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 Srybaak@yahoo.com, or Mike Mcgrath: mmcgrath2@twcny.rr.com.

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.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Ice

Scriba Creek on opening day of trout season, 2015
By Spider Rybaak

If you like ice and snow, this past winter (It’s spring, right?) fulfilled your wildest fantasies. In fact, it’s still giving us a chill.

April 1st, opening day of trout season, saw anglers struggling through knee-deep snow just to get to the water. Once they made it to the edge, their trouble was worth it.

“The mild thaw has Scriba Creek running perfectly, almost at summer levels” said one angler while putting his gear away at the side of the road. “Normally I have to bounce worms on bottom with lots of weight this time of year because the water’s too high and cold to use anything else,” he added.

“Not today. I landed two 12-inchers, and had a nice brown of about 15 inches break free. They all hit a gold ribbed hare’s ear nymph,” added the Cleveland resident who declined to give his name.

“What a thrill. I was actually fly-fishing--this time of year, no less-- a sinking line, no additional weight at all. The big one came out from under the bank, and hit right in front of me. It was like slow motion in the clear water, man. After jumping a couple of times, he spit the fly back at me like it was old gum,” he chuckled.

Oneida Lake is still solidly in winter’s grip, handing icers some dynamite late season opportunities.

What’s good for the anglers isn’t ideal for the birds. Canada geese and other migratory waterfowl are having trouble finding liquid water. Most are concentrated in the Oneida River on the east side of Brewerton.

A few others are treading shallow water at the mouths of small streams trickling down from the Tug Hill Plateau. Works of natural art, these rivulets slowly, deliberately tear into Oneida Lake’s icy crown, reaching further and further into the drink by the hour, giving cabin weary soft water anglers something reassuring to look at while waiting for ice-out.

Oneida Lake resident Susan Douglass
admiring a rivulet busting through the ice.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last Chance Snowshoeing

By: Spider Rybaak

Reading the Trail Guide.
This winter has been disciplined…so far. The cold and snow came when they were supposed to, and temperatures remained low enough to keep things icy for the past couple months, without benefit of a January or February thaw.  Now March is giving us the cold shoulder with a controlled melt, slowly, teasingly, letting the landscape peek through the snow.

And that’s a welcome sight for Oswego County’s walkers. While living in one of the snowiest regions of the country accustoms us to winter, the long spell of exceptionally frigid conditions we’ve just endured forced a lot of us to spend most of the past few weeks bundled up indoors.

Something we’re not used to. You see, winter’s a fact of life around here. Its patchwork of sparkling, squeaky-clean ice and snow is beautiful to behold. And when it’s so brutally cold that we’re forced to stay inside for most of the season, we miss it.

Fortunately, the way March is going we’re getting us another chance: it’s frigid enough to keep winter fresh; mild enough to let us comfortably play in the snow.

Now, I’m too old to romp around in it. But I love to admire frozen water’s handiwork. Fortunately, Oswego County is my kind’a place: loaded with natural beauty, and expert at clearing the roads leading there.

Take the Salmon River falls for instance. Towering about 100 feet high, it’s almost totally frozen, clinging to the cliff like a clump of massive, icy columns held together by welds of frozen foam.

Upstream and down below, its course is a work of art.  Shelves of ice reach out toward the middle for its entire length. In slow moving stretches, like in the village of Pulaski, a cap of ice envelops the stream, a few narrow strips of dark brown water punching through the center like monster, porpoising salmon.

All the while, life goes on: anglers climbing its snowy banks and wading its icy flow; deer drinking from its banks; steelhead breaking water while climbing the rapids.

The weatherman predicts the next few days will be unseasonably cold, promising the river’s frosty setting a short respite from its looming fate.

Better hurry, though spring is only a couple weeks away. And like all youth, it’s enthusiastic and energetic, eager for the ice and snow to go away.

Get there from I-81 exit 36 (Pulaski) by heading south on NY 13 for about 8 miles to Altmar, turn left on CR 22, travel a little over 4 miles, turn right on Falls Road and continue for 1.5 miles.

The falls, like many natural wonders, can be dangerous if you're careless. Exercise caution and common sense when admiring its beauty; and always go with a friend.

You're gonna need snowshoes; there's still 2 feet of snow at the Salmon River Falls.
Salmon River Falls from the overlook at Falls Road.
Want more information on snowshoeing in Oswego County? Visit http://visitoswegocounty.com/the-great-outdoors/cross-country-skiing-snowshoeing/

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Salmon River in the wake of a Record February.

By Spider Rybaak

Lawn Chair for the Weary
Folks will be talking about last February for years. The daily temperature only averaged 9 degrees Fahrenheit and the month never saw the mercury rise above freezing. Add 50-something inches of snow to the equation and you come up with the wintriest February on record.

So far, March doesn’t seem to be much better. In fact, the way it’s roaring outside the window today (March 2), you’d think it’s trying to imitate last month. But the weather forecast is calling for a couple days above freezing late this week, maybe warmer next week, making it a good bet that the month will spend some of its time luxuriating under balmy March conditions-- days in the 40s and 50s.

With all that snow piled up out there, the mild weather will unleash torrents of run-off. Fortunately, the weatherman predicts moderate warming for the near future, which will raise water levels slowly, just enough to draw steady runs of fresh steel into Lake “O’s” tributaries.

The feeder most favored by the majority of chromers is the Salmon River. The fish have been coming up all winter. But the anglers haven’t. As a result, the stream’s full of ‘em—more than usual. And their numbers are growing daily.

It ain’t all rosy, however. Shelves of ice cling to the river’s banks below Pineville, and a little further down, the ice actually crosses the river.

But it’s still a great time to go for them in Altmar. The water is at perfect levels and the river is at a constant 34 degrees; cold by our standards, heavenly to chromers. Snowpack makes getting down to the river a little challenging, but well-beaten paths lead to all the popular spots.

Better hurry, though. All the snow that’s been clobbering us is gonna melt eventually. Hopefully, it’ll do so gradually, taking  the river all month to reach spring levels. And while the fishing is sure to be great then, why wait? The slow snowmelt we’re enjoying now offers loads of opportunities, and elbow room to boot.

Egg sacs and glo bugs are the bait of choice for most anglers. Fly-fishing purists are doing well on patterns like copper Johns and black stonefly nymphs. Spey casters are getting their fair share swinging brown or chartreuse wooly buggers through the current. Spinning enthusiasts working inline spinners like Roostertails slowly through pools and deep pockets are getting fresh trout, too. Float-fishermen are catching a lot on beads and 3-inch Berkley Trout Worms.

The main thaw is still a ways off. In the meantime, the Salmon River is fat with steelies just begging for your attention. Hit the stream at your earliest convenience; you’ll be glad you did.

Salmon River set in a Crown of Ice, Pulaski, NY
Steelheading last Monday in Snowy Altmar