A king caught off the riverwalk wall in Oswego
Autumn rains are early and hard this year, filling Oswego County streams to levels that are perfect for salmonids. And the fish are running…in massive quantities.
I went up to the city a few days ago to see what was happening in the Oswego River. The water was high and full of fish. It was raining and there weren’t too many anglers out, but those that were hardy enough to brave the conditions were taking kings ranging from 12 to 25 pounds in the fast water stretching from below Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop all the way to the dam, mostly on egg sacs.
The heaviest action was at the dam. Fish were on stringers everywhere. Everyone I talked to had a positive story.
One group even fished directly below the powerhouse from a drift boat. I watched the guide bait the hook with a tangerine-sized gob of fresh salmon eggs, toss it out and within two minutes hook a king of about 20 pounds.
There were several groups of kids fishing or watching. One pair of local boys knew the ropes and had two fish on in the 15 minutes or so that I watched them. Aged around 12 to 14, these guys were holding their own with both salmon but fish were more experienced, made some fancy moves and got off. They didn’t break off, they spit the hook.
I asked the boys what they liked most about salmon fishing.
“Salmon fishing is awesome,” said one. “They’re everywhere, man…They’re everywhere! These monsters fight like freight trains and when you finally catch one you got something to take home and show the neighbors.”
“I just like the fight, too,” said his buddy. “The fish rip upstream and downstream, jump, stop so you think you’re snagged, pull all kinds of crazy stuff. Nothing comes close to this anywhere else.”
Three other boys from “downstate” were up with their parents who happened to be fishing. I asked them why they weren’t trying their luck. One admitted “a fish snapped my pole” earlier. Another dropped his pole in the river. The third said he was more comfortable on dry land and had just as much fun hanging out with the other two and watching “all the other goofs” fish.
This is the best time to take a kid fishing. I planned on going with my buddy Guido and his two youngsters on Sunday but he went Saturday, caught a couple, and the experience convinced him his kids (9 and10) were still too young to handle trophy salmon and trout in fast water. Truth be told, I agreed with him.
It’s possible a pre-teen could land a salmon but the fish are brutal and require experience to land. Indeed, one guy from Vermont said that his 15-year-old son had broken his pole (he didn’t say how) and the dad was doing everything he could to catch a fish so he could hand it off to the kid and let him feel the thrill of tackling with a king.
Just making the trip is one a kid will never forget. Seeing 20-pound fish porpoising all around, less than a stone’s throw away is a memorable experience for anyone, let alone an impressionable child.
There are plenty of lessons in values to be gained, too. Watching adults hooking and mostly losing the fish teaches humility and a healthy respect for the natural world. And when a salmon or brown is finally landed, especially if taken legally, in the mouth (the fish are so big and there’s so many, often they’ll run into a hook and get impaled in the side or belly), teaches the importance of patience.
I called Larry of Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778) a few minutes ago (10/7, 6 p.m.) for an update. “Salmon and browns are all over the river. Steelhead are coming in” said the message.
Likewise, the Salmon River is loaded with fish. Al Maxwell of Woody’s Tackle in Port Ontario (315-298-2378) says: “They’re in the river from end to end. We don’t have the fish in the flats that we had last week because most have run upstream. This is only the beginning of October and you can count on a lot more running all month long.”
“There’s a lot of brown trout in the river. Many of our customers have come in with 12 to 14-pounders. They’re hitting egg sacs and orange comet flies,” added Maxwell.
“Some steelies are in, too. Most of the steelhead action is in the Sandys (Little Sandy, Sandy and South Sandy Creeks). They’re taking them on egg sacs and estaz flies, a locally tied pattern named after the material it’s made from,” continued Maxwell.
So if you’re planning on trying your luck at this game, now’s the time to do it. While you’re at it, bring a kid along for the ride.