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 http://watch.wpbstv.org/video/2365698104/.

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 http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishing.html.  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 www.littlejohnjustfishes.com, 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: srybaak@yahoo.com.

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.