Thursday, June 18, 2015

Scriba Creek: Bass and Panfish

By Spider Rybaak

Family Effort
Scriba Creek runs through Constantia New York. A dam on the north side of town, about a quarter-mile above the lake, blocks fish from migrating further upstream. Wild brown trout occupy the cool waters above the barrier, warm water species like bass and walleyes spawn down below.

Most walleyes complete their business before opening morning and beat fins back to the lake. Still, opening day always finds a few late bloomers in the plunge-pool and rapids. Savvy locals usually catch them all before sunup.

While most fish are good at keeping on schedule, there’s always a few that aren’t. So I conducted a kids fishing class at the hatchery last Saturday hoping someone would get a late-blooming walleye.
About a dozen kids showed up for class. Before the second line was even out, the boy who made the first cast was into a fish: a 2-lb. largemouth.

It conducted itself in noble fashion: jumping twice, tearing off for the other side (drag screaming for mercy) and stubbornly circling below our feet for over a minute. Finally, fish and boy exhausted, the hawg reluctantly came to the bank. A couple hero shots and high-5s later, it was released.

A two-year-old girl was next. Watching her bobber circle, she grabbed the pole and was about to set the hook with the force of a lumber jack. Her dad told her to be patient. And when the bobber dove, she pulled back and the fight was on.

The bass was a bully, however, and a couple seconds later dad had to take over. Out came a two-pound bucketmouth. The little girl hid behind her father initially, but came out with a little coxing, and even petted the fish.

The day’s tally was three bass of about 2-pounds each, 18 sunfish and 10 rock bass ranging from 3 to 6 inches, and a few finger-sized fall fish.

The next free fishing class at the Oneida Lake Hatchery will be held on June 27, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free bait and tackle will be available, compliments of yours truly and Oswego County Tourism. Or bring your own.

The Oneida Lake Hatchery is on NY 49 in the heart of Constantia.

Taking Cover

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cabins in the Park

By Spider Rybaak

Newly renovated cabins at Selkirk Shores

New Yorkers love the outdoors. Mostly that’s because we’ve got loads of natural spaces to explore. Many of the most popular are right here in Oswego County’s big back yard.

Our county boasts a disproportionate share of the state’s natural wonders. The squeaky-clean beaches of Sandy Island Beach State Park, the towering sand dunes of Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area, the bluffs towering over Lake Ontario off Sage Creek Drive, the cobblestone beach at Selkirk Shores State Park, to mention a few.

And all of these are just in our corner of Lake Ontario. We haven’t even touched inland spots like Kasoag and Oneida Lakes, the Salmon River falls and reservoirs, the Oswego and Oneida Rivers, our fantastic web of streams, and sprawling state forests and Wildlife Management Areas.

Indeed, Oswego County is graced with more than its fair share of natural wonders. So many, in fact, folks from all over the world come up to our neck of the woods to indulge their senses and build memories in the spectacularly scenic places we call home.

And while we have all kinds of spots in which to rough it, there comes a time when tent camping just doesn’t cut it; when we don’t want to leave behind comforts like light switches, showers, and flush toilets. Or times when we want to introduce family and friends to our good fortune without dragging them away from the comforts of home.

For moments like these we have Selkirk Shores State Park; 1,000 acres of mixed forest, marsh, river front and cobblestone beaches so beautiful you’ll wanna write home to mom about ‘em.

The cabins are perfect for contemporary campers. The park offers 24 cabins and 3 cottages for those who like the security of solid walls. Two of the cabins are newly renovated and are fully ADA compliant. Each cabin comes with an open fireplace, toilet and kitchen.

If you want to sleep under the stars, the park offers 148 campsites (88 electric), including several on a bluff offering more lakefront than you can fit into your range of vision; and sunsets you’ll be dreaming about forever.

There’s plenty to do, too. A web of fabulous hiking trails slices through the grounds. The marsh is loaded with waterfowl raising families in summer, and flocks taking breaks during spring and fall migrations. A fishing pier is within casting distance of the mouth of Grindstone Creek, a productive spawning site for lake-run trout and salmon.

Selkirk Shores State Park is located on NY 3, about 1.5 miles south of Port Ontario. For more information, go to , or call (315) 298-5737. All advance reservations for cabins and sites can be made by using or dialing 1 (800) 456-CAMP.

Fishing from the Pier, Selkirk Shores State Park

Monday, June 1, 2015

Sturgeon of State

By Spider Rybaak
Sturgy, the 4-something-foot resident sturgeon at the Oneida Lake Hatchery in Constantia.
Anyone worth his weight in jigheads knows the best walleye fishery in the Northeast is Oneida Lake. Likewise, savvy bass anglers agree it’s one of your best bets in the state to nail limits of keeper bass punctuated by a trophy or two. And the perch grow so long and fat they’re called Jacks.

But there’s more lurking within this Central New York lake than just world class game fish and panfish. Unusual critters like lake sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish this side of the Mississippi, thrive here, too.

Capable of living over 100 years, growing up to 9 feet long and weighing close to 200 pounds, this fish is one of the oldest species on earth, dating back to the Jurasic period. Armored with gigantic plates on its back and sides, propelled with a huge, shark-like tail, graced with a bottom sucking mug only a mother could love, this beast looks like it came out of some steamy, primordial swamp or cooling pond of a nuclear power plant.

But it’s as American as Apple pie; native to the Oswego River drainage which includes Oneida Lake.
Sturgeon, along with several other native flora and fauna, were all but wiped out by the middle of the last century. Seeing the devastating effects pollution had on the woods and waters, conscientious Americans spawned an environmental movement, and a massive clean-up ensued.  Given a clean slate, most of the natural world rebounded on its own. Larger beasts with long life spans required a little help.

NYSDEC met the challenge, carefully reintroducing species like Atlantic salmon into Lake Ontario, whitefish into select Adirondack ponds, paddlefish into the Alleghany River system and lake sturgeon into Oneida Lake.

DEC’s sturgeon stocking program in Oneida Lake went so well, recent surveys reveal sturgeon are naturally reproducing in the place.

They’re not out of the woods yet, however, and probably never will be. Fish this big take a long time to reach sexual maturity--up to 20 years--and their size makes it tough to find hiding spots in shallow lakes and streams, making them extremely vulnerable.

So they enjoy protected status in NY State. It’s illegal to fish for them. If one is caught, it must be released immediately.

With a little help from their human friends, lake sturgeon populations have a good chance of bouncing back to former levels.

When that happens, it’ll be possible to walk along the bank of the Oneida or Oswego Rivers, or even Verona Beach State Park and see monster sturgeon splashing around in shallow water.  When this becomes commonplace, it’ll indicate man has taken a significant step forward in returning some of nature’s biggest animals to their rightful haunts.

Help Wanted
All about sturgeon

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lake Neahtahwanta: A Great Place to Teach Kids how to Fish.

By Spider Rybaak

Carp enthusiast Mike McGrath, McGrath and Associates Carp Angling Services, shows a syudent how to handle a carp.
Kids take to fishing like minnows to water. Problem is a lot of youngsters don’t have anyone to take them out the first time to teach them the basics. While it’s true the internet has videos giving step by step instructions on everything from tying a cinch knot and bait selection to casting and fighting the fish, nothing beats an adult’s guiding hand during a child’s first hours on the water.

It’s just natural for a kid to need someone to look up to when casting a rod the first time. And it doesn’t take much for an adult to get the swing of things. In fact, you don’t even have to know how to set the rig up because every retailer that handles fishing equipment, from the lowliest bait shop to massive outfits like Bass Pro Shops, sells spin-fishing combos that are already rigged. They’re so simple to use, I’ve had 3-year-olds master long distance casting after only three tries.

In fact, they’ll be so impressed with how far they can reach they’ll spend half the time --initially, anyway--practicing how to cast.

Eventually, they’re gonna have to wet a line, however, and you’re going to have to find a safe place to take them. Oswego County makes that easy: Lake Neahtahwanta.

Located on NY 3, off Fulton’s west side, this 750-acre lake averages 6 feet deep and drops to a maximum of 12 feet deep. Roughly 25 percent of its shoreline is manicured park, and a fishing pier right at the road reaches out about 100 feet. Railings make it safe for kids, and, at the deep end, a covered gazebo with benches keeps the weather at bay and a load off your feet.

Best of all, the place is loaded with fish; mostly panfish like sunfish, white and yellow perch. However, there’s a lot of bass, crappie, northern pike, channel catfish, bowfin and monster carp around, too.

A typical day usually sees realistic fishing accomplished.

For instance, Mike McGrath, owner of McGrath and Associates Carp Angling Services and I have been conducting kids fishing programs at Lake Neahtahwanta for well over 5 years. We keep coming back because it’s one of the only places around where you can expect to catch a fish every time you go out, from shore, no less; and usually, you’ll catch a whole bunch.

Our most recent class was last Saturday, May 16, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. I taught bait fishing techniques, providing fishing outfits for 12 kids. Mike taught trophy carp fishing techniques.

And the fish were biting. McGrath’s students landed a dozen carp ranging from 5 to 15 pounds.

Not only did Mike instruct the kids on how to fight these fresh water giants, a feat requiring skill, as well as endurance, he also showed how to draw the fish by seeding the waters with a mixture of grains. Stirring in a little water to help the ingredients stick together, Mike shapes a clump into a pancake, drops a hook baited with corn into the center and packs it into a ball the size of an orange. Heaving it out, he rests his rod in a holder, sits down, relaxes and waits for the hit.

In the meantime, I’m up on the pier teaching how to tie a hook onto the line, bait it with a worm and cast it out. Before long, my kids are catching fish.

Mike’s kids have to wait a little longer, but their patience is rewarded when the first carp hits with such force, it almost drags the rod into the drink.

Although the worm anglers are catching a lot of white perch, sunfish and yellow perch, the fish only weigh a few ounces. Mike’s carp, on the other hand, can go over 20 pounds.

We’ll be conducting four more FREE fishing classes on Lake Neahtahwanta this summer (June 20, July 11, August 15, and October 10,) and four classes at the NYSDEC Fish Hatchery in Constantia, NY 49, on Oneida Lake (May 30, June 27, Aug. 22, and Sept. 12).  Classes run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All tackle and bait will be provided for free.

For more information, contact me at, or Mike Mcgrath:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

River Walk

By: Spider Rybaak

Trilliums line the paths along the Salmon River in Altmar like runners made from magic carpets.
There’s nothing like balmy May temperatures under azure skies to stir Oswego County’s fish into biting. Problem is the same conditions trigger the bane of the Northcountry: black flies.
They don’t usually bother gung-ho trout purists too much: we’re up to our knees in the drink and they stay onshore where leaves and grass give them cover from the wind.

And that usually settles that.

Things get a little complicated when the Mrs. wants to tag along; to fill her lungs with fresh air, I suppose, rub some sun on her skin, maybe just to  see why I smile so much after getting off the stream.

When that happens, three things decide our destination: low density of bugs, a lot to see on shore, and nearby natural wonders for when the fishing’s done.
Almar, NY fits the bill.

You see, the Salmon River runs through it. And although the major salmon and steelhead runs are still 4 months away, there’s a lot of natural stuff going on in this sleepy little town to keep you and fellow travelers occupied, particularly over the next week or so, before summer’s thick green carpet covers the forest floor.

For instance, the trail for the first 100 yards or so downstream of the CR 52 bridge is loaded with exciting features for everyone: nice trout runs for you, a fabulous wild garden for your non-fishing buddy.

Beds of trilliums cling to the trail’s edge like snowbanks. As you get closer, they begin to sway alongside the path like runners made from magic carpet. Stand right over them, and they’ll hook your eyes with delicate beauty, drawing you into their intricate design.

Covered in a forested knave, shrouded in the sound of rushing water, carpeted in a colorful explosion of foliage, this wonderland casts a spell on everyone who comes here, bringing them back year after year.

While more famous natural wonders punctuate America’s landscape, none is easier to reach than the Salmon River. The New York State Thruway brings you an hour south of it and I-81 crosses it.
So, next time you’re dreaming about spellbinding, natural settings, don’t settle for mind games. Instead, c’mon up to Altmar and feast your senses on this patchwork of natural beauty.

Fungus staircase.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Oneida Lake: still NY’s Walleye Hot Spot

By Spider Rybaak

A few of the winners line up.
Walleye season’s opening weekend proved once again what every pike enthusiast in Central New York knew all along: Oneida Lake is still your best bet when it comes to these toothy beasts.
From one end of the lake to the other, anglers netted pike, mostly walleyes, but a few northerns, too, including an 38-inch monster allegedly taken west of Frenchman Island.

Both sides of the Erie Canal at Sylvan Beach were lined with colorful anglers all weekend, from the opening minute straight through Sunday night.

Caughedenoy hosted loads of bank anglers throwing all the usual suspects, from Thundersticks and Rapalas to bucktail jigs and worms.

As expected, the crankbaits took the lions share in the plunge pool below the gates, primarily because they cover a lot of water and, most important, swim over most of the spot’s notorious snags.

Still, a couple old timers took their limits on bucktails. Not only by jigging them rapidly  to keep them above the rocks, but also by steadily swimming them, a technique locals claim was developed exclusively for the fast water on the Oneida River’s biggest oxbow.

Brewerton contributed some walleyes, too. The NYSDEC’s Fishing access sites on both ends of the I-81 Bridge coughed up a few for anglers jigging  Sonars in the deep water below the bridge, or running minnowbaits parallel to the canal’s drop-offs.

Out on the open lake, walleyes were hitting worms drifted on harnesses (spinner-rigged and plain), bucktail jigs, and Sonars.

The Cicero- Mattydale Lions Club held its 2015 Walleye Derby on Oneida Lake over the weekend, drawing 1,877 anglers to compete for more than $10,000.00 in cash and prizes.

Top honors went to Georgia native Jack Barber for a 27 3/8 inch walleye he took on a bucktail jig.
Herkimer native Mike Zucker won the drawing for a highly coveted  12-foot Low powered by an 8 horse. Merc.

Not surprisingly, jigs manufactured by Five-O Lure Co. and Voodoo Custom Tackle, a couple local firms, landed their users in the money.

The awards ceremony was held at Bartel Road Bait and Tackle, 5501 Bartel Road, Brewerton (315-676-2144). Bartel Road Bait and Tackle, a company specializing in all the popular Oneida Lake baits, announces its upcoming Pickerel Derby, May 26, 2015, from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m..

"The best 4-fish weight wins top prize,” says co-owner Kim Goffredo.

Tickets cost $10.00 and go on sale May 9.

“This derby is 100% payback,” says Goffredo, adding “ $8.00 goes into the general pot and $2.00 goes into the lunker pot.

“Last year we made 50 tickets and 151 anglers showed up,” claims Kim, suggesting anglers should sign up early.

For more info, call Bartel Road Bait and Tackle: (315) 676-2144.

At the weigh-in.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


By Spider Rybaak

Entrance to Toad Harbor last Sunday morning

Ice time was more stubborn this year than most, making a lot of folks worry we’d go from winter to summer without stopping at spring.

Trout anglers didn’t mind too much because the extended chill left local streams very fishable. Opening Day saw creek levels only slightly high, at levels you’d expect after a light rain, not during the thaw.

Unfortunately, what was good for trout anglers was terrible for Oneida Lake panfish fans. You see, panfish anglers saw NY’s biggest pond still crowned in hard water on April Fool’s Day. Worst thing was, the ice was thin and porous, solid enough to prevent bank-fishing, too weak for ice-fishing.
Friday night, April 17, warm winds finally took their toll on the ice. Come morning, a creepy fog shrouded the lake. When it finally burned off, the lake was iceless. Some backwoods bays still had sickly floes and small pockets of fragmented ice beating themselves against the banks, but nothing serious. By sunrise on Sunday, ice was as rare on the lake as fur on a catfish

Panfish anglers stormed their favorite spots looking for fish dinners. While the east end, especially Oneida Creek’s mouth, hosted the majority of activity, Oswego County spots saw their share of anglers, too.

On Big Bay, anglers swarmed the cuts at the Toad Harbor Fishing Access Site at the end of Shaw Drive. They came by boat and by land. And while the fish weren’t in as thick as they would have liked, crappie were coming in slow and steady, rewarding patience with fresh strawberry bass dinners.

Guys were also trying their luck on catching panfish in Toad Harbor Swamp’s outlet on McCloud Road. The Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area skirts the west side of the outlet, and most of the openings were occupied.

The water’s still a little cool but it’s warming fast and runs of crappies and sunnies can take place this weekend, next weekend for sure.

Oneida Lake shrouded in fog.