Oneida Lake is your best bet in the Northeast to catch a batch of walleyes for the frying pan. But it's not Oswego County's only hot spot for this delicious critter. Indeed, the Oneida and Oswego Rivers are every bit as productive right now.
The reason is that water temperatures are pretty mild this month, allowing walleyes to hang out in one of their favorite habitats, fast water. Come mid-June, the surface layer will heat up to uncomfortable levels, forcing walleyes to beat fins for the rivers' darkest depths, or back into the lake.
This also creates the ideal situation for bank anglers. In the old days, villages sprang up at the site of rapids because dams and mills were built to harness water power. More recently, locks were built to facilitate boat traffic. As a result, river rapids generally offer a lot of public fishing access.
So I went out Monday afternoon to try my luck. I started in Caughdenoy. As I pulled into the lot, Rick Emmons, a Palermo resident, was just leaving. I asked how he did and he showed me a stringer containing several nice perch and a 22-inch walleye.
Psyched, I started casting a Rebel. Within a half hour I caught an 18-incher. I fished for another hour, caught a feisty two-pound smallmouth and a Sheepshead twice that size.
I split, went to Phoenix and fished the plunge pool below the floodgates on the east shore where I caught a smallmouth of about 1 ½ pounds. Schools of huge carp, some over 25 pounds, were in the gate, trying to figure out a way to get under the barrier.
One bumped into my lure and the treble hook sunk into its pelvic fin. The fish took off like a freight train. My 6-pound test strained as the drag squealed an agonizing protest. Fortunately, the fish shook off before it tore all the line off the reel. The way that fish was moving, I'm pretty sure it's in Canadian territorial waters by now.
Up in Oswego, the bite is fair. Larry Muroski, owner of the Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778) tells me the fish are ranging from six to nine pounds.
"My customers brought in two last week that were over 11 pounds," claims the colorful bait monger.
A good number of these fish are being taken from the river walks on both sides of the stream. Bucktail jigs, leeches, worms fished plain or on spinner-rigged harnesses, and crankbaits like Smithwick Rogues, Rebels, Thundersticks and Rapalas are taking fish.
Charter boat captain Greg Gehrig, owner of K&G Resorts (800-346-6533), reports that the bite has been a little slow the past couple of days, attributing it to the cold fronts that have been sweeping in out of the north. Still, he's been leading clients to one or two huge walleyes each night, between dusk and 3 a.m. His favorite lure is a number 18 Rapala in Firetiger or Black/Silver.
For more information go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call 800-248-4386 and request an Oswego County Hunting & Fishing guide.