Monday, November 16, 2009

Autumn’s for the Birds

A happy hunter and his ducks

Autumn finds Oswego County hosting a wide variety of migratory species. Indeed, the place is famed worldwide for its salmonid fishery, the best in the continental US, in fact. But its waters ain’t the only element that carries visitors; the friendly skies do too. In fact, the air over our most popular fishing holes is loaded with birds of every feather.

Stan Oulette, owner of Deer Creek Motel and Pheasant Hunting Preserve (315-298-3730) called last week wondering if I wanted to go shoot some.

“You bet’cha!” I responded, a little too enthusiastically for an outdoor professional, I may add. (You see, this guy is known throughout the county for his hunting abilities, and just about every time he’s invited me into the field, he’s scored…and occasionally I did, too. So, whenever he invites me to go bird hunting, visions of the turkeys, pheasants, geese, you name it that have dropped before his sights fly into my mind and I find it hard to maintain my cool.)

The next afternoon I’m at the motel getting my gear ready in the parking lot when a truck bearing New Jersey plates pulls in. Parking down by Stan’s fish cleaning station, the young men start clearing fowl out of the back. First to get flopped on the stone dust were Canada geese, followed by ducks.

I ran over to get some photos and ask questions.

The pair had been hunting Deer Creek Marsh. Around dawn they shot their limit of Canadas. By 10 a.m., they changed decoys and shot limits of mallards, with a couple blacks mixed in.

“You won’t find this many birds anywhere else,” claimed one of the hunters. “I’ve been all over the Atlantic coast and never seen the amount of birds I see along the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Wetlands Area.”

While that morning was spent at Deer Creek marsh, the guys informed me that on numerous occasions they’ve taken their fill of fowl on Sandy Pond, too.

I asked if they had ever tried the Three Mile Bay and Big Bay Wildlife Management Area near Constantia, on Oneida Lake, and the youngster replied: “That’s where my dad taught me how to hunt waterfowl. I dropped my first duck there back in 1998.”

Wing shooting is probably the most challenging and exciting hunting there is. Whether you’re out for pheasants, ruffed grouse, ducks or geese, Oswego County offers some of the best bird shooting on the East Coast.

A bunch of ducks shot out of the friendly skies of Oswego County

Same hunter, different birds: Canada Geese

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Steelheading After the Gates Close

A 10 pound steelie caught on a red streamer in the rapids below the bride in Altmar, NY

While some salmon with one fin in the grave remain in Oswego County’s streams, and small pods of fresh-run kings--and a smattering of browns--will run periodically through mid-November, the main focus of most anglers is steelhead. And they haven’t been disappointed; last weekend, chromers stormed into the Salmon River in massive quantities, and most bee-lined for the upper river.

Water temperatures are perfect for the species and the fish are in top physical shape. Combined, these two factors make for the hottest angling of the year.

As I write this on Wednesday, October 28, 2009, the rain is coming down in torrents of Biblical proportions. This’ll cool the water even more and raise its level enough to entice additional steelhead into the caressing currents. What’s more, they’ll be joined by large numbers of laggard kings who, for reasons ranging from being late bloomers to instinctually challenged, wait until now to make their run.

In addition, skinny creeks should be at optimum levels for the next couple of days.

Back to the Salmon River

The Salmon River hatchery has already filled its egg quota and closed its gates. Now the salmon are forced to spawn naturally anywhere they can. As a result, the stream’s floor is littered with caviar.

Bear in mind that the nearer a king comes to spawning, the more territorial and aggressive it gets, lashing out at anything in its way. The next week or two should prove to be the best time of the year for nailing a trophy on a properly presented streamer, egg cluster, or lure.

On the other hand, steelhead are in the river for one reason only: to feast on the salmon eggs. Winter’s just around the corner and the fish are pigging out to put on as much weight as they can before the cold makes food scarce.

So don’t go looking for them in the pools. Instead, concentrate on the rapids, pockets, fast channels, and the heads and tails of holes. You see, that’s where the eggs that are swept out of the redds by constantly shifting currents come to the fish. All a steelie has to do is sit in the backwash created by cross currents, a boulder or other structure and wait for the food to come to it.

Egg sacs, available at all local bait shops, are traditional favorites. Single plastic eggs and scented worms like Berkley Trout Worms, work well, too.

However, right now is one of the best times to get trophy steel on a fly. Last weekend I watched a fellow run streamers through the rapids and score big time. The fish in the pocket he was casting to were hitting everything he threw at them, including a red fly he designed on a whim and never had any luck with before.

Luck like his doesn’t last, and his ran out an hour later when the pod of fish seemed to cross the river. On the other side, they were still hitting but the anglers were using egg patterns.

Justin, over at Fat Nancy’s Tackle Shop (315-298-6357), says the most productive egg patterns are tiny glow bugs and estaz flies.

While purists rely on feel to know when a steelie hits, the action in the fast water can happen so quickly, that if you’re not highly experienced, the fish will hit and drop the fly before you can react. A good way to get the edge is to attach an indicator four to eight feet above the fly, watching it for sudden stops…and setting the hook.

This seven pounder was taken just upstream of the schoolhouse Pool on an egg sac.