Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oneida Lake Walleye

Rick holding a double, one of two caught that morning.

My good buddy and professional fishing guide Rick Miick invited me to go for walleyes on Oneida Lake. He called from the lake on a Sunday morning and had all he could do to just talk to me. His play by play: “There’s another one…hold it while I land it…boy this hook is deep…Oops, there’s another one…” and so on, had me considering jumping into the lake (I only live a few hundred feet away from it) and swimming out to join him.

In the two minutes we spoke--actually it was more like me listening to splashes, grunts, groans and all the other noises fishermen make when they’re on a hot bite--he landed three walleyes ranging from 17 to 21 inches.

Now I know he’s good with steelhead and smallies, but we never fished for walleyes. His telephone antics sounded almost too good to be true. I was a little skeptical.

But I gave him the benefit of the doubt and set a time and place to meet him and Stan Oulette, a buddy of ours. We launched at early light and headed out to the eastern half of the lake, into water that would range from 30 to 20 feet deep during the drift.

I was the first to get my Heddon Sonar into the water. Letting it sink to bottom, I snapped the rod back to jump the lure and get it vibrating. I reeled in the slack as the bladebait dropped. After jigging in this fashion for about 15 seconds, a 16-inch walleye hit me.

By the time I landed him, Rick was battling what seemed to be the biggest fish in the lake. After a five-minute struggle, in which time the beast took the line under the boat, around the wind socks (both of ‘em) around the prop, we finally got it to the net; a 15-pound sheepshead. I’ve heard they got that big but I never saw one before.

Then it was Stan’s turn. He nailed a carp that went at least 25 pounds.

When we set back for home four hours later, our score was three carp, a couple white bass, three sheepshead, and 12 walleyes, nine of which were big enough to keep; all on Sonars.

Rick says the largest schools are still pretty close to the creeks in which they spawned, and if you know where there’s a tributary mouth with water 25 to 35 feet deep nearby, the walleyes will be there. Look for them too in the deep water west of Shackleton Shoals, in Oswego County's 25- to 40-foot depths, all summer long.

Stan Oulette holding a typical Oneida Lake Pike

Stan's bonus carp!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Walleyes in the Park

Oswego's Night Eyes

Oswego's night life includes bass too!

Oswego is a leader among New York’s metropolitan areas. It was the first port city on the Great Lakes, has one of the greatest teachers colleges in the country and boasts three nuclear power plants side by side. But its greatest claim to fame is being the walleye capitol of the world.

Oh sure, there are a lot of larger, prettier cities on major rivers like the Mississippi, Ohio and Delaware that offer walleyes from their banks (shoreline, that is), but none coughs up the quantity of true trophies that the Oswego River does near its mouth. In fact, anything smaller than a six-pounder is considered loose change and 10-pounders don’t even warrant a second look.

I went up last Wednesday (June 2) to try my luck at some trophy catfish in the upper pool between the city’s dams. Unfortunately--and some would kill for this kind of luck--the ½ dozen dead shiners I brought along for the job were quickly gobbled up by smallies. And the lures I started tossing around didn’t fare much better. Now, I like to tackle with feisty bronzebacks as much as the next guy, but this time of year they’re protecting their fry and I don’t find much sport in pulling males off their nests and leaving their offspring at the mercy of gobies and other predators.

So I went downtown, pulled into the west bank parking lot below Bridge Street and headed for the fenced-in walkway. I cast toward the middle of the river and got snagged right when my jig hit bottom. Before I could even think of working it free, some guy walks up to me, straining pole in his right hand, and asks “Hey dude, you got a long-handled net?”


He became distressed. “How’m I gonna land this walleye? It’s my first!”

“Ask those guys over there,” I suggested, pointing downstream.

They had a long one and even landed the fish for the kid. It wasn’t the greatest walleye--in fact at 23 inches it was tiny by Oswego River standards--but boy, it sure lit up his face.

A couple minutes later, his buddy nailed a smallmouth of a couple pounds.

Then I got to work. Tying on a fresh ¼-oz. Northland Vegas Glitter Jighead, baiting it with a 3-inch Berkley Power Grub, I cast across the current, let it sink to bottom and commenced bouncing it, teasingly.


I tried again.


And again.

Bingo!!! A smallmouth of about 16 inches shoots out of the water shaking its head like a cat whacking a mouse. I horsed him in, removed the hook and released him so quickly he never lost a breath.

About 20 casts, and three snags later, I’m down to my last jighead. I baited it, tossed it upstream and started bouncing. Suddenly I feel resistance and, figuring it’s a snag, prepared to break off. Bad move! The thing starts pulling back, hard, much more forcefully than a walleye generally does.

Finally getting the fish to the wall, I see its long white belly shining in the moonlight, a big eye attached to the upper end. I look in both directions for the guys with the net. They’re nowhere to be found.

I tried lifting the walleye, inch by inch, with the 8-pound-test line. I raised it about three feet, barely a foot from my yearning fingers and I figured I got’cha! Right when I’m smacking my lips to visions of fresh walleye in the frying pan, she swings (females are the biggest of the breed) and hits the wall. A split second later I hear a sickening snap like someone cracking a whip. She falls into the drink and fades into the dark water like a dream into sunlight.

Hearing the splash, the guy downstream asks “what was that?”

“Bullhead,” I replied, trying to discourage him from inching his way too close to me.

Last year big walleyes were downtown all summer long. This year promises to be the same. There ain’t a lot of ‘em, but there’s a disproportionate number of big ones.

They’ll hit all the usual suspects, from jigs, spoons and crankbaits to worms on spinner harness and minnows.

Although they’ll hit in daylight, they bite best at night.