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 or call 800-248-4386 and request an Oswego County Hunting & Fishing guide.

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