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.

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