Monday, April 20, 2009

Road Gardens

Grape Hyacinth emerging

Driving around the county, picking early season panfish hot spots for my readers, exposes me to a world of surprises. One of the greatest is perennial: the fabulous gardens of wildflowers punctuating the roadside at the Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area on the north shore of Oneida Lake. It's like a rainbow fell to earth, its impact splashing colors on the floor of the forest's openings.

To the uninitiated, a posting on flowers in a fishing and hunting blog might seem kind'a off message. But the vast, silent minority who actively indulges in the natural world, finds it quite appropriate. You see, even the most fanatical angler has to tip-toe through tulips or smell the roses sometimes. And it would be impossible to find a hunter who doesn't find the silent beauty of a forest, field or marsh magical and spell binding?

April sees the colorful curtain drop. Oh sure, unseasonably warm years have been known to sprinkle the countryside in flourishes of color by late March, but this month is a sure thing: its first week fires fresh shoots through the mat of last fall's fallen leaves; the second and third weeks string clumps of lush, trembling colors over the new growth erupting over the countryside.

The wildlife management area offers two separate flowery habitats--marsh and upland-- right at the road. A tour of the place can be had in fifteen minutes or less, and you don't even have to get out of the car -- but it's more fun if you do.

Heading south on Toad Harbor Road, vibrant hues pop out of the austere-looking ground right at the first dip in the pavement. A swampy area spotted with mounds of earth--the remains of ancient tree trunks--graces your view with crops of trilliums, red and white, pushing up among emerging ferns.

About a mile later, hook a left onto McCloud Road. Just beyond the last houses, keep your eyes peeled on the left shoulder. Shortly, clumps of grape Hyacinths will appear, their purple, cone-shaped clusters towering a couple of inches above a carpet of adder's tongues (aka trout lilies).

This spot is a good place to get out and walk into the field. A chorus of peepers will sing for you as you walk among the plants. At the tree line, the floor becomes littered with weathered boulders decked out in lichens.

The trees, many well on their way to old growth, range from gnarly oaks to majestic shag-bark hickories.

Back on the road, head downhill towards Phillips Point. At the bend, adder's tongues line the shoulder, and stretch back into the woods, their yellow flowers curling back, providing a resting place for the sun's rays.

The WMA is easy to reach. Take I-81 to Central Square, exit 32. Head east on State Route 49 for three miles, turn right on Toad Harbor Road and the flower show begins beyond the golf course.

Adder's tongues coming out

A crop of grape hyacinths preparing to explode into bloom.

Shagbark hickory

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Crappie Time on Big Bay

Two crappies for the bucket.

Robert Frost called early spring "mud time." Granted, there's a lot of it around, but the soggy dirt springs good stuff, like the best crappie bite of the season; the surest way under the sun to paint smiles on the mugs of folks itching to break cabin fever.

Last Friday morning I called a friend who prides himself as an Oneida Lake specialist, and asked him how the crappie fishing was. I could hear his teeth grind just before he growled "There ain't no crappy fishing around here."

Thinking he was off his rocker, I shot back, say what!!!??? Then it hit me he was probably just having a bad day and I explained, softly "You know, calicoes, man, strawberry bass."

"Oh, those guys," he replied, loosening the death grip that was causing his phone to make cracking sounds. "They should be hitting at Toad Harbor."

Seeing an opportunity to research two blog entries at once, I called my sweetie, Susan, invited her to go on a flower search with me (more about that in another posting later this week) and we set out for Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area, two individual parcels of public land covering 3,945 and 120 acres respectively, on the north end of Oneida lake.

You couldn't fit another car into the parking lot at the Department of Environmental Conservation's Toad Harbor fishing access site, even if you tried wedging it in sideways. My wait for a parking spot paid off a few minutes later when an angler and his adolescent daughter came down the trail, put their fishing tackle and a five-gallon pail holding about a dozen nine- to 11-inch crappies in the bed of his pick-up, and headed home for a Good Friday crappie dinner.

Toad Harbor has two man-made cuts into the swamp. The one right below the parking lot had some anglers but they had just started and didn't have anything to brag about.

I headed down the hard packed dirt trail. About 100 yards later I came to the second harbor. People were lined on all sides, and just about everyone boasted crappies.

Most were taken on small minnows; some responded to spikes and mousies. Everyone was fishing with bait suspended a foot or two below tiny bobbers.

The window on this bite isn't too wide and it'll probably shut in a week or so.

To get to Toad Harbor, Take I-81 to Central Square, exit 32. Head east for about two miles, turn south on Toad Harbor Road, then right on Shaw Road about three miles later, and follow it to the fishing access site on the right, just before the end of the road.

Angler's ring around Toad Harbor.

Crappie time at Toad Harbor: fun for the whole family!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Oswego River Perch

Off the wall in Phoenix, New York

Draining the Finger Lakes, Oneida Lake, and numerous creeks and brooks in between, the Oswego River pours down a gentle slope, dropping over 100 feet on its 20-something-mile run to Lake Ontario. And while its last mile or so is famed worldwide for exceptional autumn salmonid runs, the rapids along this mighty stream's entire length draw some fantastic runs of perch each spring.

Spawned by the marriage of the Seneca and Oneida Rivers in the hamlet of Three Rivers, the Oswego flows leisurely for its first few miles. In the village of Phoenix, it comes to its first drop and dives about 10 feet, creating heavy current; a siren's song for ice-out perch.

Oh, they're in the canal below the village's northernmost lock all winter long and locals drill through the ice to get at ‘em. But when the river swells with snowmelt, the heavy current sets them into high gear, drawing them to Phoenix from as far away as the upper dam in Fulton. When they arrive, they roam around looking for a way further upstream and sweep in and out of the slow moving water in the lock's channel.

Anglers have been getting their daily limits of 50 for over a week now, and the action is expected to last for another two to three weeks. This year the game is noticeably larger than in the past, typically ranging from seven to 10 inches long.

Minnows, spikes and mousies work best right now. By the middle of the month, worms will be effective, too. Fish on bottom, or suspend your bait below a bobber and set it three to six inches off the floor.

Perch will be drawn to the rapids in Fulton and Minetto, too. Unfortunately, access isn't as easy as in Phoenix where there's several hundred yards of shore access with parking. Still, dedicated anglers hike trails down to the bottom of the locks in Fulton; while gung-ho perchers have been known to fish the Minetto area in hand-launched boats.

Gallon for gallon, the city of Oswego offers more easy access than all the other spots combined. However, the action usually starts a little later than upstream. But that's cool, since most anglers are still fishing for steelies right now.

When the perch start hitting in a few days they'll be active all over town, from the pockets and eddies in the rapids to the canal, harbor and Wrights Landing. What's more, they'll be joined by crappies and sunfish in Wright's Landing; and rock bass the size of small frying-pans will move into the marina area in May.

Oswego Salmon Shop's Larry Muroski says "bullheads are being taken at night below Breitbeck Park on leeches, nightcrawlers and redworms."

Spring delicacy from the bottom of Phoenix, New York

Another one for the bucket...

April Steelheading in the city of Oswego.

Kyle Wright to Speak
Onondaga Audubon, the group that brought you Derby Hill Bird Observatory (see post "Raptor Row," March 24, 2009), announces Kyle Wright, official hawk watcher at DHBO, will give a presentation at the April, 15, 2009 monthly meeting, to be held at Beaver Lake Nature Center, 8477 Mud Lake Road, Baldwinsville; 315-638-2519. Mr. Wright's program will focus on work he's done in the past in places stretching from Newfoundland to Hawaii. For more info, contact Gerry Smith, Onondaga Audubon President, 315-771-6902.