Rochester is nestled on the southern shore of Lake Ontario with its tributary, the Genesee River, cutting right through the center of this bustling city. These resource-rich bodies of water were solely responsible for the rapid development of Rochester, making it the first of the United States’ boomtowns.
Its humble beginnings as Rochesterville began when Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and two companions from Maryland purchased land along the Genesee River. Starting with only 15 residents, they utilized the Genesee River and its waterfalls to power the city, laying down the foundation for high-volume flour milling and manufacturing. This aptly earned Rochester the nickname “Flour City”.
Rochester is known as the birthplace of several world-renowned companies, particularly the Eastman Kodak Company, founded by George Eastman. An avid entrepreneur and philanthropist, he played a pivotal role in the city’s development, establishing the University of Rochester and contributing to the Rochester Institute of Technology. These two schools would transform the city into the academic hub of science and technology it is known for today.
Rochester has many things to offer its visitors. From a thriving music and arts culture, yearly festivals, museums, and some of the best salmon and trout fishing in the world, this small city in New York is a haven for residents and tourists alike.
Fishing in Rochester is a way of life for its residents, with Lake Ontario and the Genesee River serving as the primary hotspots. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) annually stocks over 200,000 chinook salmon, rainbow trout (steelhead), and coho salmon into the lake near the river's mouth.
Lake Ontario is the 13th largest lake in the world and the final link in the chain of the Great Lakes waterways. Loosely translated from Huron (the ancient dialect spoken by the native inhabitants of the region), Ontario means “great lake” or “lake of shining water”. It is fed by the Niagara River with waters from Lake Erie and leads out to the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Although it’s the smallest of the Great Lakes, it’s the second deepest, with an average depth of 47 fathoms or 283 feet. In its placid waters, anglers can find steelhead, brown trout, and large chinook salmon.
Covering 7,340 square miles with 712 miles of bordering shores (including its islands), any angler, regardless of experience, will have almost guaranteed success fishing the waters. Lake Ontario has almost every honey hole an angler could ask for, such as piers, rocky reefs, and near-shore drop-offs. Trolling is often the most common angling technique in the lake, with current regulations allowing up to three rods for each angler.
To successfully troll such a wide body of water, it’s recommended to focus on the water temperature since each species has its preference. Lake Ontario, like most lakes, experiences thermal stratification during the warmer months. This means that the lake will have varying degrees of temperature relative to its depth. The warmest points of the lake will be the surface, gradually becoming colder the deeper you go.
Atlantic salmon and steelhead prefer waters that are 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit, while coho, chinook, and brown trout can be found in the range of 52-58 degrees Fahrenheit. Trolling the lake allows an angler to drop lines and lures at different depths, using the temperatures to their advantage.
Lake Ontario hosts three species of salmon - the chinook, coho, and Atlantic - which are some of the largest specimens among the Great Lakes. It’s famous for its chinook runs from April to November, with fish averaging up to 48 pounds being a normal catch. Rainbow trout and brown trout are a year-round affair in the lake, peaking from April to September. Lake trout, which are endemic to Lake Ontario, have a limited season but are plentiful and average around 8 to 10 pounds.
While often overlooked because of the salmon, there are other species in the lake that anglers can look forward to. Fishing for smallmouth bass in the region is excellent during summer. Walleye is best during spring and fall, with its season beginning on the first Saturday in May. Other species to look for would be largemouth bass, muskellunge, yellow perch, and sunfish.
The fish are so bountiful in the lake that tournaments are held across three seasons - summer, spring and fall. The annual LOC Derby, the largest tournament on the lake, has four divisions for the largest salmon, lake trout, brown trout, and walleye. Whether it's pier-fishing or aboard a boat, cash prizes are offered to lure residents and visitors into casting their lines out into the waters.
Anglers can access the lake through the various marinas, such as Charlotte Pier and the boardwalk at Ontario Beach Park. Charlotte Pier is an iconic fishing pier by the river mouth, where you can hook walleye, carp, perch, sheepshead, and the occasional smallmouth bass. It’s a popular tourist spot located near the beach, so some anglers shy away from the area and go to the Port of Rochester or Shumway Marina instead. These areas are great places to hire a chartered guide and are near where the lake meets the river.
The Genesee River, written as Zinochsaa by early authors, is the most important natural resource of Rochester and continues to be of great importance to the city, providing hydroelectric power to the downtown area. Originating from a hill in Pennsylvania, it flows 160 miles coursing through various communities, dropping over 2,250 feet, before finally ending in Lake Ontario within the city’s borders. Translated from Seneca, meaning “pleasant banks”, the river’s three roaring waterfalls were the foundation of its history.
The Genesee River as a whole is divided into four main fisheries, with the first section entirely in Rochester, namely from the river mouth by Lake Ontario to the Lower Falls. The river mouth of the Genesee River is sometimes called Rochester Harbor. Out here, there are multitudes of marinas where you can hire a chartered guide.
If you want to have an invigorating hike, you can start at Rochester Harbor and trek the 16-mile Genesee Riverway Trail leading down to Genesee Valley Park. On the way south, you’ll come across Turning Point Park, a popular fishing spot but more cherished for its beautiful scenery.
Regardless of which way you choose to head down to the southern part of the river, you’ll want to make your way to the Lower Falls, which is one of the largest waterfalls in the state of New York. What draws in anglers to this hotspot is its spectacular setting and the autumn salmon run. Towards the end of summer, the chinook, coho, and Atlantic salmon make their annual migration starting at the mouth of the river, going upstream towards the Lower Falls by Driving Park Avenue Bridge. The chinook, often touted as the most prized salmon, has the most significant numbers in hundreds of thousands, especially during October and November. They are followed closely by coho and Atlantic salmon, steelhead, and brown trout.
Their migration run is stopped short by the Lower Falls, where anglers like to set up to get their trophy fish. There is an access point at the Lower Gorge at the corner of Seth Green Drive and St. Paul Street, which is ideal during the spring and autumn.
Some, however, avoid the crowds and fish further upstream or above the falls. A portion of the river above the falls is more peaceful and abundant with steelhead and brown trout, stocked during the fishing season. During the summer, you can expect to find smallmouth bass swimming upstream, as well as walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, white perch, freshwater drum, channel catfish, and brown bullhead.
Other noteworthy spots include Eastman Lake and Durand Lake, which are small, shallow bodies of water that are often favored by kayakers and paddlers. It’s not touted as a honey hole because of its thick vegetation and muddy terrain but can provide good angling for those seeking a challenge. When the fishing season is open, you can find largemouth bass, sunfish, black crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead, Northern pike, and steelhead in these lakes. During the winter, anglers go after sunfish and other panfish if the ice is safe enough to traverse. Schools of minnows can be found in the shallow water under vegetation and in muddier areas near trees.
Rochester is known for its long and brutally cold winters but comes to life during spring, summer, and especially autumn. During the more pleasant seasons, anglers from all over Rochester line up against the riverbanks when it's ripe with salmon runs of chinook and coho.
Spring begins in March when the waters are still feeling the after-effects of winter. If anglers can find warm waters, they won’t be disappointed with the numbers of steelhead and lake trout. When the climate begins to soften up in April, finding brown trout over 20 pounds is no longer a coincidence. Steelhead is peaking during this month as the salmon slowly start to trickle in.
May is the best time for anglers to buff up and ready their rigs for trout and salmon. This peak season will last almost throughout the summer until the end of July, with all species in full swing. Rainbow trout and Coho are at their prime in Lake Ontario, but other species are bountiful along its shores as well.
As summer is about to end in August, the salmon begin to leave the lake, which is a perfect time to shift towards the banks of the Genesee River. In September, all species of salmon and trout can be found in the river, and all of the ports are busy with activities in the lake.
Anglers will stay busy with brown trout and steelhead until October. Still, they need to remember that catching lake trout is prohibited during this month until November, when the season officially ends.
December to February are not ideal for most anglers because of the harsh winter winds. However, some still try their luck on the Genesee and can still hook steelhead and brown trout until spring. Anglers usually head to the lakes and ponds to go ice fishing for panfish and bluegill.
Fishing in Rochester is a way of life, so when it comes to fishing charters, you will have more options than you can think of. Whether you want to be out in the water for an entire day or just half a day, your charter captain will have something exciting to offer. There are also short trips to places such as Sodus Bay, Genesee River, and Irondequoit River.
Rochester is historically known as “Flower City” because of the blooming of lilacs in Highland Park that happens for ten days in May. The Lilac Festival was first established in 1898. Visitors can view over 500 different varieties while surrounded by live music, art, and food stalls.
If you’re in Rochester for vacation, then why not top it off by visiting a museum dedicated entirely to the history and exploration of play. With interactive exhibits and activities, learn about the history of how playing has impacted our society. The best place to visit in the museum would be The International Center for the History of Electronic Games.
You can’t leave Rochester without going to Nick Tahou Hots to sample the original “Garbage Plate” - a historic messy mound of food found that is the city’s pride and joy. While non-residents might grimace at the unattractive, calorie-rich, and high cholesterol dish, it’s an experience that must be had.