Wednesday, August 26, 2009

City Smallmouths

Captain Redsicker with a typical city smallmouth

Whenever serious talk turns to smallmouths, Lake Erie starts jumping off tongues like a bass on steroids. But there’s a lot of omission going on, especially if the conversation takes place in New York State. You see, Lake Ontario, the second deepest Great Lake, might not have the massive stretches of shallow habitats its next of kin on the other side of the Niagara River boasts, but what little it has is loaded with smallies.

I’ve had numerous memorable outings tackling these challenging beasts in Oswego’s territorial waters in the past and got the urge to go in late July, the beginning of the dog days of summer, a time that normally triggers a good smallie bite. I contacted Capt. Dick Redsicker, owner of Upstate Outfitters (315-298-4107), one of the few guides who specializes in bronzebacks.

“Ain’t much happening out there, yet,” he replied.

In the beginning of this month I called again.

“There’s a few around but not many. Call again next week.”

The urge to catch some smallies kept growing fiercer and fiercer as the days dragged on. Finally, on the 12th I called…Eureka!!!!

“I’ve been nailing ‘em all morning,” claimed Redsicker, “tallie’s 37 so far.

I even got a rock bass that would seriously challenge the state record. I released it…and boy, do I regret that now.” I made it to Wright’s Landing in about an hour. By then he had landed and released 51 smallmouths. “Nothing huge, but they were all fun,” he beamed.

Rounding the Lighthouse point, we headed for the western corner of the west wall and fished about 50 yards from shore, under the shadow of the steam plant’s towering twin smokestacks.

Something was blooming and it wasn’t the green shoots you read about in the financial press. It was more real, green/brown algae, I suspect. It streaked the surface like long, green hairs. When you ran through it with the motor, the water turned muddy brown.

Since neither of us is a scientist, we stopped talking about what we thought and went back to what we knew. Dick’s technique is about as simple as it gets. He threads a salty, smoke colored Bass Pro Shops tube on a ½-oz. jighead, tosses it over the side, lets it sink to bottom and just drifts along. When the wind kicked up a little, we used a sock to slow us down.

We got some hits; mostly short strikes. You could feel the fish pick up the tube by the hairs and just nibble. I got a couple solid hits, but when I set the hook…nothing. One of life’s greatest mysteries is how sometimes a fish can hit a lure--even crankbaits packing three treble hooks--and not get hooked. (If I did that, I’d have scars in my lips marking each time.)

After floating around for about an hour we pulled the lines in and headed further out, into water 50 feet deep. We went hitless for about an hour. Then Dick nailed a ¾-pound rock bass.

I nailed one next, about the same size.

A few minutes later, Dick nails a monster that went well over a pound. That in itself was worth the trip as far as I was concerned.

Fish started showing up on the graph but they wouldn’t hit. Dick began wondering out loud why he had such good luck earlier and not now. Just then, a fish nailed his tube and he brought a nice smallie aboard.

A few minutes later, we switched over to Berkley Gulp 3-inch Leeches.

The action picked up a bit and we nailed several smallies apiece, plus a few monstrous rock bass. I mean I’ve caught some big ones before, but seldom anything over a pound. We got several that day.

“Everything’s late this year,” Dick opined as we headed in. I bet ya September is gonna be hot.”

“I’m sure it will be,” I replied. “I’ll call ya the first week of the month…and the second…Oh, and I’ll bring the donuts and coffee.”

Capt. Redsicker and a trophy rock bass

Round Gobies, an exotic that's turninginto an important food source, grow big in Oswego too.

A bloom of some sort streaking the water like flowing hair.

Under the shadow of Oswego's towering smoke stacks

Rounding the lighthouse point

An Oswego still life: sailboat and smoke stacks...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Oneida Lake Mixed Bag

John Stanek with a nice Oneida Lake walleye.

This summer promises to go down as one that never came. Indeed, temperatures have been so mild and it's rained so frequently, it seems spring’s tour has been extended a few months while summer’s off looking for global warming somewhere.

Oneida Lake agrees; her fish are in closer than they normally are this time of year.

Having recently moved to the lake, I go fishing whenever I get the chance. Neighbor and old buddy Tom Gibson, and his friend Rob Douglas, who, incidentally, has a boat, challenged me to teach them some new techniques. We arranged to go last Tuesday. Tom’s buddy and seasoned angler, John Stanek, came along.

Rob’s boat isn’t set up for fishing. Without naval electronics or even a GPS on board, our trip wasn’t going to be a video game played on a fish finder’s monitor; instead it would be ol’ fashioned intuition and intelligence against the fish’s instincts and raw power.

We started out in 15 to 20 feet of water about a half mile north of Lakeport. An hour went by without a hit.

The wind was out of the southwest so we decided to head for Shackleton Point and drift the south shore, concentrating on weed beds in four to eight feet of water.

John was the first to score, nailing a juicy eight-inch perch on a worm.

The bite was slow, however, and Tom decided to tie on a generic spoon, something he got out of a bargain bin at Gander Mountain.

Right off the bat he nails a 14-inch walleye. His first.

(Beginner’s luck, I snickered under my breath).

A couple casts later, he hooks a smallie of about 13 inches. It jumped three feet out of the water, shook its head and spit the lure back at him like it was bad meat.

(The guy didn’t tell me he knew how to fish, I thought.)

A few more casts and Tom hooks a monster smallie. Like any respectable lunker, its first move was to jump, rising steadily, deliberately into the sky like a basketball player with fins.

(Talk about hang-time, I thought, jealousy sweeping over me like a blinding fog.)

That fish took Tom to all the terrifying places: weeds, under the boat, around the motor. Finally, it seemed to wrap its tail around a rock or something and settled into the tug-o-war bronzebacks are famous for.

After a really long time, the strategy imprinted into its genes over the ages paid off and the line went limp.

“That was cool,” was all Tom said, and kept on casting.

John changed over to a small silver spoon while no one was looking and before you know it, he hooks an 18-inch walleye. Like all “eyes” its size, it gave a respectable fight. But it wasn’t enough. John wrapped his hands around it and heaved it into the boat.

Boy, I was starting to look bad. Two guys catch fish and I don’t have squat. Rob being fishless, too, didn’t provide any solace because he wasn’t even fishing.

Right when inadequacy started gnawing at my confidence, the lake relents, giving me a hit. The smallie jumped several times, spitting bait all the while. He must’a ate a whole school because he kept regurgitating minnows, in groups of three, all the way to the boat.

This summer’s weird weather is bringing all kinds of changes to Oneida Lake. One that many will find surprising is that the walleyes are hitting silver spoons, something no one ever talks about.

Just goes to show…don’t get caught in a rut. Experiment.

Tom Gibson with an Oneida Lake walleye, his first.

John holding a chunky bronzeback as the boys look on.

Rob Douglas and best friend, Sidney.

Rob Douglas and a keeper smallie.