Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Trout Stocking Reports

By Spider Rybaak

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has just released its Spring Trout Stocking list for 2016.

While most anglers decide well in advance where they want to fish on opening day, forces ranging from Central New York's iffy weather can force an angler to change plans overnight, sometimes even while standing in the middle of a stream. After all, a skinny creek that looks highly fishable when you step into it, can quickly turn high and muddy when run-off from a rainstorm upstream finally hits you.

Or, just as bad, you target a "crick" others set their sights on, too. After wading awhile without a hit, the reason for your lack of results becomes crystal clear: someone else is fishing the stream just ahead of you.

OK, you think and start fishing downstream. But on some days, Murphy's Law clings to you like a famished mosquito and a couple of bends in the stream  later, you spot guys fishing down there, too.

It's a free country, you think, and they have the same right to the stream as you do. Still, you can't help getting irritated as you slip and slide back upstream to your car.

Now, if you know the area well, there's probably other fishing spots around, and you have plans B, C, maybe even D to save the day.

But if you're unfamiliar with the area, your fishing may be over until next time. Even if you back-track to some other promising spots that hooked your imagination earlier, there's no quick way to learn whether they're worth the water flowing through them or not, and you risk wasting a whole day trying to find out.

DEC's annual stocking list can come to the rescue. It tells you what creeks were stocked and when,  the average size of the fish, and even the township, important when fishing a stream you're unfamiliar with.

You can find all the information in the NYSDEC's stocking reports available online at  Scroll down to stocking information and click on spring stockings.

Here's the skinny on Oswego County's trout "cricks:"

- North Branch Salmon River: Stocked with 3,020 brook trout ranging from 8 to 9 inches; paralleled by CR 17 in Redfield.

- Salmon River (upper): Stocked with 840 brook trout and 1,150 rainbow trout ranging from 8 to 9 inches; paralleled by Waterbury Road in Redfield.

- Rice Creek: Stocked with 340 brown trout running  8-9 inches; paralleled by Cemetery and Ridge Roads west of the city of Oswego.

- West Branch Fish Creek: Stocked with 1,380 brown trout ranging from 8-9 inches; paralleled by CR 30 in Williamstown.

- Black Creek: Stocked with 430 brown trout running from 8 to 9 inches; paralleled by Black Creek and Kingdom Roads, and crossed by CR 45, north of Fulton.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tottering but Not Out

By Spider Rybaak

By Capt. George O'Brien
Lately, poor sports have been slandering Lake Ontario with reports its fishery is drying up.

Don’t believe it!

While there’s some indication the lake is experiencing a small drop in salmonid populations lately, experts attribute it to the boom and bust cycles every world class fishery experiences.  And although you can’t expect to limit-out on trophies every time you hit the water nowadays, there’s still enough big fish around to fill your dreams from ear to ear, and adorn a bare spot on your wall.

That point was brought home to me--again--last week when I accepted an invitation from John Kopy to float-fish the Salmon River. Native to the area, Kopy’s been fishing the stream for more than 50 years, and boasts 40 years of float-fishing experience under his oars. Plying rivers from Alaska to New York, he’s earned a reputation as one of the best steelhead guides on Great Lakes tributaries.
So when I called him last week to get some quotes for my upcoming book, “Fishing the Salmon River,” (Burford books, scheduled for release in 2017), he was eager to help me out; and then some.

“We can talk till the cows come home,” he adds a couple minutes into the conversation.  “But the best way for you to get a good feel for the current fishery is to come up and try it.”

“Are you free next Wednesday?” he asks. “I had a client cancel on me and if you have time, we can go out for a few hours.”

A couple days later we’re floating the river below Pulaski in Kopy’s drift boat. He’s manning the oars; I’m watching the rods for strikes.

We nail three steelies in about four hours, including a 30-incher.

“Good work,” he says as we head back to shore.

That’s what puts on the short list of the river’s best guides.

Check Kopy out at, or give him a call (315) 387-6343.

*Spider Rybaak is the author of Fishing Eastern New York and Fishing Western New York, the most complete guides ever published on recreational fishing in the state’s waters.  Available at all fine book stores and on-line.  Signed copies available from the author:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Late Season Hunting in Oswego County

By Spider Rybaak

Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area provides habitat for a number of species, including snowshoe hares. (photos by Janet Clerkin)
Oswego County crosses the line. It’s one of only six counties in New York that boasts territory—in almost equal measure—in the state’s northern and southern zones. While that may seem inconsequential, it plays a big role in game populations.

For instance, we’re one of the few counties in the state that boast cottontail rabbits and varying hares, commonly called snowshoes. While both belong to the family Lagomorph and look the same, the resemblance stops there. Hares are almost twice as big as cottontails, don’t burrow, bear young dressed in full coats of fur, and hit the ground running almost as soon as they’re born. What’s more, cottontails stay brown year-round and cotton to fields; whereas snowshoes turn white in winter and thrive in woods.

Cottontails are the state’s most common rabbit. One of the main reasons is because they’re burrowing critters, and run for the safety of their holes at the first sign of danger. Their favored habitat is fields, particularly in farm country.

Snowshoes, on the other hand, are forest creatures. Their preferred range is early successional habitat, particularly stands of young pines offering low branches for cover.

Their preference for hiding under bushy trees rather than jump into a hole makes them extremely vulnerable to predation, especially by coyotes. So a small wood patch won’t do. They need large forests--like the ones found in northern Oswego County--to keep a safe distance from predators.
Snowshoes had their heyday in the middle of the last century, after massive numbers of hardscrabble farmers gave up trying to eke a living out of the poor soil in the county’s northeastern corner and abandoned their homesteads. Nature took over, spreading new growth over the barren fields.

Snowshoes from “Up North” came down, found the browse to their liking-- and settled in. The rich food supply and ample cover lead to an explosion in their numbers.

The forests are older now, their branches too high to offer snowshoes much food or cover. Still, there’s enough low browse around to support hares. Indeed, Oswego County is famed for being one of the varying hares’ southernmost ranges in the state.

There ain’t many of ‘em--compared to cottontails--so you’ll have to work to get them. Bear in mind, however, they’re twice as big as bushytails so you don’t need as many.

The best spot to hunt them around here is 8,645-acre Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area. Roughly three miles of NY 104 runs along the north end, about four miles east of I-81.

A few other good spots to try include the 538-acre Salmon River Reforestation Area (split in half by CR 2, about 10 miles east of Pulaski) and 8,020-acre Little John Wildlife Management Area (off CR 17, in the northeastern corner of the county).

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Oswego’s Happy Hunting Grounds

By Spider Rybaak

Observation deck provides a nice view of the marsh.
Oswego County boasts a reputation as one of the world’s premier fishing destinations. Its claims to fame include Oneida Lake, the walleye capital of the Northeast, and the Salmon River, the best salmonid stream in the Northeast, and source of the world record coho salmon; a species native to the Pacific Ocean, no less.

However, the county’s wealth of fish-rich waters isn't the only thing that spurs outdoor enthusiasts to salivate when hearing our name. Indeed, Oswego is rich in forests and fields, too, places that draw legions of hunters, photographers, snowshoers, you name it.

One of the most popular outdoor destinations is Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Located off NY Rte. 3, a couple miles north of Port Ontario, this 1,195-acre public area offers a couple miles of scenic, easy paddling from the canoe launch off the highway to the mouth on Lake Ontario, hiking trails through lowland forest, and one of the finest examples of a wetland in the 17-mile long Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Barrier System.

Formed over the millennium by sand piled up along the shore by the lake’s incessant wave action, our sand dunes tower above Lake Ontario like the sides of a bowl, offering the finest example of Great Lakes dunes this side of Lake Michigan.

Although most popular with warm weather travelers, the dunes near the mouth of Deer Creek have their winter fans, too: hunters, snowshoers, and photographers.

Hunters are drawn by the plentiful game: deer and turkey in autum; squirrels, partridge, pheasants and cottontails right now. Snowshoers and photographers are lured here by lake-washed fresh air and striking winter scenery.

Then there’s snowmobiling, Oswego County’s greatest winter activity. Rest assured, whatever part of the county you may find yourself in, there’s a snowmobile trail nearby.

Oswego County has more than its fair share of magical natural wonders to explore year-round. Still, winter is the most magical season around these parts. Our snow is plentiful, our winter fisheries are legendary, and our hospitality is something to write home about.

Paddlers enjoy a leisurely trip. 
The beach is part of a 17-mile freshwater dune system. 

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.