Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Time to Teach

Caughdenoy resident Gerald Donegan holds son Robert's first largemouth bass.

Under the proper conditions, kids'll take to fishing like minnows to water. And the best time to get them hooked on this exciting, lifetime activity is right now.

You see, a youngster's attention span lasts as long as the fish are hitting. When they clam up, everything else that's going on takes center stage. Peepers peeping, frogs croaking, turtles basking, heron's fishing, all become distractions. While lessons in nature are good things, the object is to keep the child focused on catching fish.

And that's easiest and cheapest to do from now through mid-June. You see, spring raises water temperatures, triggering warmwater species into spawning mode. By now, some like northern pike, walleyes and perch have done the deed and are basking--and feeding--in the shallows.

Others like sunfish, bass, catfish, and carp are just getting started. This draws them to muddy flats and weed beds near shore, within easy reach of bank anglers. (Bass season opens the third Saturday in June. Right now bass season is catch and release only, with artificial lures.)

Equally productive habitats right now are tributary mouths and rapids. Fish that have just spawned are famished and tired. Since current carries food, all they have to do is rest on bottom or behind structure and open their mouths.

The best bait to use depends on the species you're targeting. For instance, if you're specifically going for crappies, northerns or pickerel, minnows will work best. However, if you're just out to have a good time and don't care what you catch, worms will do.

Make the experience visual by using a bobber. Not only does it allow you to see the bite, it keeps you out of rocks and other snags. Stick with the smallest bobber you can so the fish feels the least resistance possible.

If you'd rather not handle live bait, try lures. The best, all around bait is a bucktail jig. A jighead flavored with a YUM or Powerbait grub (1- to 2-inchers for panfish, 3-inchers for pike and walleyes) works well, too. Or try crankbaits like Rat-L-Traps, Smithwick, Rogues, Bombers and Rapalas, working them just fast enough to give them some action.

Oswego County is loaded with productive, shallow water habitats. Look at a map and you'll see a web of fishing spots. Just pick a city, village or hamlet on water, and rest assured it has public access.

Then add a kid with a fishing pole and watch the fun begin.

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

Daughter's first fish.
Granddaughter's first fish.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Eyes of May

Palermo native Rick Emmons with a nice stringer he took on the Oneida River in Caughdenoy on May 11.

Oneida Lake is your best bet in the Northeast to catch a batch of walleyes for the frying pan. But it's not Oswego County's only hot spot for this delicious critter. Indeed, the Oneida and Oswego Rivers are every bit as productive right now.

The reason is that water temperatures are pretty mild this month, allowing walleyes to hang out in one of their favorite habitats, fast water. Come mid-June, the surface layer will heat up to uncomfortable levels, forcing walleyes to beat fins for the rivers' darkest depths, or back into the lake.

This also creates the ideal situation for bank anglers. In the old days, villages sprang up at the site of rapids because dams and mills were built to harness water power. More recently, locks were built to facilitate boat traffic. As a result, river rapids generally offer a lot of public fishing access.

So I went out Monday afternoon to try my luck. I started in Caughdenoy. As I pulled into the lot, Rick Emmons, a Palermo resident, was just leaving. I asked how he did and he showed me a stringer containing several nice perch and a 22-inch walleye.

Psyched, I started casting a Rebel. Within a half hour I caught an 18-incher. I fished for another hour, caught a feisty two-pound smallmouth and a Sheepshead twice that size.

I split, went to Phoenix and fished the plunge pool below the floodgates on the east shore where I caught a smallmouth of about 1 ½ pounds. Schools of huge carp, some over 25 pounds, were in the gate, trying to figure out a way to get under the barrier.

One bumped into my lure and the treble hook sunk into its pelvic fin. The fish took off like a freight train. My 6-pound test strained as the drag squealed an agonizing protest. Fortunately, the fish shook off before it tore all the line off the reel. The way that fish was moving, I'm pretty sure it's in Canadian territorial waters by now.

Up in Oswego, the bite is fair. Larry Muroski, owner of the Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778) tells me the fish are ranging from six to nine pounds.

"My customers brought in two last week that were over 11 pounds," claims the colorful bait monger.

A good number of these fish are being taken from the river walks on both sides of the stream. Bucktail jigs, leeches, worms fished plain or on spinner-rigged harnesses, and crankbaits like Smithwick Rogues, Rebels, Thundersticks and Rapalas are taking fish.

Charter boat captain Greg Gehrig, owner of K&G Resorts (800-346-6533), reports that the bite has been a little slow the past couple of days, attributing it to the cold fronts that have been sweeping in out of the north. Still, he's been leading clients to one or two huge walleyes each night, between dusk and 3 a.m. His favorite lure is a number 18 Rapala in Firetiger or Black/Silver.

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pen-Reared Trout and Salmon

Capt. Gerry Bresadola (red vest) receiving a $1,000 donation from Brookfield Renewable Power for the pen rearing program in 2008. General Manager John Elmer (sport coat) gave the award as David Turner (shirt and tie), Director of Community Development, Tourism and Planning Dept., and several volunteers look on.

Without a doubt, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation deserves the lion's share of the credit for Lake Ontario's world class steelhead and salmon fisheries. Still, legions of average Joes and Janes, either single-handedly or in small groups, have made generous contributions to the effort, too. One of the best, most productive examples of citizen activism is the pen-rearing going on right now at the Oswego Marina.

It wasn't easy starting the program. Gerry Bresadola, a charter boat captain many credit with being the brains behind the movement, and of a cast of local characters, including Mike Conroy and the late Jack Quinlan, got the ball rolling. "We argued with the DEC for three to four years for cooperation," says Bresadola.

When the authorities finally agreed, other locals joined in. Mike Dalonzo and Greg Hackett built the pens. The Oswego Marina put the cages into the water and allowed them to be anchored to its docks for the duration, and removed them after the fish were released.

Currently, DEC supplies 40,000 kings and 20,000 steelhead annually. Charter boat captains operating out of the Oswego Marina feed the critters five times a day.

This year's batch came in on April 15. Bresadola says water temperatures are rapidly rising to the maximum the fish can tolerate (mid 60s). He expects the cages will be towed out beyond the lighthouse on or around May 13, and the fish will be released in the open lake.

There are good reasons for keeping the fish temporarily penned up. One is to give the salmon time to imprint to the water so they'll return to the Oswego River in three and a half years to spawn

Another reason is to give both species a fighting chance. You see, when things were still in the theoretical stages, cormorants were eating the stockies almost as quickly as the DEC released them. Organizers hoped the pens would give the fish a measure of protection and a little time to get acquainted with their new surroundings.

The fish respond to the special treatment very favorably. "They don't want to leave when the gates are open and we have to coax them out," says Bresadola.

Sportsmen who are drawn to the ancient arts of hunting and fishing are fulfilling humankind's biological role as the natural world's greatest predator. The guys who participate in the pen rearing program go one step further and practice another strictly human gift: stewardship of natural resources. They do it selflessly and without fanfare.

But don't take my word for it. Instead, visit the Oswego Marina at 3 Basin Street, and check out the five pens bearing silent testimony to the patience and dedication the charter captains devote to nurturing Lake Ontario's future trophies.

DEC personnel preparing to fill the pens with salmonids

Pen being stocked

Steelhead coming out of the pipe

Friday, May 1, 2009

Center-pinning for Drop-backs

Capt. Richard Miick and a nice 13 lb. (our biggest of the day) chromer.

From the looks of the title, you'd think this posting was talking some arcane form of English. Well it is, in a way -- you can call it pinheadspeak.

I was introduced to center-pinning last Wednesday, April 22, by Captain Richard Miick, owner of Dream Catcher Charters and Guide Service (315-387-5920).

"Forget about fishing as you know it," advised the captain. "This is a whole new ballgame."

He wasn't kidding. The road to pinheadom isn't an easy one. It took me at least a half hour just to get casting down pat, and I kept tangling the line around me, the rod, throwing it into the trees, you name it, all day long. But Miick is a good, very patient teacher and by the end of the day I had landed two chromers, and joined the fraternity of the ancient order of pinheaders.

Center-pinning is the most effective and primitive way to take river steelhead. The equipment consists of a single action reel without a drag, just a clicker, and no frame around the inside edge of the spool-it's open like an open-face reel. You cast it by holding the spool in place with the pinky on your right hand while simultaneously sweeping the line off to the side of the reel, away from the handle, with your left hand.

Pressure on the exposed spool by the sides of your pinky and ring finger lock it, stopping the line from coming off the reel, as well as acting as your only drag.

The rod is generally 13 ½ feet long but can go a couple feet longer.

The terminal tackle consists of a float, and a set of split shots pinched at six inch intervals down the line. The most successful anglers attach a barrel swivel about four feet below the float, and an 18-inch fluorocarbon leader below that.

Bait is generally an egg sac, a bead or Berkley Powerbait Trout Worm.

Cast or drop the float into the current, preferably in a seam, leave the spool free so the line follows it downstream. When the float submerges, apply pressure on the spool with the pinky, set the hook and the fight is on; unless, of course, you got "waved": a wave blocks your view of the float.

Being well-versed in the art of fishing, I hooked my first steelie, at least a15-pounder, in less than an hour-I had several hits before that but just couldn't get things right. It must'a been a fresh fish because it fought ferociously for 10 minutes before spitting the hook, much to the delight of my aching pinky, and right bicep.

That afternoon, from 2:30 p.m. to around 7:30 p.m., we hooked six fish and landed four ranging from six to nine pounds, all drop-backs.

And that was a poor showing.

That's not my opinion- it's Ricks.

"I took a client out this morning and we hooked about 20, landing a dozen of 'em," claimed the good Capt. "I've seen many days of 25 hook-ups. In fact, I consider it a poor day if we don't connect with fish a couple dozen times."

We went out again Sunday, April 26. It was hot, and I didn't think any fish would be left in the stream. But it was loaded with 'em. We did better than the first day, including a 13-pounder. Miick says they should be in the Salmon River until mid-May.

However, at the end of the month through to mid-August, Skamania and landlocked Atlantic salmon will move in. Miick says the power company's monthly water releases for tubers and kayakers draw great numbers of fresh fish into the whitewater, offering the hottest summer fishing for trophy salmonids in the lower 48 states.

Center-pinning is capturing the hearts of anglers plying the rapids of Great Lakes tributaries. It's a tough system to master and beginners should hire a guide the first time out, or risk frustration and heartache.

For a list of guides or a copy of the Oswego County Fishing and Hunting Guide, visit or call 800-248-4FUN.

Launching at the Altmar Access Site

Captain Miick with one of Wednesday's drop-backs

What a difference a few days make. Launching at the Altmar access site, 80-something degrees - on April 26

Jason "Goose" Kollbaum, a district manager for Best Buy, showing off a steelie taken just below Ellis Cove

Landing a nice drop-back below the Trestle Hole

Sun setting over the Salmon River