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.