Friday, October 14, 2016

Salmon Are In

Typical Salmon River King
An old saying goes: The only things that are certain are death and taxes.

Well, that adage is due for revision; around these parts, anyway.

It should claim: The only things that are certain are death, taxes and Pulaski’s salmon run.

Indeed, the river running through this Oswego County village has been on the radar of the world’s most enthusiastic anglers for a couple centuries, now.

Back in the old days the Salmon River was the best stream in the state for trophy landlocked Atlantic salmon--it was named after them, in fact.

It’s still the best spot; only now the fishing is much better.

Atlantics are the first salmon to spawn. Entering the river in summer, they do their thing and beat it back to the lake. Oh sure, late bloomers hold off running until this month, some even wait until November, but their numbers are so few, they don’t draw much attention from anglers. If they’re caught at all, it’s usually incidentally.

Kings and cohoes to the rescue. Pacific salmon don’t start running in significant quantities until mid-September, and when they do, they storm the river in such numbers you could cross it on their backs…If they weren’t so slippery, of course.

While it’s well known Pacific salmon stop feeding when they return to the river to spawn, they will hit a streamer or lure.

Talking heads believe that’s because they’re used to being the biggest kids on the block. Extremely aggressive to begin with, they naturally get meaner in route to the spawning beds, striking out at anything that gets in their way.

The main salmon run stretches through this month, with stragglers showing up into November…even later.

This month the salmon will be joined by trophy brown trout and steelhead.

Decisions... Decisions...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fishing the Rapids during the Run

Coho taken in the rapids at the bottom of the Long Bridge Hole in Pulaski, N.Y.

This week marks the time to get excited about Oswego County’s salmon runs.

Oh sure, a few precocious kings and cohoes have been teasing gung-ho, big-game anglers since the end of August; but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
Thousands of kings and cohoes will rip through the rapids from now until late next month. So many, in fact, cousin Staash claims “they’ll raise the water level a couple notches.”

You can bet the fish are gon’na draw legions of anglers from all over the Northeast, too.
Inexperienced in the ways of salmon in the fast water, most of these guys will think like humans and surround the big, deep  holes,  thinking they’re  the best spots to catch the trophies swimming around in their imaginations.

The fish are sure to be there, and fishing the rapids is one of the surest ways to find them.
You see, out in the big pond salmon are accustomed to being the biggest kids on the block. They bring that attitude with them when they enter the river, aggressively striking anything that gets in their way. Their confidence quickly fades after tasting the sting of a hook, or encountering excited anglers chasing after them.

That sends most of them heading for cover in the deep pools…where they encounter more hooks and more fish. So what’s a salmon to do?

And into the rapids it goes.
An exciting way to catch one is to swing a streamer through the current. Good patterns are wooly buggers in trout colors (brown or chartreuse) and Mickey fins.

Good spots to try on the Salmon River include Pineville Pool, Long Hole, Trooper Hole, Ball Park Run and Staircase.
Don’t be aggressive. Simply cast the streamer across the river and let the current swing it back to your side…and hold on.

After all, any fly-fisher can tell you: The drug is the tug!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Estuary Perch

Stan Oulette of Deer Creek Motel; Pulaski, N.Y.

Back in the early 1960s, catching Pacific salmon and steelhead in Lake Ontario was just a dream entertained by fish and game officials and dreamy-eyed anglers, many of whom had fished out West.

To your average local angler, the targets of choice were warm-water species like smallmouth bass, northern pike and yellow perch. The estuary, the slow-moving, lower stretch of the Salmon River running from the last set of rapids to the mouth, was one of the best spots around to catch ‘em all, especially a bucket of yellow perch.

“Still is” boasts Stan Oulette of Deer Creek Motel, located on State Route 3, a couple miles north of Port Ontario. “In fact,” he claims, "it’s Oswego County’s best kept secret.”

Stan and his brother David are local experts on the lower river. With good reason: both, along with their families, love to eat fish, and perch are their favorite. 

“The estuary always holds fish,” claims Stan, “but they change with the seasons… northern pike are plentiful in the spring, bass are in all summer long, salmon and brown trout come through in the fall, steelhead in winter and spring, and perch…ahh, perch,” he goes on, dreamlike  “… they’re always around.”

The bait of choice for these tasty panfish is a minnow fished on bottom or suspended a few inches off the floor below a bobber. Squeamish anglers and those who prefer artificial lures will catch a batch by jigging a Berkley Atomic Teaser tipped with a Power Honey Worm.

An angler inexperienced in the ways of Lake Ontario tributaries would probably conclude the perch—indeed, all panfish—flee the estuary at the first sight of a salmon.

The exact opposite is true; panfish are drawn into the estuary and spurred into a feeding frenzy by all the salmon eggs and tiny life forms that feed on salmon cadavers.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Lower Reservoir

By Spider Rybaak

Spawned by the completion of the Lighthouse Hill dam in 1930, the Lower Salmon River Reservoir in the town of Orwell covers 164 acres. Dropping to a maximum depth of 50 feet, and averaging half that, the place offers good fishing for warm water and cold water species.

Rick Smith, a local guide (315-532-5937) who knows the reservoir intimately, says large mouth bass are the most popular game fish. Most range from 12 to 18 inches; and 20-something inchers are taken regularly. Five-pounders are caught each year and 6-pounders have been reported.

Hanging out along the reservoir’s edge, they hit all the usual suspects. Locals are particularly fond of catching them on surface lures, especially fly-rod-sized poppers worked along the shoreline.

“Small mouths are also available,” says Smith. "There aren’t as many as there are large mouths, but they average two pounds, always seem to be hungry and fight every bit as hard.”

Rainbow trout fry are stocked regularly; 4,300 last spring. Most end up as snacks for bigger trout and bass but enough survive to make the place a local hot spot for “bows” ranging from 8 to 12 inches.

The trout are easily accessible, too. The CR 22 Bridge at Bennett's Bridges is only a little over 100 yards downstream of the powerhouse discharge. And although you can’t fish from the bank below the power plant, "you can cast real close to it from the bridge.”

On the other side of the road, the Salmon River Project Bennett Bridges Day Use Site offers a beach launch (no motors allowed), parking for about 20 rigs, easy access to the mouth of the Salmon River and several hundred yards of bank fishing.

Finally, the reservoir is loaded with pan fish. Smith claims “There’s a lot of yellow perch in the 8 to 10-inch range, fat rock bass averaging a solid 8 inches and slab crappies.”

Get to Bennett's Bridges from I-81 exit 36 by heading south on NY 13 for 6.8 miles to Altmar. Turn left on Cemetery Road (at the Salmon River Hatchery sign), and continue straight (it turns into CR 22) for 3.4 miles to the double bridges.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Salmon River Reservoir

By Spider Rybaak

Set into deep woods on the west side of the Oswego County hamlet of Redfield, the  6.9-mile long Salmon River Reservoir spills over 2,260-acres. Fed by streams and springs pouring  off the Tug Hill Plateau, one of the most remote and least developed regions of the state, its squeaky-clean waters average  20 feet deep and drop to a maximum depth of 57 feet.

Called Redfield Reservoir by locals, it’s the best fishing hole totally within the borders of Oswego County.Boasting warm and cold water species, the place is best known for its superb largemouth bass and black crappie fisheries.

Smallmouth bass made it into the system late in the last century and are gaining a foothold. Still their numbers are small.

The NYSDEC stocked walleyes into the place from 2003 to 2008. A survey conducted in the fall of 2008 to evaluate the success of the program came up bare. Curiously, another survey, in 2013 caught 23 walleyes ranging from 9.5 to 22 inches.

These results convinced the authorities that “natural reproduction is taking place…” and it was decided “to continue stocking the species to “help maintain the walleye population.”

What’s more, according to the DEC: “Many of the streams entering the reservoir are stocked annually with rainbow, brown and brook trout; some of them may make it into the reservoir.”

According to Brian Eisch, the reservoir is “primarily shale rock…not too much vegetation…that’s why the smallies are small…usually about 1-1/2 pounds. Large mouths typically go 2 to 3 lbs. with a lot of ‘em reaching up to 5 pounds,” continues the retired Army Ranger and master sergeant, who lost his left leg in Afghanistan.

His favorite bait is a rubber skirted jig tipped with a Cray Phish Trailer manufactured by his company, Tricky Phish Bait Company, in the Oswego County hamlet of Lacona. Other baits he likes to keep handy are chatterbaits, bladed jigs, swimbaits and spinnerbaits.

Eisch suggests fishing for largemouths in vegetation: “There isn't much and you’ll have to search for it 15 to 20 feet from shore. It’s literally a line of grass…” he explains.

Access to the reservoir is plentiful. Boat launches with parking and hard surface ramps are located at:

  • CCC Road, off Orwell-Redfield Road, 4 ½ miles west of Redfield; 
  • Jackson Road, off Orwell-Redfield Road, 5 ½ miles west of Redfield;
  • County Route 17, south of Redfield;
  • County Route 17, across from Hayes Drive, Redfield.

Eisch is featured in WPBS-TV's production of "Fishing Behind the Lines" with Don Meissner.  The series features active and retired military personnel and their fishing experiences,  and is sponsored in part by the Oswego County Tourism Office .  To learn more about Brian's bass fishing tactics, go to

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: