Friday, December 19, 2008

Salmon River Christmas

Waiting for Steelhead
Icy rapids
batter trembling logs
glistening webs of monofilament
and take-out coffee cups
welded to rocks by frozen foam.

Wedges of beaten floes
lucid and hard
grind against my hope
of raising a rainbow
through fragmented light.
~Raymond Hrynyk

Christmas at the Staircase

Unleashed on one end by the Tug Hill Plateau, tamed on the other by Lake Ontario, the Salmon River leads a relatively short and violent life. Tumbling down the slope, twisting and turning, plowing into banks, boulders and windfalls, it lives fast and never tires. Its whitewater, eddies, ripples and pools are like strings on an instrument, creating a siren's song which draws trophy salmonids into its flow; and anglers from around the world to meet the challenge.

The performance takes place year-round. Still, sometimes it plays better than others. You see, change is what lures man and beast to this river. And December is its most beautiful canvas. Draped in a wonderland of ice and snow one day, swept clean by rising temperatures and water the next, it's a whole month of ideal steelhead habitat.

Extreme shifts in water levels orchestrate the runs. This early in the season, the river's floor is carpeted with salmon eggs blanketed by pebbles. Accelerating currents uncover this prized food source, carrying it to the fish. Indeed, all they have to do is sit there, open their mouths and caviar rushes in.

Equally important, thaws raise the water to meet the comfort levels of steelies of every temperament. Those already in the stream are emboldened by the growing habitat and get downright careless in the cloudy run-off's diminished visibility. Fish swimming near its plume in the lake are hooked by the slightly warmer temperatures of the snowmelt and charge into the swollen stream.

They're literally fish for the season. When they first enter the river, steelies are basically green-backed, silver-sided, and faintly traced in pink from head to tail.

After a couple weeks in the stream, they take on the colors that camouflage them to the limited environment. Their backs turn dark olive, their upper sides develop a wide pink or red stripe and their lower sides are silver that fade into pure white bellies. Black spots are sprinkled all over them like tiny ornaments.

Hold one, and you feel the colors of the season come to life. Releasing it puts you into the Holiday spirit.

Or, as cousin Staash, a steelheader who traces his enthusiasm to the first stocking over thirty years ago, likes to say:

"December steelhead are a gift to humankind; a sensual feast in a spiritual wrapping."

Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tale of Two Zones

Chuck Elder with his four point

Oswego County is known for its hunting and fishing. Salmonids, walleyes, varmints, fowl, big game--it doesn't matter; if it's found in NY, it's here.

Chuck Elder can attest to that.

"Originally I came out here a few years ago to fish. One day when I wasn't catching anything, I decided to go hunting. I did better hunting than fishing," says the native of Westford, VT.

He came up last weekend with his son Cory, a staff sergeant in the US Army stationed on Long Island, and Cory's friend, Stanley Pen, a retired Sergeant Major.

It didn't take long for them to score.

Chuck dropped a nice four-pointer on Sunday. Funny thing is he was hunting in the northern tier half of the county, above the Salmon River.

Now, anyone that goes for white-tails knows the best hunting is around opening day, and that was October 18, almost a month ago. You see, deer are considered the noblest game because they're naturally skittish and shy. Once the shooting starts, and they know this time they're the target, not the squirrels and ducks, they grow progressively savvy and scarce as the season wears on. But the area north of the Salmon River has so many of the beasts that a good hunter can expect to score all season long.

Corey's turn came next. He and the Sgt. Maj. headed for the southern zone a couple miles below the Salmon River. In fact, he shot a six-point buck along another of the area's popular salmonid spots, Grindstone Creek

"He was a little over 100 yards away when I shot. He dropped right away," recalls the SSG. "He struggled a bit, flipped over and fell right into the stream. I had to charge into the water and grab him to prevent him from rounding the next bend."

About the same time, Chuck saw a doe and that's all she wrote. A well-placed shot put her on this winter's menu at the Elder household.

As of Tuesday night, Sgt. Maj. Pen remained deerless. But he was staying until Wednesday and remained optimistic. I wished him luck.

Extremely mild-mannered for a guy packing all that rank, he looked up at me, said "Thank you, sir" and smiled. His eyes communicated the confidence of a man who has been around guns his entire life and knows the power of patience.

For a copy of the Oswego County Fishing and Hunting Guide, call 315-349-8322, or go to

Sgt Maj Stanley Pen (L) and SSG Cory Elder showing off a couple Oswego County white-tails.

Monday, November 17, 2008

‘Extreme Walleye Fishing’ on Oneida Lake

An early evening at Phillip's Point.

An old buddy of mine called late last week. "The walleyes are finally hitting at Phillips Point," he said. "Wanna give it a try tonight?"

"Sure," I replied.

I was supposed to meet him on site, on the north shore of Oneida Lake. But his car broke down on the way and he never made it. I suppose I could've gotten the heads-up if I had my cell phone. But I never take it into the outdoors. So I fished all by myself, which is what I would've done even if I'd gotten word he couldn't make it.

I know. You should never leave home without it. But my main reason for going fishing is to get away from it all, and carrying a cell phone kind of defeats the purpose -- the ring, vibration, music, whatever signal I choose to let me know a telemarketer, my boss, or sweetheart want to talk to me, breaks the spell induced by a combination forces like whitecaps slamming into shore, bird songs, and mixing the present with memories of outings past.

I arrived about 4:30 p.m. A string of guys was already in the surf. I waded out and started tossing a silver-sided/black-backed Bomber.

Wind was tearing out of the south, creating caressing whitecaps. Cool autumn nights had stirred the inshore waters to optimum temperatures. The weeds had lain down for winter, making casting clean and easy.

The wind propelled the 30-something degree temperatures into gusts that tore into my cheeks, ears and fingers like volleys of pain. The unruly, downright inhospitable elements brought to mind a comment Central Square resident Tim Oliver made the night before: "This is extreme walleye fishing."

And it is -- if you're not prepared for it. But like my old pal Mr. Wilson said a few weeks ago while we fished Lake Neahtahwanta in the rain (see posting of 9/22/08): "Ain't no such thing as bad weather, only bad attitude and bad clothes."

Luckily, I didn't have either. Comfortable in my waterproof parka and neoprene waders, I enjoyed myself immensely, thinking ‘boy it's miserable out here, but I'm warm and dry.’ It's a good feeling taking on the elements like that without suffering miserably.

Around 5 a walleye slammed my Bomber. He was an 18-incher, big enough to hit the lure hard, yet too young to be lazy. He fought like he was twice his size.

Looking around me, everyone had a fish on that evening--I got two, the second one was a hair under 20 inches.

The window for autumn's surf walleyes on Oneida Lake is a narrow one. Most guys only fish from about a half hour before sundown—you’ve got to get there early to claim a spot -- to about an hour after lights out. Oh, the fish still hit after that--throughout the night, in fact--but standing for long periods in the dark, out in the open, in rough water, saps your emotional strength.

The bite will last for the rest of the month and some diehards will keep at it until the ice stops their lure cold.

Get to Phillips Point by taking NY 49 east for about three miles from Central Square (I-81 exit 32). Turn right onto Toad Harbor Road, then left onto McCloud Drive three miles later, and drive about a mile to the end.

Good luck.

Fishing on Oneida Lake

Monday, November 10, 2008

Salmon River Mixed Bag

A brown trout in Autumn Colors

The worst thing about fishing in November is the extreme changes in weather. A super cold front with freezing temperatures and snow can shut the fish down. But a couple days of warm weather can start the action boiling again. This week's Indian summer promised to stir the Salmon River into the ideal temperature for browns, steelhead, rainbows, and some late salmon.

Before hitting the river on Wednesday, I stopped into Fat Nancy's on NY 13, across the road from I-81 exit 36 north, to see if I called it right, and to find out where the fish were.

"The river's loaded with fish from top to bottom," claimed Tiny, an associate of the tackle shop.

"Steelhead ranging from 5 to 10 pounds, rainbows going from 3 to 5 pounds, and browns from 3 to 12 pounds are everywhere," said the part-time fishing guide (One More Fish Guide Service, 315-529-6427).

I asked Tiny to describe any physical differences between a steelhead and rainbow.

"On rainbows the spots range further down on the body and they have a prominent pink stripe early in the season. Steelhead are green-backed and silvery on the sides and don't develop the pink until later in the season," he answered.

Egg sacs are the most popular bait. Tiny suggests carrying a mixture of colors and using bright hues on cloudy days and dark colors when it's bright outside.

"Another highly productive bait is a trout bead, especially in chartreuse, sun orange, Glo Roe and Cotton Candy Pink," he volunteered.

Warmer water seems to restore the fish's appetite for worms. Tiny prefers "baby night crawlers." However, for the squeamish, an artificial worm that's equally productive is Berkley's Gulp Alive 2" Fish Fry.

Use a float to help detect a bite. The fish are active, hanging out in the fast water. They hit quickly and often subtly, and the float reports the slightest hesitation in the bait immediately, giving you a split second longer to react, enough time to make the difference between a solid hook-up and the ol' "I think I had a hit!"

I went out for a couple hours and followed Tiny's advice. I fished the pockets at the Staircase and nailed a 6-pound brown on a Berkley Gulp Alive 2" Fish Fry.

His radiant browns and golds reflected autumn's peak. I released him and he disappeared over the spent leaves carpeting the river's floor.

Early November casts a magic spell on the river. You'll not find a more pleasant and scenic time to catch a brown or rainbow trout as large and colorful as the one swimming through your imagination.

Brown trout in autumn colors

Local guide, John Kopy, with an autumn brown.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pheasants on the Lamb

Jessica & Stan: Novice & Master

Sleeping on the ground instead of roosting in trees, pheasants are preyed upon by every mid-sized predator out there. If they're to survive for any length of time, they need a lot of grain producing farmland punctuated by grassland and heavy brush. For this reason, the Department of Environmental Conservation only stocks them in two spots in Oswego County: Three Mile Bay/Big Bay and Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Areas.

Native to China, pheasants tolerate Oswego County's northern tier weather pretty well. But their preferred habitat around here is so small, most hunters only get them incidentally, while hunting ruffed grouse or rabbits.

While the Deer Creek WMA has all the usual suspects preying on pheasants, it has one thing that also contributes to their numbers: a pheasant preserve right across the street. Birds that escape Deer Creek Motel's Pheasant Preserve on NYS Route 3 (north of Port Ontario) find the patchwork of habitats pretty good on the other side of the road.

But preserves do more for hunting than just supply game; they also hone a hunter's skills. It's one thing to shoot a stationary target or even a clay pigeon launched from a trap; quite another thing altogether to target a speeding critter.

When you shoot at live targets anything can happen, and something always does.

For instance, last Monday I invited fellow blogger and Oswego County Public Information Officer Jessica Trump to a bird hunt. She had never hunted pheasant and accepted the challenge.

We arrived at the Deer Creek Motel and Shooting Preserve at about the same time. Owner Stan Ouellette welcomed us and had us sign releases. In the meantime, he took off in his ATV and stocked a bunch of birds.

When he returned, he fetched Belle, his wire-haired Pointing Griffon, and she lit off onto the trail ahead of us like a brown, low flying cyclone. We no sooner climbed over the first hill and she was already pointing. Stan ordered her to hold as we ran up, then gave the order to flush. The pheasant decided to race the dog through the high grass and we tried following them with our ears. Suddenly it shot up in a whirl of bright colors and feathers. Jess fired first, hitting the bird. Belle found it and brought it to us.

In about an hour and a half, Jess and Stan nailed five pheasants. Each surprised us with its defensive flight, only allowing us a couple of seconds to figure out what direction, height and speed it would take before flying out of range.

Before setting out for a hunt, regardless of the game, it's a good policy to refresh your skills, especially your patience and aim. A trip to your friendly pheasant preserve provides the ultimate target practice.

You'll indulge in some really wild fun, help some farm-bred birds escape into the wild, and bring home a tasty meal, too.

Jess preparing to shoot the bird

Discussing theory

A rooster rising

Rooster in flight

Belle on point

Belle, hard at work

Jessica, her first pheasant, and Belle

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Turkey season: Part I, Northern Tier

Stan Oulette of Deer Creek shows off his turkey

With the salmonids running, walleyes, bass and northerns on the bite, deer season just around the corner, and turkey season in the northern part of the county open, I don’t have much time to go tramping around in the wilderness trying to get a gobbler. So when motel operator and professional guide Stanley Oulette invited me to hunt with him on Deer Creek Motel property, across NY 3 from Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area, I couldn't pass up the offer.

Stanley started a turkey dialogue right when we sat down in the woods. He scraped the slate call a couple times; followed up with a few calls from the diaphragm in his mouth, and answered both with a box call.

About 15 minutes later, a doe came out of the woods and walked past us less than 50 yards away. Ten minutes later, two bucks, four and six points respectively, came out of the same spot. They sniffed cautiously around our decoys, less than 50 feet away from us, before deciding the doe was more exciting and heading off in her direction.

Just as I was putting my camera away, Stanley whispered "Here comes a turkey, moving fast."

By the time I shouldered the gun she was directly in front of me, right in my sights. I fired.

A young hen, she weighed about 10 lbs. She wasn't the best turkey in flock, but she was a good turkey. What she lacked in size, she compensated for with a beard. Only about three percent of hens sport whiskers so I felt like I got a bonus.

After all that racket, we decided to hit another spot. On the way, Stanley asked if I'd like to see his pet Ruffed Grouse. I thought he was kidding. An outfitter having a pet grouse, one of the tastiest birds on the planet. Unbelievable???!!!

Entering a thick, young forest, Stanley called "Come' ere Pete. Where are ya Pete."

Nothing happened. So we left.

We hunted turkey a few hundred yards deeper in the woods. Stan did some calling. No replies.

We sat there for about a half hour and decided to move again.

As we neared the spot where Stan called Pete, a ruffed grouse emerged from under the brush and started circling us. "Here's Pete," Stan proclaimed proudly.

He went over and started talking to the bird. Tickled to see him it kept circling and jumping around, all within Stan's reach.

I always knew he was a good fisherman. Now I know he has an even greater connection with the woods.

Fortunately, I have photos to prove to myself the events of that morning really happened.

Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area and the neighboring lands boast some of the most productive game habitat in Oswego County. The WMA's marsh loads up with waterfowl; its lowlands teem with deer; and its openings support ruffed grouse, pheasant and turkey.

The easiest way to get there is to head north on NY 3 from its intersection with NY 13 for 1.8 miles to the public access site at the bridge crossing the creek. Other easy access sites are the dirt road 0.1 mile north of the bridge and the next road 0.3 mile further north.

This is Pete, Stan's pet Ruffed Grouse

Stan standing next to Pete

This photo is dark, but it shows the two small bucks next to the turkey decoys.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Downtown Oswego's Early Autumn Rites

Frank Pizza, a Ringwood, NJ native, holding the brown he took out of the plunge pool below the dam in Oswego last Saturday.

Late last week NY got the butt end of the hurricanes that swept through the South. As expected, the rains cooled the Oswego River down some, drawing significant numbers of king salmon, browns and steelhead into the fast water. I went up Saturday to give the river a couple yanks.

A lot of fish were in the power company's tailrace, but the water is deep and the walls high. I'm a feet-in-the-rapids kind'a guy so I went straight up to the dam.

Enough water was coming over the wall to make the going treacherous. Some guys were so excited they just ran into the current without testing the waters and ended up being swept off their feet and performed what locals lovingly call "the 100-yard bob."

Still, guys standing upright covered every rock on the island facing the west falls. The fish packed the surging water below their feet.

Everyone was nailing salmon. But the beasts were so big, the water so high and anglers so close to one another, there was no way to get to open water to wage battle. So the fish kept breaking off. The thrill of a hook up and the anticipation of landing a wall-hanger was more than a match for the heartbreak of the line snapping. Everyone kept fishing and hoping.

Groups of fresh fish numbering a dozen or two ran the rapids to the plunge pool every 15 minutes or so. For 15 minutes the only bent rods were those that were snagged on bottom, then suddenly five fish would be on at the same time.

Browns and steelhead were a different story. Averaging about eight pounds, they were more manageable and many were landed.

The vast majority was fishing ethically. Oh sure, some started out snagging, lifting and lining. But the nasty looks they got from everyone around them convinced them to fish with character.

The salmon runs will only get thicker from now until mid October. The browns will stick around for roughly the same period. Steelhead will remain from now until April pigging out on the eggs.

The best way to avoid doing the 100-yard bob is to take your time and walk by leaning into the current and sliding your feet.

Good fishing.

If you look closely you can see an angler holding the "King that DIDN'T get away".

Anglers fishing the power company tailrace in downtown Oswego.

Scene of the action at the west hole at the dam in Oswego last Saturday.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Salmon Runs are Here Again

Fishing at the Schoolhouse Pool in Altmar

A rather large run of king and coho salmon, punctuated with monster browns and a smattering of steelhead ran the Salmon River last week. So I went up twice last weekend to see how the fishing was.

Around 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, I stopped at Fat Nancy's Tackle Shop to pick the brains of the clerks. Jason Maccue was replenishing some stock. I asked him "how's the fishing been?"

"We've had good runs each week so far this month," he replied. "Currently, the fish are everywhere in the river. They're even in the creeks." (Trout and Orwell Brooks, tributaries of the Salmon River, and nearby Little Sandy Creek.)

All excited and shaky and stuff at the delicious news, I tried my luck in the Staircase, on the western edge of Pulaski. I saw a couple kings taken by others but I went fishless. The fish were huge; I estimated them about 25 pounds each.

After an hour I decided to go upstream to Pineville. The fish were in the pool below the bridge and I saw one of about 30 pounds landed. Several other guys yelled fish-on but their trophies broke off quicker than they could repeat the phrase.

I hooked one about 30 pounds. While rigging up, I was expecting fish in the 20-pound range so I tied on an 8-lb. leader. Big mistake. When the fish took off downstream like the Jamaican bob sled team, all I could do is let it go and try keeping up by running after it.

I was holding my own pretty good until it dove under a freshly fallen log and wrapped the line around a leafy branch. The line snapped and the last I saw of him, he was tailwalking down the rapids laughing at me.

On Sunday, I got there by noon. Everywhere I went, from the Black Hole and Staircase to the Trestle Hole and Schoolhouse pool, I saw guys with salmon. Not the relatively tiny 16-pounders of recent years, but the monstrous 25- and 30-pounders that we used to get back in the '80s and early '90s.

I scored one in the pool just below the bridge in Altmar. She took a half of a chartreuse Gulp Grub I fashioned to resemble a salmon egg. This time I packed a 12-lb. leader. She gave it her all but my Trion's drag stayed true. After her initial burst of speed failed to relieve the sting in her mouth, she stopped to figure out what to do next. I took the initiative and horsed her in as much as I dared. Everything went right and in less than 10 minutes she was at my feet.

I tailed her in about a foot-and-a-half of water and held on for a couple minutes to give her a rest and admire her beauty. Weighing well over 20 pounds, she lay on her side for a minute.

Catching her breath, she righted herself and I could feel her muscles flex. When she waved her tail violently, I relaxed my grip and she quickly faded into the rapids like a beautiful dream into early morning.

Great quantities of kings, cohos and brown trout will run the Salmon River until around mid-October, and smaller, but significant numbers will run until November.

There will still be some fish of each species available straight into December; but November usually ushers in steelhead time.

A happy angler with a 25lb king he took in the Schoolhouse Pool.

A shot of a pooch, a rather large one at that, watching his master fishing at the Trestle Hole in Pulaski.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lake Neahtahwanta: Fishing on Fulton's Edge

Wes Coy and a Lake Neahtahwanta largemouth bass

Stories about fishing on Lake Neahtahwanta are about as common as hair on a bobber. And that's just wrong; considering this 683-acre lake laps the shoulder of NY 3 on the west side of Fulton, Oswego County's second largest city.

Wes Coy told me about a friend of his who was a native to the city. Over the years he’d caught several trophy bass, northerns and crappies in the lake.

So last Tuesday, along with Wes’ friend Paul Wilson, we decided to give it a try. We launched at the North Bay Recreation Area into a typical summer of 2008 kind of day -- windy, rainy and unseasonably cold.

Loads of fish appeared on the graph. Each of us got solid hits in the first few minutes. All short strikes, they were exciting nonetheless. You see, the roils the fish made in the shallow water sent our imaginations into overdrive.

An hour into the trip the clouds opened up. I started complaining about the foul weather.
"Ain't no such thing as bad weather," retorted Paul, "just bad clothes and bad attitude.”

To prove it, he sat down ostensibly to take a break, and started snoring a couple minutes later.
In the meantime, Wes and I fished the shoreline, pounding lily pads, root balls, mats of floating vegetation, float plane pontoons, docks, duck blinds, weed beds, all the usual stuff.

"How’re they hittin'?" asked Paul when he woke up.

“Pretty good, but they’re just nipping the tips of the baits,” Wes said. “Last night’s thunderstorm and this cold front are making them a little skittish.”

Sure enough, when the sun came out around noon, Wes nailed a keeper largemouth in the grass next to the recreation center’s docks.

The day’s highlight came at the very end. Wes was telling the story of how a bass pro buddy of his won a big purse in a national tournament in the last few minutes of competition.

Just then, a monstrous bucketmouth struck his Bass Bone with such force its swell flooded the mat it was hiding under. Feeling the hook penetrate its jaw, it plowed through the slop into a channel feeding the adjacent swamp, tangling Wes’ line, and breaking off. The wake it generated while barreling into the lowland will remain in our memories forever.

Lake Neahtahwanta's bass, pike and panfish will be feeding heavily from the middle of this month through first ice. Your best bet is to go on nice, clear days when the year’s waning warmth stirs the fish into a feeding frenzy in preparation for the lean winter months ahead.

Here's Wes in a moment of truth on Lake Neahtahwanta: a big bass hit, Wes Hooked him, the beast dove under a mat of vegetation and got off.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Jess in battle with a very uncooperative king.

Traditionally, massive numbers of Lake Ontario salmon converge on Oswego County's inshore waters by mid-August. This year they were a little late, and even then only trickled in. Seeing's how summer's been whacked by a lot of southerly winds, and wetter than anyone can remember, some old salts predicted the returns would be disappointing.

Boy, were they wrong. Last week, salmon were pouring into the area--big ones, too, averaging 20 pounds. Currently, they’re cruising about a mile offshore, pigging out on alewives, instinctively putting on as much weight as possible in preparation for their arduous final act: running up the Oswego and Salmon Rivers to spawn.

As recently as last summer, herring was the bait of choice. This year, in its bid to get a handle on VHS and other diseases, the DEC banned the use of exotic bait fish on state waters. Since herring are rare around these parts, anglers have to adjust their tactics.

Some are switching to dodger and fly combinations. Capt. Jerry Giocondo of Catch 22 Fishing Charters, says the rigs are almost as productive as bait.

Still, tradition dies hard. A lot of guys are going back to using whole alewives. Problem is, the heads of typical cut bait harness are too small. Fortunately, Familiar Bite, a western NY outfit, has developed a head large enough to fit an alewife's.

I contacted Capt. Jerry to see how the bite's been and he invited me to go fishing for a couple hours to see for myself. Jessica Trump and Laurie Spicer, two of Oswego County Tourism's finest, tagged along to do the heavy lifting.

Jess responded to the first hit. The struggle was fierce. I swear I saw her biceps grow a ¼-inch during the battle. My arms got tired just watching.

And boy was she up to the job. Holding the rod like a Southern belle grasping a flag pole in the middle of a hurricane, she vocalized colorful protests running the gamut from "oh my gosh," to "this hurts," all punctuated with a wide variety of facial expressions.

But the fish was toying with her. Ten minutes into the fray, beads of sweat crowning her brow, the king flipped Jess the fin and spit out the bait, leaving her unfulfilled.

A few minutes later another rod tripped with the force of a catapult. Laurie went for it but by the time she got her hands on the pole, the salmon bit off.

With the score ‘fish 2, humans fishless’ we dragged lures and bait for another hour or so with no luck.

All wasn’t lost though. To our delight, the fish that got away grew bigger and bigger the more we talked about them.

Before long, the sun went down like a slow cannon ball dropping over the west. As we passed the lighthouse on the way in, its corona lit the background in an orange/pink hue.

We may have been skunked, but we were grateful for the spellbinding day etched into our memories.

Here's Laurie holding a package of Familiar Bite's alewives, Lake Ontario's native answer to cut bait.

Here's a shot of Laurie at sunset.

Here's a shot of Jess at sunset.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Panther Lake and "Cookie Cutter Bass"

Wes Coy Jr. holding a "cookie cutter" bass caught in Panther Lake.

While fishing for photos and up-to-the-minute news for my last blog, I mentioned to fishing buddy Wes Coy that I hardly ever hear or read (besides what's in my book, "Fishing Western New York") anything about Panther Lake.

After telling him its location and the species swimming there, he eagerly volunteered: "let's go there next week."

So there we were last Wednesday.

Wes brought his son along, Wes Jr. The kid shined. He cast a Bass Bone into some weeds on the west bank and caught the first fish, a respectable 17-inch pickerel. Before Wes Sr. could wipe the slime off his hands (he removed the hook from his son's toothy trophy), Jr. had another one about the same size.

With all the pickerel flashing before my eyes, I put down my jig and picked up a rod baited with a spinnerbait.


A couple minutes later, Wes Sr. caught a largemouth of about 1 ½ pounds.

Then Jr. got one.

I finally nailed one; and we were off to catch a batch of what Jr. cleverly called "Cookie Cutters." I mean the kid's just 11 years old and he was perceptive enough to notice all the bass ranged the same size, and created the ideal metaphor to describe them.

We drifted the entire north end. The wind would blow us south, into the middle of the lake and Wes Sr. would row us back to the upper end.

The father/son duo caught a couple more bass on Bones tossed over submerged weeds. I caught one on the other side of the boat--off the deep end--on a black jig tipped with a YUM Grub I was throwing for walleyes.

The action picked up considerably along the east bank. It seemed every dock, pocket of lily pads, cove, and weed bed harbored bass.

In a less than four hours, we each caught our limit of keeper "cookie cutters." I finally broke the trend by catching the only one that was too short.

A hard surface ramp is on Co. Rte. 17. Owned by Pine Grove, the watering hole across the street, it's open to the public free of charge. Park in the park next to the bar.

Jr. holding a respectable, 17-inch Panther Lake pickerel.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Channeling Oneida River Bass

Wes Coy with an Oneida River hawg taken at the abandoned barges on the eastern end of the Big Ben cut, just upstream of the Horseshoe Island Bridge

Late last week, fishing buddy Wes Coy and I decided to try for bass in the Oneida River near its outlet.

"I've always wanted to fish the old river channel around Horseshoe Island. All the coves, creek mouths, cattail mats and docks always looked fishy to me," I said with great enthusiasm.

"We ain't goin' anywhere near there," replied Wes. We're gonna concentrate on the canal running the south end of the island."

Disappointed, I kept quiet. After all, it was his boat; and besides, I could always gloat ‘I told ya so’ after we got skunked.

Never happened.

We started fishing upstream of the I-481 bridges. Casting into any structure and weed edge we could find, we nailed small fish right away; a lot of rock bass, a sunfish, some undersized smallies.

Coy hit the first keeper bronzeback around the Horseshoe Island Bridge on a Bass Bone. A minute later I stuck one barely big enough to keep on a YUM Dinger.

The fishing really picked up around the marina. He took several more smallies, including a three-pounder, and a couple keeper largemouths under the docks and around the abandoned, decaying barges out in front of the place.

I kept getting little guys.

"You'd think we would have had better luck casting to the fallen timber along the canal," I commented as we headed back.

"It looks good, and it's worth casting to, but it can fool ya," replied Wes.

Docks, bridge abutments, points, sunken barges and weed beds are the habitat of choice for channeling Oneida River bass.

As far as the Oxbow goes: "there's a lot of big northerns in there and some nice largemouths, too," claims Coy, a tournament angler who cashes checks more often than not when he's competing.

Coy with the days largest smallie, a 3 1/2 pound bruiser taken at the mouth of the marina at the Horsehoe Island Bridge

Friday, August 1, 2008

Times are a Changin'

Dan Peschler (left) holding a 17-pound male brown and Jay Reed holding his little sister. Photo by Glen Peschler.

Brown trout are more structure-oriented and warm water-tolerant than other salmonids. This keeps them in areas where the thermocline either hugs bottom or hovers a short distance above it.

“We get browns every year in July, 75 to 100 feet deep,” said Captain Jay Reed as we motored out of the Salmon River late last week. “This year they’re only 45 to 60 feet deep.”

He wasn't complaining. In times of $4-something gas, the shallower you troll, the cheaper the trip.

Reed attributes their behavior to this year’s unusual meteorological events. “Normally, we get winds out of the west. Currently we’re getting a lot out of the southeast, which pushes the warm water out and the cold, bottom layer in. The bait likes temperatures in the low 60s and this year that’s much shallower than normal,” claims Capt. Reed.

That morning he and his first mate took several clients out and they nailed their limits, including a 17-pounder any mother would be proud to see on her kid’s wall. Another went 14 pounds, and the rest averaged eight.

I wanted to see for myself. The good captain accepted my challenge. A little while later, we’re trolling less than two miles off shore, between the Salmon River and Selkirk Shores state park.
We fished a Michigan Stinger and Evil Eye off downriggers set 45 to 55 feet deep (the first mate kept adjusting their depth); and Michigan Stingers off a Dipsy Diver and on lead core let out 12 colors.

In less than two hours we boated a couple browns averaging six pounds; during the brightest time of day no less (they bite best around dawn and dusk).

Capt. Reed expects the browns to remain shallow for as long as we continue getting a lot of rain and winds coming out of the southeast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oneida Lake's Hot Weather Bass

Monster rock bass like this one punctuate the catch along the Long Shore.
Anglers worth their weight in rubber worms know Oneida Lake is one of the hottest bass spots in the Northeast. What many don't realize (including me, up until a couple days ago, anyway) is how shallow you can find smallmouths in the dog days of summer.

Wesley Coy, a colorful local who describes himself as "a jerk on one end waiting for a jerk on the other," showed me.

Not your average jerk, Coy makes extra income as a bass pro on the U.S. Angler's Choice Tournament Trail, a national circuit that holds seven competitions annually on Oneida Lake.

I told him I wanted to catch some largemouths and he took me to his favorite spot, "the Long Shore," stretching roughly from Shackleton Point east to the Oswego County line.

We drifted over a patchwork of weed beds, rock piles and boulders clinging to a wavy floor ranging from three to eight feet deep. The water temperature was 78 degrees.

Convinced bass preferred cooler water on hot, muggy days (air temperature was in the 90s), I braced myself for getting skunked.

Big mistake.

On my second cast, I nailed a smallmouth weighing well over two pounds on a spinnerbait.

Almost simultaneously, Wes got one about three pounds on a black/blue flake JDC Bass Bone hooked wacky style. Then he got another and another.

I switched to a YUM Dinger hooked wacky style on a 5/0 Eagle Claw Lazer, Wide Gap Worm Hook and started catching fish again.

Toward the end of the drift, bucketmouths finally made an appearance. We boated several ranging from one (mine) to three (Wes's) pounds.

In about three hours, we caught 15 keeper bass--including two 3 ½-pound bronzebacks--several smaller ones and some rock bass

At the end of the Long Shore we headed for the north side of Dutchman's Island. We caught several more, including the best of the day, a four-pound smallie that struck Coy's bait.

Next time I hear the usual: "Oneida Lake's smallmouths move to deeper water in the heat of summer," I'll politely agree and head for Oswego County's weedy and rocky shallows instead.

Wes Coy holding a typical Long Shore bucketmouth.

Wes Coy with a four-pound Long Shore bronzeback.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

City Bass and Panfish

Sean Rae, an old Army buddy of mine from Texas, came up to visit family on Saturday and called me Sunday afternoon to go fishin'.

"What ya wanna go for?" I asked.

"Bass for the fun of it; crappie and perch for dinner."

"I know just the place," I replied.

It was hot and sticky and I thought about all we'd catch was some rays.

We launched at Wright's Landing on downtown Oswego's north shore.

Motoring out just far enough to get out of the launch area, we started drifting. He cast a spinnerbait and I ripped a buzzbait.

On his third toss he caught a largemouth of about two pounds. The next cast he took another, and another after that. By the time I switched over to a spinnerbait he had landed and released four largemouths and a 2 ½ pound smallmouth; one after the other; all of 'em over the submerged weeds between the yacht club and boat slips.

I couldn't buy a bass, but I got a 27-inch northern ½-hour later on the spinnerbait just below Breitbeck Park.

We continued working the south shore up to the smokestacks but the fish had lockjaw. We returned to the marina to try our luck at catching dinner.

I worked a 2” Mister Twister Exude Curly Tail on a jighead rigged to a spinner form; and Sean used a Berkley Gulp 2.5" Power Trout Worm weightless, hooked whacky style.

In about an hour we caught a couple keeper crappies, ½-dozen perch ranging from 7 to 10 inches and some sunfish and rock bass the size of small frying pans.

"You didn't tell me the fishin was this good up here in July," Sean protested.

"Yeah I did," I retorted, "but nah, you wouldn't believe me. Now ya know."

Larry Murowski, owner of the Oswego Salmon Shop

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Summer Steel and Landlocked Salmon

Spey casting to a pod of salmonids in the Salmon River's Trestle Hole.

Last Tuesday I called Salmon River Program Coordinator Fran Verdoliva to find out if significant numbers of Skamania or landlocked Atlantic salmon rode upstream in the wake of this year’s first whitewater release on June 21-22. (Water is released five times each summer for whitewater kayaking and tubing.)

“A few fish came in,” he replied. “A nice steelhead was caught in the Schoolhouse Pool, and anglers reported seeing a few fish in other spots. But it’s still a bit too early for meaningful numbers.”

So I went up Saturday to try my luck. Using my Cabela’s Spey Combo, I worked one of my own creations (a white, cone-headed, rabbit strip streamer tied on a 1/0 hook) through a hole in the upper fly-fishing only, catch and release section of the river, about 200 yards downstream of the end of the Lighthouse Hill Reservoir tailrace.

A Skamania of about 10 pounds came out of the depths, nailed it, jumped clear out of the water when it felt the hook, looked at me with murder in its eye, and spit the fly back at me like it was bad meat. Shaken, I kept casting but my efforts were fruitless.

So I switched to an all purpose white nymph, on a #8 hook and caught a 12 inch brown and a couple fingerling landlocks—but didn’t see any more trophies.

Verdoliva says “the next three releases (July 5-6, July 19-20, and August 2-3) should draw good numbers of large Skamania and Landlocked salmon into the river.”

(An additional release will occur on August 30-31, but by then some kings will be running and the landlocked salmon normally beat fins back to the lake.)

“The Salmon River in July offers fly-fishing at its best,” claims Verdoliva. “The stream isn’t crowded, the fish aren’t spooked, and trophy steelhead and landlocked salmon will actually chase your fly.”

Summer is also your best bet for catching one of these bruisers on a dry fly.

After a rain, especially if the water gets a little murky, both species will hit worms.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Late June Walleyes on Oneida Lake

Todd Frank holding a 20 inch Walleye. Wantry Island is behind him to the right.

I fished with Todd Frank on Wednesday on Oneida Lake. For those of you unfamiliar with the professional walleye circuit, Frank happens to be NY's brightest star in this highly competitive and challenging game.

And he proved it -- in spades.

Having just gone through a couple of global warming-type days pushing into the 90s, a cold front moved in, all but shutting the walleyes down. We spent a good two hours searching for the beasts.

Oh, we found them all right, but they were shut down like city hall on Sunday. Luckily, we happened on schools of smallmouths ranging from 1 ½ to 3 pounds, sunfish and rock bass big enough to write home to Mother about, and white perch that hit so hard, the planer boards shuddered.

We nailed all these fish in weeds between 10 and 15 feet deep. Frank caught the majority-and the biggest-on an Orange/Yellow Northland jighead tipped with a worm; I got mine on the same color jighead tipped with a Gulp Alive 3-inch leech.

After a little while, we took off in search of walleyes again, running in all directions, checking out every transition zone, rock pile, and weed bed in the Oswego County piece of the lake.

Known nationwide for his trolling skills, Frank put them to work. We flatlined a Tail Dancer and Bomber on either side of the boat, 100 feet out, off planer boards; a Smithwick Rogue dragged down by a snap weight and a Tail Dancer on lead core, four colors out, ran directly behind the boat.

Frank watched the Lowrance LCX-113 hd for fish, and his intuition kept tabs on the rods (either that or he has eyes on the side of his head).

Between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. we reached his goal; two limits of tasty walleyes ranging from 15 to 20 inches long; all taken 15 to 18 feet down in water 30 feet deep.

Frank seemed mystical, able to get walleyes to hit in the brightest time of day -- when just about everyone knows they're not supposed to, but - this is Oswego County, so why was I surprised that the fishing was far beyond the ordinary??

Frank holding two Oneida Lake Pumpkinseeds

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Early June Yellow Perch and Walleyes

David Oulette unhooking a juicy Salmon River jack perch.

Brothers Dave and Stan Oulette invited me to go for perch in the Salmon River last Thursday.

Launching at Pine Grove, we headed downstream. Just past the bend in the river, we anchored 10 yards from shore, in 12 feet of water and cast upstream between the two islands.

Using a 2-inch YUM grub, I caught perch ranging from eight to 11 inches in each of my first 10 casts, and then it was every other throw after that.

The brothers kept pulling in perch in rapid succession on minnows. In less than two hours, we had enough to feed us and our families a couple times over; and that's after releasing the 20% that was less than eight inches.

"Spring perch fishing used to always be like this," claims David. "Then the cormorants did a number on them. The DEC's cormorant controls reduced the birds' numbers to the point perch populations are coming back."

Stanley says they'll be here as long as the water is relatively cold, for another week or two.

While we were getting the minnows, Karen Ashley, employee at the local bait shop on NY 3 in Port Ontario, told us she and a some family had good luck with walleyes ranging from 18 to 22 inches in Sandy Pond last week. As proof, she showed us the fillets.

"Troll worms on Stico Spinners in front of Carnsey's Wigwam restaurant," she advises.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Oswego Harbor's Late Spring Bite

Capt. Gerry Bresadola and I fished Oswego Harbor May 28. Figuring the early bird gets the first worm, we left the dock at 6 a.m. By 6:20 we were trolling between the detached wall and west wall. Running three Michigan Stingers off downriggers in depths ranging from 14 to 20 feet, and flatlining another on lead core three colors out, we moved around the harbor in a circular pattern, heading a little further north with each pass. I watched the rods with great anticipation.

At 10 a.m. we landed two browns simultaneously; both small. Agreeing that gas was too expensive to waste chasing little fish, we called it a day. Curious why the bite was so meager, I asked Gerry if he could come up with an explanation. After all, in 1997 he led a client to a 33 lb. 2 oz. brown that still reigns as NY's record; so I figured if anyone knew something about the species it had to be him.

Quick as a chinook striking cut bait, he replied, rather poetically for an old salt: "The answer is blowing in the wind."

And that's it in a nut shell. The wind was blowing out of the east, scattering warm water, and the browns, all over the place. If it had come out of the northwest, blowing cold water inshore, the trout would have stormed in to bask in the mild temperatures the Oswego River pours into the harbor.

But all wasn't lost. Before heading home, I went to Wright’s Landing to try my luck with a grub-tipped jig. I nailed a few palm-sized Bluegills, a 10-inch rock bass and some yellow perch ranging from eight to 10 inches.

Local tackle shop owner Larry Muroski says panfish, including some crappies, have been hitting well at Wright’s Landing and he expects they'll continue to for a little while. He also reports that some huge walleyes are being taken near the H. Lee White Marine Museum by guys tossing grub-n'-jigs for panfish.

Strange but True: Capt. Bresadola tells me the client he led to the state record brown trout was himself named Brown; and cleverly adds: "The next day I went looking for someone named Chinook to take fishing."

Scott Brown holding an Oswego Harbor Brown. Photo by Captain Gerry Bresadola

Andy Brown holding a sheepshead. Photo by Captain Gerry Bresadola

Friday, May 23, 2008

Late May Crappies and Northerns

Crappies are still in Sandy Pond. They've moved out of the boat channels, creek mouths and shallow bays into open water. Many of the large females are still holding eggs. They're hitting minnows, glow jigs and small bucktail jigs; fished plain or tipped with a minnow. Work 'em slow.

Another hot spot right now is the upper Salmon River Reservoir. I was out a couple days ago with local guide Stan Oulette, pictured here. We had to search for them, drifting and working buckeyes along the edges of windfalls and points, and in holes he just knew were fishy. We nailed a lot of rock bass and a few smallies that couldn't keep their mouths shut, too.

On Wednesday, Dave Wood reported the northerns in the Salmon River estuary were very cooperative and large this year. I tried my luck and nailed a 30-incher by drifting a large shiner. I no sooner landed him and another hit, but cut me off. Not bad, considering I was only out for a little over an hour.

A school of decent-sized smallmouths was hanging out around the mouth, from the lighthouse downstream. They weren't exactly jumping into the boat but some did hit on a spinnerbait, Rat-L-Trap and silver Daredevle cast under and around the docks, and parallel to the rocks.