the biggest steelhead enter the rivers in late November and will hold over in the creek all winter. As long as the river is not frozen solid and you know how to fish winter steelhead this is a good time of year.

Winter steelhead fishing can be great if you understand how the temperature affects steelhead behavior and their holding patterns. There are methods, setups, and baits that are best suited for winter steelhead fishing.

I discuss everything you need to know about winter steelhead fishing and tell you how river guides keep their clients catching fish even on the coldest days, in my article: Winter Steelhead Fishing.

Towards the end of winter, the river experiences an upsurge in temperature and begins to warm up; and regular steelhead fishing on South Sandy Creek resumes.

Steelhead Fishing the South Sandy Creek in Spring

The spring season is a great time for South Sandy Creek fishing for steelhead. Spring can provide some great steelhead action as these Chromers begin to find their way to the best spawning grounds within the creek. This usually begins around the first week of March through April and can last into the first week of May. 

The cold winter is gradually turning into warmer weather associated with spring. This temperature upsurge raises the river levels due to snow melting and triggers the first spring steelhead runs. These spring silver bullets can also be aggressive during this time, so they will readily grab any bait, fly, or lure that is well presented.

Spring is generally characterized by fluctuating water levels and temperatures and there are three stages of the spring steelhead run. If you don’t know what stage the steelhead are in, spring steelhead fishing during this time can be somewhat difficult.

Understanding and adapting to these fluctuations is critical to landing many great steelhead.

To find out guide tips and tactics for spring steelhead fishing and about the stages of the spring steelhead runs, you should check out my page: Spring Steelhead Fishing.

Steelhead Fishing South Sandy Creek in Summer

Some locals tell me there are sometimes some steelhead in South Sandy Creek during the summer.

Some Ontario tributaries such as South Sandy Creek can have some small sporadic runs of steelhead during the summer. Summer steelhead fishing is associated with a unique strain of steelhead known as Skamania.

The Skamania breed of steelhead usually begins their spawning run during summer and remains in the river until they are sexually mature and ready to spawn which often late winter.

Fishing for Skamania is usually “hit or miss” as their upriver migration tends to be very quick and South Sandy Creek’s summer steelhead are often strays from the stocking efforts of nearby Salmon River. This means the numbers are small and sporadic.

Skamania steelhead fishing also depends greatly on river conditions. Rising water levels caused by heavy rain events are the basic conditions that stimulate Skamania’s run.

Timing is very critical when it comes to these chromes, and so your best chance at landing these steelheads is during periods of increased flow.

Best Methods For Steelhead Fishing The South Sandy Creek

There are many methods that anglers use to catch steelhead on South Sandy Creek. The methods used are almost identical to what guides and anglers use on other rivers of this size all around the Great Lakes region. I will discuss some of these methods here, but if you want more in-depth information, check out my page Steelhead Fishing – Most Effective Methods For Steelhead

Float Fishing

Float fishing is very popular and very effective. Float fishing for steelhead is a method used to present a bait to steelhead by using a bobber, otherwise known as a “float”.

Your choice of float and your leader setup is critical. Be sure you use a good float made for steelhead fishing smaller rivers. See: Best Centerpin Floats.

I recommend spawn bags, beads, flies, and worms. For more productive baits and instructions on how to use them, visit my page: Best Steelhead Baits.

If you’re interested in learning how to do it right, you can check out my page on Float Fishing for Steelhead.

Drift Fishing / Bottom Bouncing

Drift fishing for steelhead works well in deeper faster waters. Drift fishing and bottom bouncing are very similar and are steelhead fishing methods where you cast your bait out with no float or bobber and you allow it to drift and bounce along the bottom.

The goal is for the bait to bounce along the bottom with the speed of the current. Any slight hesitations, a tug on the line, or upstream movement of the line is a sign of a hit. See more on my page Drift Fishing For Steelhead.

Spin Fishing With Lures

Lures are good for steelhead on South Sandy Creek. Spoons and spinners are great choices for steelhead lures on smaller creeks like South Sandy. Plugs, crankbaits, and jigs also work as well in the bigger pools.

These are some of the best lures I would recommend for this river, but to see how to use them, what sizes and colors are best, and how to fish them under varying water conditions, check out my page Lure Fishing For Trout: Tactics From A Pro River Guide.

Fly Fishing

Last but not least is fly fishing for steelhead. Many local river guides only fly fish for steelhead on New York Steelhead Rivers, and South Sandy Creek is perfect for fly fishing.

The most common method used when fly fishing for Steelhead on South Sandy is Indicator Nymphing but there are other fly fishing methods that work well and maybe even better. I discuss my most effective and all fly fishing methods on my Fly Fishing For Steelhead: Great Lakes Style.

Best Access Points for South Sandy Creek

South Sandy Creek boasts of being well-signed and having different access points with plentiful parking. This can be found in different sections of the creek from Ellisburg downstream through South Landing Road. You will find public access on Lakeview Wildlife Management Area, also downstream of South Landing.

There are also other access points at roads that lead off Route #193. For generalized location maps intended to aid anglers in finding designated steelhead fishing areas and public fishing rights (PFR) segments, check out the South Sandy Creek Fishing Maps

Streamflow For Steelhead

Understanding steelhead behavior is important if you want to be successful in pursuing steelhead. This behavior is partly dependent on water levels, so it’s smart to check the river conditions before heading out to the river.

For real-time streamflow data and a good indication of river conditions, you should check the USGS South Sandy Creek flow gauge, New York Water Science Center.

Tight Lines


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  1. Hi Graham, thanks for the great content here. I fish the hole in Ellisburg by the dpw, where you walk along the cemetery, for salmon. I have never fished it for steelhead. I’m planning on making the 2 hour drive up in a week or two. I was wondering if that would be worth trying? thanks for any information or advice. Thank you, Jim

    1. Hey Jim,

      I know exactly where that is, I fish that stretch up to the falls. But, I would check the stream flows and conditions with one of the local shops before you drive two hours, or be prepared to go to the Salmon River if Sandy is too low.

      Good Luck,