Monday, November 9, 2015

Lake Neahtawanta: Best Kept Fishing Secret in Oswego County

By Spider Rybaak

The Pier at Lake Neatahwantha is a great place to teach kids to fish.
Covering roughly 750 acres on Fulton’s west side, skirted along its north bank by NY 3, Lake Neahtawanta affords easy access to the city’s 11,800-something residents.  Yet this huge pond on the edge of town doesn’t see many people at all.

You can blame its lack of fame on the Oswego River, the state’s second largest stream. Running through the heart of the city, boasting two sets of fish-rich rapids and a long stretch of canal, all lined with hundreds of yards of easy access, the river draws a lot of fishing pressure.

Natives don’t mind, however. Not because they’re altruistic and want to share their bounty; but because they have a plan B: Lake Neahtawanta.

Iroquois for “little lake near the big lake,” Lake Neahtawanta averages 6 feet deep and drops to a maximum depth of 12 feet. Roughly 75 percent of its shoreline is wooded, but its northeastern corner is wide open and public, offering loads of access on manicured lawns.

Savvy natives fish the place from the bank and boats. If you ask them how the fish are hitting, most remain calm, just shrug, and confess to catching some white perch, maybe a bullhead or carp. Not exactly something worth writing home to mom about.

That’s about all the attention most anglers give the place. And that’s a terrible shame.

Hailing from the south shore of Oneida Lake, I have all the dynamite fishing I want close to home and never found a good reason to fish this lake until 2010. That’s when Mike McGrath, my partner in a kids fishing program, suggested we do a couple sessions at Lake Neahtawanta. He took me up there and introduced me to the place.

The fishing was good. We added the spot to our list and have been staging a couple kids fishing classes there every year since.

Warm weather angling for white perch, bullhead and sunnies is popular from Bullhead Point Park. A pier stretches out for nearly 100 feet, and is favored by anglers who wish to fish in relatively deep water. The rough shoreline along the parking lot, and the manicured lawn that wraps around the northeastern corner for several hundred yards, are popular with folks who just want to kick back and relax while watching their rod tips for communications from the deep.

A few northerns and largemouth bass are also present, keeping things interesting. In fact, a local I know claims everything you find in the Oswego River, including unusual species like bowfin and gar, thrive in these waters.

Perhaps Neahtawanta’s greatest claim to fame is ice fishing.  In fact, its hard-water bite for crappies and panfish is legendary, drawing more anglers onto the ice than spring through fall.

While it’s possible to launch car-top craft from Bullhead Point, a more suitable spot is North Bay Campground. Located a couple hundred yards west of the point, at the end of Phillips Street, it offers a hard surface ramp. In addition, it has 36 seasonal sites and 42 day sites--each with easy access to the water--a camp store, a hard surface launch, a beach, bathhouse with showers, and a playground.

White perch are the lake's most cooperative fish.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Central NY’s Best Surf Fishing

By Spider Rybaak

Surf Fishing

Most folks think surf fishing is only productive off the beaches of big waters like the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. However, big lakes will do when oceans are few; and Oneida Lake ranks right up there with the best of 'em.

But there's a catch: beach fishing on New York's biggest lake is only productive in spring and fall when in-shore water temperatures range from the upper 50s to the lower 70s, drawing massive schools of minnows, with walleyes hot on their tails.

If you're like most guys, carrying a thermometer to check water temperatures isn't up your alley; you go by intuition instead. Die-hards wade for pike as early as late August and continue through November. Your average Oneida Lake surfer, on the other hand, hits the waves during their most productive time: mid-October through mid-November.

Don't confuse bank fishing with surf fishing. When you fish from shore, you're firmly on solid ground; whereas surf fishing leaves you standing in water up to your thighs or even higher with nothing but determination supporting you in the wind and waves.

But the rewards are great. Walleyes love the surf. That's because minnows in water that's only 2 to 5 feet deep have less room to escape than those in deeper water.

Best of all, fishing for walleyes in the shallows is very sensual. They often break the surface while chasing their prey, and while fighting to get off the hook.

The best way to fish the surf is with minnow-imitating crankbaits like Rapalas and Storm Thundersticks. While many believe rattling baits generally draw more strikes when the fish are aggressive, others say silent bait works all the time, even on moon-lit nights when the walleyes are skittish.

Toad Harbor Wildlife Management Area's Phillips Point (from NY49 in West Monroe, take Toad Harbor Road to McCloud Road) is the most popular spot to wade because it's remote and easily accessible from a public road.

There are other good spots, too; the shelf along the metal breakwater on the northeastern corner of the I-81 Bridge, for instance; and the rocky point reaching south from the Cleveland Docks Public Fishing Access Site off NY 49 in Cleveland.

Sunset: Best Time for Walleyes

Mixed Bag of Anglers in the Surf

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Salmon at the Gate

By Spider Rybaak

Stairway to Salmon Heaven.

Early birds have been complaining the kings and cohos are running late this year. But as anyone with a little knowledge about the species can tell ya, they gotta run sometime; and that sometime is soon.

Last Saturday sparked a few into moving. Not massive numbers, mind you, just enough to keep things interesting. In Altmar, visitors attending the hatchery’s annual open house were treated to a steady stream of cohoes and a smattering of kings climbing the fish ladder all day long.

Downstream, cohoes were porpoising all along the river, challenging anglers to come and get ‘em. Those who were savvy in bait presentation, and knew how to handle a rod connected to an angry salmon, caught their limits.

Rob, over at Fat Nancy’s, says guides are reporting the mouth of the Salmon River is loaded with fish.
Rick Miick, owner of Dream Catcher Charters and Guide Service (315-387-5920) agrees. “I was out last Sunday night and the place was loaded with fish. The mother lode of kings is 50 feet deep, about a mile straight out in front of the mouth,” he adds.

“The cold temperatures and rain the weatherman predicts for this week are bound to drive them upstream,” predicts Miick.”

Once the ball gets rolling, salmon will continue running heavy all of October, slowly petering out by mid- November, just in time to make room for the steelhead that’ll be lured upstream in search of salmon eggs swept from the spawning beds by the current.

Presently, Beaverdam Brook in Altmar is swollen with salmon making their way to the hatchery.

Visitors to the facility, located on CR 22, can expect to see cohoes averaging 8 pounds and kings weighing up to 40-something pounds climbing the fish ladder all day long.

While loads of salmon are already milling around the gate waiting to be admitted into the hatchery, the vast majority is still too green to be stripped of spawn. Hatchery personnel are expected to start collecting and mixing the ingredients around Columbus Day.

The public is invited to watch. Call the hatchery (315-298-5051) for details.

At the last rung.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Kings are Back in Town

By Spider Rybaak

At the west Dam in Oswego.

Boasting one of the most popular campuses in the State University of New York system, Oswego sees its share of out-of-towners. But the return of students in late summer isn’t this port city’s only surge of visitors. A river slices through the heart of town and when the salmon run its rapids this time each year, the license plates in the parking lots on both banks hail from all over the country.

The first fish trickle into the inviting current as early as late August. They don’t all come at once, but stagger their return: one here, a couple there, a dozen up the middle. A few today, more tomorrow, none the third day, and so many on the fourth day the river seems to push upstream.

Typically, late September sees the migration accelerate. Conditions are never exactly the same from year to year so there’s no sure-fire formula for when great quantities of fish will be there. The only thing that’s certain is that the fish will come…and anglers will follow hot on their tails.

One magical morning--sometimes as early as the second week of the month, other years not until the beginning of October--so many fish ascend the fast water, colorful locals swear the river rises a foot or more. Guys who wade the river encounter so many fish they have to dodge ‘em or risk being knocked over.
Last week saw groups of fish ranging from a dozen to a couple hundred running the rapids each day.
By Sept. 17, word got out and anglers punctuated the rapids like waving, multi-colored ribbons. Saturday saw massive numbers of anglers weaving through the fast water, many tugging straining stringers attached to salmon averaging 20 pounds.

The action petered out by Sunday, but enough fish kept climbing upstream to keep patient anglers plugging away at them all day long.

Ritch, an employee over at the west bank’s Larry’s Salmon Shop, claims “salmon are stacked up in the pools below the dam.”
“As a matter of fact, we get a good morning-bite right behind the bait shop,” he adds.

Salmon numbers will increase in the river steadily until the end of the month, when they’ll stabilize, offering  action bordering on fantasy through the month of October.
Football-sized browns will join them next month, offering world class trophy fishing for this popular species until December. They’ll be followed in mid-October by large quantities of bragging-sized steelhead which will continuously run upstream until early spring.

From the looks of the run so far, the bubbly in the city of Oswego will host another bumper crop of salmonid this season.

Come on up and cast some flies or egg sacs at this big water’s monster trout and salmon. The only thing that’s certain is your arms will get tired. You'll have a better than even chance of hooking the fish of your dreams; a thrill that’ll turn your aches into bragging rights.

Off the wall. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lighthouse Hill Reservoir

By Spider Rybaak

Sign at the parking site on CR 22.
Cool September nights are starting to spur salmon into spawning mode. As of Monday, 9/14/2015 a few fish are trickling into the Salmon River, but “nothing too exciting yet!” according to an angler throwing streamers last weekend in the rapids upstream of the US 11 bridge in Pulaski.

From the looks of it, the run will follow the usual pattern: A few fish here and there up through this week, followed by major runs from next week through October, and then slowly petering out, all but disappearing from the stream by mid-November.

If you decide to head up this week and good numbers of fish aren’t in yet, a good alternative is to hit the Lower Reservoir for rainbows and browns. Also known as Lighthouse Hill Reservoir, this 164 acre impoundment is stocked annually with 4,000 yearling rainbows running 8 to 9 inches, and offers naturally spawned browns up to 5 pounds, and holdover rainbows averaging 2 pounds.

Summer sees the fish move to the 50-foot depths out in the middle where they’re pretty much ignored by anglers because the impoundment’s small size makes trolling for them hard work…and relatively boring. Still, the water filling the reservoir is drawn from the cool depths of the upper reservoir. Carried down the hill by a huge pipe, it’s protected from the sun and remains cool all the way to the powerhouse at Bennett Bridge.

September’s longer nights conspire with the flow released by the powerhouse to lower water temperatures enough to draw trout into shallow water. By the middle of the month, the fish move in close enough, especially at dawn and dusk, to be within range of guys casting spoons and spinners from shore.

The hottest action is at the reservoir’s tailrace where the cool, highly oxygenated rapids run at the perfect temperature and pace for trout. A good way to target them is by casting streamers across the current and letting them swing downstream. The fish usually strike when the fly hits the edge of the fast water and straightens out. Hold on tight because the strike is always violent, leading to the phrase: “the drug is in the tug.

Spinners and spoons cast upstream and across the current produce, too; and worms fished on bottom along the currents edge work after a rain.

Getting to the fish is easy, too. A fishing access site, complete with parking for about 10 cars, sits right off CR 22, between the bridges--one goes over the tailrace, the other over what’s left of the original Salmon River. Another access site is off Hog Back Road, on the east bank. The state’s regular trout regulations govern the water above the reservoir’s dam.

Tailrace Point powerhouse discharge on the left

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fishing in Fulton

By Spider Rybaak

Fishing lesson below Lock #3.

Oswego means different things to different folks. To most, it’s simply the county hugging Lake Ontario’s southeastern corner. History buffs recognize it as Lake Ontario’s oldest port city. And academics think of its SUNY campus, one of the state’s greatest teachers colleges.

Anglers, on the other hand, appreciate Oswego for its original Indian meaning: mouth of the river. From October through March, they’re drawn to the city with dreams of catching trophy trout and salmon the size of the ones swimming through their imaginations.

Unfortunately, chinooks and browns won’t be in the city’s fast waters until next month.

But that’s OK. You see, the remaining 22 miles of river, stretching from Three Rivers to the top of its last dam, is the haunt of massive quantities of popular warmwater game fish like walleyes, northern pike and black bass, and lesser species like sheepshead, catfish, carp, panfish, bowfin, gar, you name it.

What’s more, much of the river’s most productive water is accessible to the public and easy to reach. You see, the water’s natural course is fairly steep, and it tumbles over some serious drops in places like Phoenix and Fulton.

The rapids were tamed by locks and dams when the Barge Canal was built early in the 20th century. Harnessing the river’s power opened a tsunami of economic opportunity. Hamlets around the dams flourished, becoming cities. Before long, riverside communities built recreational infrastructure like river walks, parks and public launches.

Fulton is especially blessed. Its east bank offers access sites at both of its bridges.

The South First Street access site (at the southeastern corner of the NY 3 Bridge) offers parking for about 20 cars and pedestrian access. You’ll have to climb a long set of stairs to get to the water. You won’t be able to reach the rapids from here, only the deep, slow moving water in the canal, and the channel coming out of the powerhouse.

The northern (Oneida Street) bridge offers similar access on its southeastern corner, also off South First Street.  From this site you can walk north on the canal’s western retaining wall for about a quarter mile, to a spillway, arguably the hottest fishing spot in Fulton.

Before the State stocked salmon and trout into Lake “O,” Fulton was considered the hottest fishing destination on the Oswego River for everything from walleyes to monster catfish.

Still is, in fact, and its wealth of public access makes it one of the most convenient fishing spots in the state for warmwater species.

View from the top of the lock.

Friday, August 14, 2015

School for Bassin’

By Spider Rybaak

Randy Howell
Back in the old days, vacation meant a break from school or work so you could fish to your heart’s content. Nowadays, a lot of guys take vacations to go back to school…to learn how to fish.

Fishing classes have been around since the days of Christ when ancient Romans cast flies made of dyed wool for rainbows in the Tiber River. More recently, mail-order giant Orvis has been offering fly-fishing lessons for years. This author has been conducting free kids fishing classes each summer since 2004, and is up to 25 sessions annually (contact Oswego County Tourism for a schedule).

Now a bass fishing school is coming to Oneida Lake.

On August 2, 2015, Get Hooked Fishing Academy,  billed as “the top Northeast bass fishing school,” held a promotional event in Brewerton, kicking-off a six-month, hands-on course “designed to improve participant’s skills and knowledge in the sport of bass fishing.”

Get Hooked will teach students how to catch bass consistently, in all seasons. You’ll be trained in “different rod and reel set-ups, differences in fishing line, fishing knots, artificial baits and lures, all while learning to think, adapt and react instantly to the fishing environment.”

Mike Pikulinski, one of the founding members, says “the program has been in the works for a number of years now. Our hope is that these classes will be a fun and healthy way to bring the community, youth and families together …”

“Some of the pros scheduled to appear include Randy Howell, 2014 Bass Master Champion [he just won the August 6-8, 2015 Bass Masters Opener], Brent Chapman, Jacob Powroznik and more.”

Picking Oneida Lake for the course is a no-brainer.  Ranked 40th on the list of the country’s top bass lakes, its fish-packed waters have been floating bass tournaments, including major national competitions, for years.
What’s more, its location just north of Syracuse, a major metropolitan area, subjects the water to heavy fishing pressure. Its bass get stuck a lot, quickly becoming seasoned veterans, challenging to catch and perfect teaching models.

Get Hooked’s mission statement reads: “To improve all anglers’ skill level as it relates to fishing, environment, conservation, but most of all to enjoy the sport of fishing. Let’s all strive to become better people that will contribute to nature and society in a positive way.”

For more information, visit, call (315) 634-9493, or email

Brent Chapman
David Dudley