Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fast Water Walleyes

The prize is in the 'eye.

After spawning in river rapids, female walleyes return to deeper, cooler water. But young males stick around in the fast water for a few more weeks until the flow becomes unbearably warm, generally the first half of June.

Every night last week, both banks of the Oneida River below the dam at Caughdenoy were lined with anglers; some stood out in the middle. Everyone was casting stickbaits like Smithwick Rogues, Rapalas, Thundersticks and Bombers into the plunge poll below the gates. While the current’s edge wasn’t exactly carpeted with hungry fish just itching for the chance to impale themselves on the hooks, there were enough cooperative ‘eyes around to reward the best anglers, and those that were just plain lucky, with fish dinners. I even saw one guy catch his limit between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m.

Normally, the last half of May still offers good pickings. However, temperatures this spring have been anything but normal: unseasonably hot one week, plunging into unseasonable cold for a couple days, then back up again. Indeed, hurricane-like winds knocked down trees and phone poles on the eve of Mother’s Day, and the next morning snow flurries were reported, sending the Oneida River’s fish into a state of confusion.

The only good thing about that cold front is that it cooled the water down a bit, stretching the time the walleyes will be in the rapids by a few days.

Now that the weather has settled down, larger fish that beat fins for deeper water soon after spawning will be back in the rapids of Caughdenoy (Phoenix, Fulton, Minetto and Oswego, too), joining the young males already there. Hungry and aggressive, they’ll sweep in and out like a tide, running most heavily after a rain.

Most agree nighttime is best. However, walleyes are active in daylight, too, especially in boulder-strewn rapids where they have lots of shade.

Crankbaits, stickbaits, bucktail jigs--fished plain or tipped with a minnow or worm--and jigheads baited with flavored plastics like YUM Walleye Grubs will produce fish.

Another spot in Caughdenoy that can surprise you is the pool below the old Erie Canal-era lock on the south shore. Walk out into the rapids on the north side of the hole and cast directly into it. This spot is also one of the best on the Oneida River for northern pike.

Caughdenoy's night bite for Walleye should last for a couple more weeks.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Best Fishing Spots for the Whole Family to Enjoy Catching a Crappie

To the untrained eye, the title to this posting may sound a little, well…tasteless. But to fish eaters, the word crappie is enough to spring their palates to life.

Also known as calico bass, a majority of anglers polled in an informal survey before press time ranked these former panfish as the tastiest in the group. They’re so delicious, in fact, they’re also called strawberry bass.

Right around the turn of the century, they were elevated a notch to semi-game fish status--they have a size limit, and daily limit but no closed season. Oh, everyone who knew anything about them always felt they deserved the distinction and the protection that goes with it. After all, they’re one tough fish to locate and catch -- for most of the year, anyway.

In the spring they’re easy. Gathering in massive schools in shallow water to spawn, and convalesce afterwards, they’re very fisherman-friendly from mid-March through May. Early in the season, they’re super aggressive because they’re spawning; afterwards, they’ll hit minnows and tiny lures with abandon because they’re famished. Either way, you find a school and chances are you’ll catch dinner for the entire family.

Mom teaches her boys to fish off the public pier on the north shore of the Oneida River in Brewerton, New York.

One of the boys admires a crappie!

Late last week I went to Brewerton to fish at the municipal dock on the north shore, just upstream of the US 11 bridge. I had dropped by earlier in the day and saw a couple guys nail a bunch so I went home to get my ultra-light gear. When I returned about 2:30 p.m., a guy who hadn’t been there earlier was leaving the dock, a batch of perch, rock bass, and sunnies with a couple large crappies in hand.

I tried my luck and got a hit right away. It got loose but I could see from its silver flash that it was a crappie. I fished for a while longer, caught and released a couple nice largemouths, and then nailed a strawberry bass that went all of 11 inches.

After putting up a very respectable fight, I landed him as gently as I could. Since I was facing a deadline and knew I wouldn’t be there long enough to catch dinner for me and my sweetie, I released it.

A family fishes for bullheads at Lake Neatahwanta, in the park just off NYS Route 3 on the west side of Fulton, New York.

Fishing from the park platform on Lake Neatahwanta, Fulton, New York.

That evening, I went over to Fulton’s Lake Neahtahwanta to see how the bullheads were biting. It was a bit early and the sun was still out so no one had any in their buckets Still, one guy claimed to have caught a couple that he released.

Some anglers fishing from shore, at the foot of the park that goes out into the lake in the park off State Route 3, said bullheads have been hitting with regularity for the past few nights. The fish were averaging 1 ½ pounds.

In addition, he continued, some crappies were also fairly cooperative, especially on tube jigs and curly-tail grubs fished on spinner forms, Beetle Spin style. Lake Neahtahwanta has always been a local crappie hotspot, but for some reason, the lake’s population doesn’t turn on until the sun goes down. Oh, they can be caught in daylight, but the bite is far better in the early evening and around dawn.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crappy and Sunnies in the Toad

A nice perch taken out of Peter Scott Swamp at the County Route 12 bridge.

Back in the early 19th century, when the only way to propel boats was by sail or oar, most of the shipping on Oneida Lake skirted the north shore, taking advantage of the protection the woods around Big Bay offered against the prevailing northwest winds. Ships used to anchor in Toad Harbor, alongside small commercial barges that tied-off on the huge metal drums that poked out of the middle of the lower cut for that purpose.

Today, Toad Harbor’s shoreline is almost completely undeveloped (there’s a small camp at the tip of the point at the entrance to the lower harbor) and the huge, rusting metal structures are all that remains of this colorful past. But safe harbor isn’t on people’s minds much in an age when bass boats can skim across the lake at 50 mph.

Crappie and sunnies sure are though.

And Toad Harbor is one of the best spots on Oneida Lake to bank-fish for both of these tasty critters. Like olden-day boats, they use the barrels for cover and anglers use them as targets for their bobbers.

Toad Harbor draws panfish from autumn through late spring. Icers get crappie and sunnies through the hard water. But the spot is most popular with the legions of cabin weary anglers who form a colorful ring around the place as soon as ice out.

The real action comes when the water warms to about 50 degrees. That’s when the panfish invade the place in massive numbers.

This year the weird weather put a damper on the action. You see, anglers have grown to expect the place to fill up with calicoes and bluegills sometime between late March and early May, and when they’re in, the action stays “hoppin’” for a couple weeks. This year the fish haven’t charged in all at once. Instead, they’re running in schools. And if you’re there when they are, you’ll load up on a limit in an hour or less.

I watched a guy get 15 keeper crappies running up to 11 inches on Sunday, April 25. He was walking along the shore and casting a tiny jighead baited with a small, scented plastic maggot.

That week, I stopped by the place a couple times and sunnies and crappies were in and out like a tide.

In addition, loads of pickerel and a few northerns were in.

Crappie are also hitting small minnows and the sunnies are taking worms and maggots. The toothy guys are hitting lures and minnows targeting crappie.

As the water warms up a few more degrees, calicoes’ll be hitting lures, primarily spinner baits like Beatle Spins. The sunnies will be taking Berkley Power wigglers and tiny jigs. Northerns and pickerel, having just finished spawning, will be famished and’ll hit just about anything that moves.

Oneida River

Forming the border between Onondaga and Oswego Counties, the Oneida River attests to our county being the most fisherman friendly in Central New York. Just drive along the roads bordering it and you’ll see 90% of the anglers fishing from our side.

A good place to try your luck for northerns and panfish right now is the County Route 12 bridge over the outlet of Peter Scott Swamp, about a mile east of Phoenix. The crappie will be available on and off for the first couple weeks of the month, while the sunnies and perch will be there all summer long. And the northerns will hang around to pick off the little guys.

The action at Caughdenoy Dam is starting to heat up. Word has it the catfish are biting above the floodgates. If the past is any guide, the walleyes will be down below. I’ll shoot for ‘em both this week and let you know how I do.

Shipping used to tie-off on the big metal drum poking out of the water on the left side of this photo.

Toad Harbor fishing scene.

Toad Harbor crappie.