Friday, October 16, 2009

Skinny Creeks Fat with Salmon

Salmon fishing amidst fall foliage... life is good!

Dragging Salmon up Trout Brook

Hard-won tropy

Nothing stirs a salmon’s passions like heavy autumn rains. Indeed, they raise streams a couple notches giving the critters all kinds of places to run. All that water can make wading rivers difficult. However, cousin Staash, a guy who likes his fishing close and personal, has the perfect answer: “When stormy weather makes rivers tough to fish, the tough go fishing in skinny creeks.”

Last week’s torrential rains brought his words to mind. Since I haven’t fished with the dude in years, and missed the good times, I got on the phone and asked him if he still believed in the old saying.


“Prove it,” I dared.

He accepted.

So the next day found us at the stop sign on I-81 exit 36 in Pulaski, arguing about where we wanted to go. A string of cars began growing behind us. Before long they laid on their horns and Stash ordered “Take a right…take a right!” We headed south on NY 13 for Pineville. At the crossroad we turned left onto Cty. Rte. 48. Below the old steel bridge, the Salmon River wasn’t exactly raging and frothing, but it was close. About a mile later we pulled into the Trout Brook public fishing access site.

The lot was almost full. One guy was heaving a limit of kings onto the bed of his pick-up. The fish averaged a solid 20 pounds.

We no sooner reached the trail down to the stream and another guy’s walking up with a huge king. He allowed me to photograph him. While posing, he talked: “My two sons are about a quarter-mile behind me, loaded down with a bunch of salmon. Hauling fish this size is like dragging deer,” he laughed.

Swollen by run-off to roughly twice its normal size, the brook had enough water for the kings to run without exposing their back--in most spots, anyway. Still, it was wadeable and bustling with activity.

Guys were fishing everywhere. And they were catching fish. Indeed, in one spot where we crossed, a hooked salmon came barreling down the riffs and prit-near slammed into me. When it saw the hard object in its path, the beast slammed its tail into reverse, splashing water all over me. Some guy, dripping from head to foot, bent rod in hand, came slipping and sliding after him screaming “Don’t touch the line…don’t touch the line…”

I didn’t.

He landed it a couple pools later. When he went to get the hook out of its mouth, it struck back, sinking its canines into the flesh between his thumb and index finger. I guess the guy got the better part of that deal but you wouldn’t know it from the water pouring off him and the blood dripping from his free hand.

Right now the salmon run is going strong. In fact, the opportunities for catching one are better than ever. Autumn rains lure the fish into spots self-respecting salmon would never be caught in during low water.

The best baits to use are raw salmon eggs or egg sacs. While it’s uncertain why they’ll hit eggs, some think it’s an attempt to destroy they’re offspring’s competition.

A smattering of browns and steelies are mixed in with them. Trout enthusiasts catch quite a few salmon on egg pattern flies and, surprisingly, on plastic worms like Berkley’s Trout Worms and Gulp Mini Earthworms.

Good creeks to try, especially early in the morning or anytime after a hard rain, include Salmon River tributaries Trout and Orwell Brooks, Lindsey and Little Sandy Creeks which drain into Sandy Pond, and Grindstone Creek which feeds Lake Ontario at Selkirk Shores State Park.

The Oswego County Hunting and Fishing Guide contains a map showing their locations.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

They’re Everywhere, Man…They’re Everywhere

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.

Kids watching others fishing for kings - "beats TV" said one.

A couple of local boys trying to land a king - it got away.

Dam kings. Taken at the dam.

Salmon taken below the powerhouse

Friday, October 2, 2009

Kids Get In On Excitement Of Salmon Run

A boy holds up a salmon he caught on the riverwalk in downtown Oswego. Photo by Harrison Wilde.

Last Sunday I went up to Oswego to check out the salmon bite. Numerous fish porpoised in the power company tailrace, but there weren’t many anglers around, indicating there really weren’t many fish. In fact, the half dozen guys I talked to on the West bank’s river walk had only seen a couple kings taken all day long.

So I went up to Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop to get his take on the bite.

“Ain’t many fish in the river,” Larry offered. “But there will be in a couple of days…the time it takes for the rain from all the storms we had this weekend in the Finger Lakes to work its way down here.”

Yeah, that’s what I figure,” I agreed, and left.

I called back Tuesday night.

He picked up the phone and announced “They’re in. Massive quantities of ‘em. I’ve seen loads of them being dragged up the hill all day long.”

I called Guido, an old friend, to give him the heads up and ask if he’d be interested in going on Sunday.

“Yup,” he replied.

His nine-year-old son was near enough to the phone to hear our conversation.

“Dad, can I go?” he pleaded.

“No,” Guido responded. “You’re still too little.”

I had a revelation.

“Guido, why not?”

“The fish are bigger than him, and it’s dangerous to boot.”

“Hey man,” I retorted, “he ain’t gonna be using a clothes line or a cable. The fish’ll snap the 12-pound-test before it can pull him in. And the metal fences on the river walks in Oswego have spindles that’ll keep him on the right side of the water. Let him go.”

“That’s right, there is a fence,”

“Daddy, can I go too,” chimed his 10-year-old daughter.

Fortunately, Guido likes northern pike and has enough stout equipment to go around. We agreed to meet at his house after church and drive up together.

Life doesn’t provide children with too many wholesome, cheap thrills. And salmon fishing during the runs is about as good as it gets. Imagine your child’s excitement when a salmon hits. And even if the fish don’t bite, the kids will have more than enough fun just watching all those crazed adults whooping and hollering and carrying on like…well, over-sized, aging children.

So c’mon, bring the kids up to Oswego this weekend to fish for salmon and brown trout. Even if they don’t get one, they’ll still walk away with the experience, and those who took part, deeply etched into their fondest memories. They’ll see, up close and personal-like, a salmon’s last days, a time when nature takes the noblest beast in fresh water and transforms it into a violent, grotesque critter bent on charging into shallow, turbulent, foaming water to spawn and die.

It’s one of life’s most enduring mysteries. They’ll thank you for it…and remember the trip… Let’s face it, life doesn’t give us too many tickets to immortality. Taking a kid salmon fishing during the peak of the run is the cheapest, most painless way to get there.

For up-to-date information on the Oswego River’s runs, call Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop, 315-342-2778. If you want to drop in and meet one of Oswego’s most colorful characters, he’s located on 357 W. First St. on the west bank. Larry’s fishing reports are also contained in the Oswego County Tourism Office fishing hotline at 1-800248-4FUN,

An ornimental fence keeps kids in place while fishing in the city of Oswego.

Adults and older kids can fish in or out of the water.

There are plenty of dangerous spots for those who like to play on the edge.