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OATKA: WET, WILD AND DON'T FORGET THE MAP

Where I live it's a slightly shorter drive to the Wiscoy and its wild (unstocked) trout, or the East Koy, which is stocked, than it is to Oatka Creek in Genesee and Monroe counties.

The Oatka's upper reaches, south of Warsaw, are closer and are stocked by Region 9 and may even contain some decent holdover fish. From Warsaw downstream the creek is shallow, warm and muddy but becomes good trout water farther on.

In Genesee County (Region 8), the state stocks as well, and just north of LeRoy along the Oatka Trail you'll find a host of anglers of all kinds. Otherwise, the Oatka is wild trout water.

This scouting outing was prompted by a map issued by the Oatka Creek Watershed Committee (P.O. Box 181, Scottsville, NY 14546). This traces the 58-mile creek from its start near Gainesville to its confluence with the Genesee River near Scottsville in Monroe County. The watershed group's map is rich in historical information and notes 28 places worth stopping, including several fishing access points.

If you are planning to fish south of Warsaw note that most land is posted. There are four bridges where the stocking trucks dump fish. Otherwise, you'd better ask for permission to cross private land.

It gets better near Pavilion. Here the Oatka gets refreshed from underground springs, which means it's far better trout water, and here is where that watershed map lets you down: It only shows the major numbered highways and town boundary lines. You'll want a good AAA map, the DeLorme Atlas or a print-out showing access points, stream stocking and public water rights provided by the DEC.

Download these color-coded guides for Regions 5 through 9 by going to: www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/fish/pfr/.

The watershed association says the Oatka is relatively free from pollution and the water quality is good. So is the fishing.

We came into LeRoy on Route 19, turned right on Route 5 to cross the creek, then headed north till we cut the Oatka Trail Road, which ends north of Caledonia and Mumford on Route 36.

And there we found a lot of anglers wherever there was parking on a bridge. However, some sections of the stream are posted -- probably where the fishing is best.

"They've been taking nymphs and wet flies," a fly rodder called from midstream. He'd had a lot of hits but few hookups on a gold-ribbed hare's ear nymph. His partner, downstream, had caught and released at least a dozen fish.

Once we turned onto Route 36 and headed south to Caledonia for lunch, we saw several spots I've fished in the past. There are DEC parking lots at access points, and near Caledonia, the railroad station lot offers access to Clear Creek, below the hatchery.

Clear Creek, which feeds the Oatka, is wild trout water: Two fish a day, 12 inches or longer is what you can keep during the regular season, but you can fish it all year if you catch and release fish. And you have to use artificial lures -- same rules as at the hatchery, where people fish from the bank to try out new rods and flies year-round -- creating the most educated fish in New York.

But on the Oatka itself, the rules get kind of funny: One section allows year-round fishing with five keepers, two over 12 inches. Other sections call for two fish, limits of 12-inchers -- or year-round catch and release, and one section is open year round for catch-and-release fishing only. Those downloaded DEC maps are a real help here, way better than the booklet issued with your license.

The attraction of the Oatka is twofold: first, it is new to me; and that Watershed Committee map, for all its faults, has a great history section, worth reading when you take a break from fishing.

Moreover, every outing that way inevitably leads to the Caledonia hatchery -- the nation's oldest. Stop by to toss some fish pellets to the giant breeder brown trout they keep to remind us tourists what we are fishing for.

e-mail: yvel@adelphia.net