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.