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.