Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fallfishin’ in Summer

Fallfish watching my every move

Oswego County offers the best man-made, fast water salmonid fishing in the Lower 48 States. But every now and then I get the urge for the wild side. Last Friday I felt the call and headed for Scriba Creek, hoping to tackle with one of the legendary wild browns the stream is said to harbor in the wilds north of Constantia.

A search of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s website showed me there was a stretch with public fishing rights (see Getting There below). However, there wasn’t any public access off the shoulder. So I went north on Cty. Rte. 17 to Parker Road and walked downstream from the bridge.

The west side was posted but not the east. It was a challenging hike because the banks were high, the creek floor muddy and deep. Biting flies ranging from deer flies to mosquitoes serenaded me along the way.

Partial to rapids and pocket water, the deep, slow moving creek wasn’t exactly my cup o' tea. But I’m a sporting man and my curiosity got hooked deeper and deeper as I struggled along. You see, the creek was covered in a fabulous nave bumped out of a deep, old forest; its banks were lined with a variety of beautiful vegetation, including pockets of the most spectacular ferns I’d ever seen.

At a hair-pin bend, I dropped a wooly bugger over a sunken windfall. A fish, obviously thinking it was a caterpillar, shot out from under the gnarled branches and grabbed the fly in flight. Feeling the hook, it took the fight to the bottom, conducting a respectable tug-of-war, just like a brown trout would.

But it was a fallfish, one of the lowliest beasts in a stream.

Sitting on a stump nestled in a garden of ferns, I looked down at it, through water stained the color of strong tea by tannic acid. I gently raised it to the surface.

In my hands, it trembled; its frightened eyes following my fingers.

This display of emotion caused me to hesitate. Instead of simply pulling it out of the water and unhooking it, I lead it to a weedy shallow spot in a notch in the bank.. Removing the streamer while the fish was still submerged, I slowly backed off.

It watched me without moving for what seemed like a long time. Then it flopped, setting its head into the open flow. One powerful flap of its tiny tail, and it was gone.

Fallfish don’t grow big. I’ve seen them up to 18 inches but those are rare. Normally they go anywhere from 4 to 12 inches. And they fight like you’d expect a beast whose life is hardened through constant struggle against current and subsisting mainly on tiny insects, with an occasional worm thrown in.

Dark-backed, silver-sided and white-bellied, fallfish belong to the same group that carp do, the minnow family. Typically found in our northern rivers and lakes, most anglers simply call 'em chubs. They're thrive in just about every stream north of Oneida Lake; the Salmon River is loaded with 'em.

At another time I might have been angry at catching only a “rough fish”; maybe even blamed it for ruining my trip.

But Scriba Creek is an enchanting place, gracing me with the knowledge that even though I didn’t catch a trout, I still got a wonderful wilderness fishing experience; most importantly, I didn’t get skunked.

And after all, isn’t that what fishing’s all about?

Getting There: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website offers a map of public fishing rights sections it owns on Scriba Creek. Go to, click on Outdoor Recreation, then Fishing. Type Scriba Creek in the search box, scroll down to Oswego County, click on Scriba Creek and Spring Brook pdf.

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

Garden of ferns with a creek flowing through it

Scriba Creek south of Parker Rd. Note beaver dam on channel to the right

Thursday, July 2, 2009

West Side Browns

Capt. Gehrig and 1st Mate Chad, holding the one that didn't get away

Late last month Greg Gehrig, owner of K&G Sportfishing (800-346-6533), invited me to go for brown trout aboard his luxury liner, Top Gun. (I mean any 40- foot long, three-story yacht, with a head tall enough for me to fit without bumping my head—I’m 6’5”—is luxurious!) It’s the biggest tub I ever fished out of in Oswego County, and when I went up to the bridge to talk to the first mate, Greg’s son Chad, I noticed I was looking down on everyone else out there.

We left Wright’s Landing at daybreak, heading straight out of the harbor. About a half mile later, we turned left.

Capt. Gehrig loaded four rods with Michigan Stingers and ran the baits off downriggers between 35- to 50-feet deep; and flat-lined a couple Stingers on lead core, seven colors out. Our target was 56 degree water and we trolled at 1.9 to 2.1 mph.

Before long, Chad reported “pods” of bait below us, with trout along the edges. Fish were there but they had lock jaw.

For a few minutes, anyway. Then one of the rods sprang to action. Unfortunately, I was too busy picking the good Captain’s mind for nuggets of fishing wisdom—the man just won the Pro Division championship of the Lake Ontario Pro-Am Orleans County tournament--and I ain’t ever won a tournament, so I wanted to know how it’s done.

Talk about being able to talk and work at the same time: mid-sentence, the captain ran over to the rod right next to me, pulled it out of the holder, handed it to me and requested “Bring ‘em in.”

Well, I fought the thing for a few seconds, just long enough to start developing the story I was going to tell all my friends when I got home, when suddenly my fingers experienced the angler’s greatest anguish—limp line.

Fish one; Spider nothing!

We trolled around some more, locating bait pods left and right, with browns always nearby. However, the end of June was under the weather most of the time: rain, sun, cold, warmth…and everything in between. The fish were a little out of sorts, to say the least.

I kept asking the captain questions. He kept filling the blanks. I was learning a lot.

Up in the hawk’s nest, Chad watched a pod of bait wash over the screen and ordered: “Get ready.”

I no sooner riveted my eyes back to the rods when one started dancing the “Brown Trout Trot.” I grabbed it--all by myself this time--and the fight was on.

I knew it was a good fish because it took so long to bring in…or maybe it was because so much line was out.

At any rate, when we netted it, the thing was hefty and we estimated it at around 10 pounds.

Having gotten a load of notes, a good fish and photos, I was prepared to let the crew off the hook and go home for the day. They looked at me like I lost some the strands in my head, web or something, and set our course for deeper water hoping to nail me shots of a humongous laker or king.

But that’s for my next post.

When we set out that morning, Captain Greg predicted the day’s fishing before we even dropped a line:

“When the fishing’s easy, anyone can catch fish, including the young guys. But when it’s tough like it is now, us old timers come through.”

You know, he convinced me.

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

Chad in the "crow's nest": room with a view!