Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Habitat Row

Capt. John Kopy holding a trophy rock bass

Oswego County's anglers are like their peers everywhere; they can't keep a secret. For instance, they brag about the Salmon River's legendary coldwater fishery. Come summer, they'll tell ya all about the landlocked Atlantic salmon and Skamania runs that make the river the best summer trout fishery east of the Mississippi.

But when it comes to the Salmon River's warmwater opportunities, something strange happens -- mum's the word. It's not that they don't know about it. It's more mercenary than that. They wanna keep it to themselves.

You see, the slow moving, weed-lined water in the stream's estuary and the narrow channel right at its mouth, offer some of the best warmwater fishing in the county. Northern pike commonly go 15 pounds, smallmouth bass average three, and panfish reach bragging-size.

Even back in the 1960s, when the fishery was threatened because of lamprey eel predation and water pollution, Selkirk was one of the best bets in the state to catch trophy smallmouth bass and northern pike.

So when my good buddy, local fishing guide John Kopy (315-387-6343) called a few days ago to see if I wanted to try my luck in this wonderful web of habitats, I jumped at the chance.

I don't have to tell anyone how iffy, even by New York standards, the weather has been lately. When we started out, a cold front sat on the water, sprinkling a fine mist that gave the waterscape an enchanting air. By the time we motored up to the NY 3 bridge, the sun was out and you could feel it burn the fog off the water.

While shifting meteorological events enhance the beauty of the scenery to man, it makes the fish clam-up and dive for the deep.

However, we managed to eke out some exciting encounters.

Unfortunately, they were all short strikes, connected to the line just long enough to tease us. Just as John or I had our hands in the water to mouth Mr. Bronzeback, he'd spit the bait right back at us like it was bad meat.

Still, Kopy managed to land a couple for photographic purposes.

Equally important, he lead me to the biggest rock bass I've caught so far this year. One was a staggering pound and half.

This area is notorious for huge rock bass. Unlike the lake's other bays and ponds, where they come in to spawn and leave right away, the estuary holds monsters year-round. They'll hit all the usual suspects, but the most exciting way to take 'em is off the surface with a popper.

Huge sunfish and a few crappie are also available.

With its ample weed beds, cattail mats, emergent weeds, sunken and exposed timber, the estuary is ideal northern pike territory. They'll take a large minnow, spinner bait, or buzz bait.

To look at it, you'd swear the estuary's marshy areas make for great largemouth bass action. Yes and no. Bucketmouths are rare in this water. However, when you get one it's usually big enough to write home about.

Bronzebacks, may more than twice this size, rule the Salmon River's estuary all the way to the mouth.

A little of Southern bayou in upstate NY

Fishy looking habitat lines the Salmon River estuary.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pool Between the Locks

This ambitious rock bass hit a Bomber larger than itself.
Panfish like this pumpkinseed are plentiful in the pool between Locks 06 and 07.

I live on Oneida Lake, but I like fish dinners at world famous Rudy's of Lake Ontario. So last Friday I headed up to Oswego for a bite to eat and watch the sun go down over the big pond.

Like everyone else, I'm usually busy and always in a hurry. But the second week of June was unusually hectic. Several deadlines converging all at once, inventory forcing me to work extra hours at my part-time job, and the new home I just closed on made the period one of the busiest weeks in my life. When Friday finally rolled around, I wasn't gonna hurry anymore, and took the long, scenic road to the city; NY 48, along the Oswego River.

At the mouth of Ox Creek, the stream looked very inviting. By Minetto, it cast its spell on me, splashing my imagination with fishing scenes. By the time I reached Oswego, I couldn't fight the urge anymore. Pulling off the road just downstream of the upper power dam, I grabbed a couple rods out of the trunk and headed down to the water.

I'd never fished the pool between the dams before, but Larry Muroski, owner of the Oswego Salmon Shop, assured me many times in the past that the place was loaded with fish, including one of my favorites, catfish. Not just your average size whisker-pusses either; but some of the biggest in the drainage, monsters up to 20 pounds.

While scanning the rapids for pockets, eddies, seams and other likely holding areas, visions of catfish the size of miniature Minotaurs swam through my imagination. I decided on a spot about 100 yards downstream of the power plant, where the rapids left the shoreline and pushed towards the center of the river. I cast a worm weighed down with a large split shot across the current and let it sweep downstream. When it sank to the bottom at the current's edge, I worked it back slowly along the river floor.

A pumpkinseed of about five inches took my bait right away. Next cast I reeled in a decent rock bass. About an hour later, the tally was one sheepshead, five smallmouth bass, two rock bass and two sunfish; and numerous hits I couldn't connect with.

No catfish, however, and I wanted one bad.

So I decided to cross the stream and try my luck off the concrete bulkhead at the base of the lower lock, where the water is much deeper to accommodate shipping. It looked like perfect habitat for catfish. I got some hits and pulled in some more panfish, including a couple perch.
Before I knew it, the sun began to set. Hunger returning, I packed my gear and hit the road for Rudy's.

Unfortunately, I hadn't caught a catfish. But I fished a new spot, one I believe will give me some good cats and walleyes in the future. After all, everything these popular species crave is right there: rapids near the safety of deep water.

To get to Lock 6 from downtown, head south for 1.2 miles on NY 481 from its intersection with Bridge Street, turn right onto the lock road, and park in the small lot. Head north, climb down the tall stairs and fish at the end of the wall.

A family fishing below lock 6.

A sailboat leaving lock 6

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Oswego County: World Famous Carping

A fish this big ain't somethin' to carp about!

A couple of average-sized Oswego drainage carp

From the above title, you'd think this story is gonna be about world class complaining.

Nah, it's about fishing

You see, Oswego County residents are basically a mild-mannered bunch. When they carp, they're not critical or nasty or anything like that. Instead, they're out sitting on the bank somewhere, still-fishing for carp, one of the largest, toughest challengers in fresh water.

We're loaded with carp; primarily because the Oswego River runs through the county. Lake Ontario's second largest tributary, it gets that big by draining the Finger Lakes, Oneida Lake, a couple of smaller lakes and a whole mess of streams in between. All that water runs through farm country and skirts swamps and marshlands, gathering nutrients along the way. Good stuff that supports a wide variety of plants and animals, serving up a cornucopia that makes carp grow fat.

There are so many, and they get so big, the waterway's population has made it onto the national scene. Last May 15-16, the Catch-And-Release Professional Carp Tournament Series (CARP) held its Northeast Regional on the Seneca River (its union with the Oneida River in the hamlet of Three Rivers forms the Oswego River).

Teams from around the world competed in the multi-day event. Everyone caught fish. Many went better than 20 pounds.

That's a lot of carp!

Watching these guys for a while brought back memories of my youth. I didn't give it much thought again until last Saturday. I boiled a couple potatoes and cut them into bouillon-sized squares; rolled a loaf of white bread into about 250 marble-sized bread balls; and pulled a can of kernel corn out of the cupboard.

Then I went to the DEC fishing access site on Cty. Rte. 37, on the north end of the I-81 bridge.

I chummed the area by throwing out a handful of each of the above food items, baited a rod with a piece of potato, another with a bread ball, cast them out, and sat down for a bite--a hit, that is.

While waiting, I did what every man who chases this "thinking man's fish" does. I started thinking about things; anything and everything.

Right when I was on the verge of cracking the secrets of Wall Street, my rod snapped me out of it by heading for the drink. That's how a carp hits: hard and with enthusiasm. I set the hook and the fight was on. It took a full five minutes to bring the brute, a 15-pounder, to the rocks.

Exhausted, he didn't struggle as I removed the hook. I looked at his rubbery mouth, huge scales, massive tail, and his rapidly gasping gills and thought: Yup, this is one ugly critter, but it sure gave me a good fight.

I wondered why others didn't take advantage of this resource. Indeed, why his kind is treated with extreme prejudice by a significant minority of American anglers.

After all, Ulysses S. Grant brought carp over here from Germany when he was President of the US, hoping to beef up the nation's depleted fisheries. They took to our waters, and, being one of the hardiest species under the waves, thrived. While at the same time, our native species were fading fast.

Seeing all the carp caused a lot of Americans to blame them, instead of the real culprits--over--fishing and pollution--for decimating native stocks. This mentality sent carp slipping down the slope of discrimination to this very day.

Fortunately, their importance as a sports fish is finally being recognized. See for yourself by tangling with a few. It's as easy as I described above.

One important thing to remember: cover your hook completely with the bait. Carp have very sensitive mouths and will drop a piece of potato if it doesn't feel right.

Good places to try are Minetto, Caughdenoy, Oswego, Three Rivers, Phoenix, anywhere there's a river, really. Lakes Oneida and Neahtahwanta are loaded with them, too.

For more information go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call 800-248-4386 and request an Oswego County Hunting & Fishing guide.