Friday, October 22, 2010

Minetto Cats

Eatin'-size cat

Salmon and trout ain’t the only fish spurred into action by early autumn’s meteorological changes. The higher water levels and lower temperatures of October jump-start bottom feeders, too; particularly channel catfish, Oswego County’s favorite, fast lane lowlife.

Bearing a face only a mother could love, able to eat just about anything organic--dead or alive--it ain’t exactly the classiest critter in the drink. But its inclination for heavy current, Herculean hardiness and stamina, make it a perennial winner in any fishy popularity contest.

Channel cats are named for their bias for moving water; the faster, the better. And, mile for mile, the Oswego River offers more public bank-fishing access for this marvelous beast than Lake Ontario tributaries 10 times its length. And the village that offers the largest stretch--relatively speaking--is Minetto.

Less than five miles upstream of the city of Oswego, the river runs right down the middle of this sleepy hamlet. And the catfish are there, in massive quantities. Mostly small guys ranging from 12 to 18 inches, the kind that’ll eagerly take a worm, piece of shrimp, minnow or Berkley Gulp’s Catfish Dough or Catfish Chunks fished on bottom.

The size pictured above is the most popular among most anglers because it tastes best. Once a cat reaches 20-something inches, it tends to taste too gamy for your average palate.

What the big guys lack in flavor, they make up for as competitors, though. And the place has a good population of larger than average cats, some up to 20 pounds. These fish like a large meal and one of the best right now is a strip of salmon, a gob of raw skein or even a strip of milt (you can generally get some at the fish cleaning stations in Oswego). Don’t wait too long, however -- The catfish bite starts seriously slowing down when water temp gets below 50.

Minetto is about as fisherman-friendly a place as you’ll find anywhere. The River View Park on the west bank above the dam is one of the best fishing spots. It boasts a hard surface boat launch, riverside picnic tables, rest rooms, ample shoulder parking, even a convenience store/gas station right across the street.

Minetto at Dusk

Autumn decorations along the canal at Minetto.

Fighting a big one that got away.

Friday, October 8, 2010

After the Storm

Fishing in the public access parking lot, Altmar, October 1.

Last week’s hurricane generated rains swelled Lake Ontario’s tributaries to the bursting point. By Friday afternoon, the Salmon River peaked, but not until it ran over the north end of the CR 52 Bridge in Altmar.

“That don’t happen often,” said a village resident. “When it did this time,” he continued, “a few guys fished on the bridge, in the ripples running over the pavement. One nailed a 20-pound king and another took a nice 10-pound male.”

I’ve heard of pounding the pavement, painting the pavement, laying pavement…but fishing the pavement???

By the time I arrived on the scene at 5:30 p.m., the water was on its way down. But it was still way up there, higher than during your average spring thaw. A side channel with a good current plowed through the fishing access site on the northwestern corner of the bridge. I watched two kings get hooked in the parking lot. They were huge, at least 35 pounds each, and when they decided to head back to the main river, the anglers couldn’t stop them and they broke off.

An eddy developed at the drift boat launch on the other end of the bridge. I saw a guy holding a bowed rod high over his head. It danced in time with the thrusts made by the mighty king on the other end of the line.

Now, a sight like that normally doesn’t warrant a second glance. But this time, the guy was Ron Haney, an Altmar resident who only has one arm. You gotta see this guy fighting a fish to believe it. He holds his rod high while the fish has the upper hand, letting the drag, current and bent rod do all the work. When the fish tires and starts giving a little, Ron hangs the reel over his thigh and reels in the line.

He actually got the fish to shore, but it was a stubborn critter full of hope. Right when everyone watching thought the game was over, the fish waved its tail good-bye and snapped the line.

“That was a nice fish. But the conditions are tough,” Haney stoically remarked, staring out over the raging river.

Ron Haney holding on while an angler tries tailing his king. It got away at the last minute.

High water is good for salmon and they were everywhere. Unfortunately for “sports,” the water was too much to chase after the beasts and few were landed. Sunday saw the water down enough for anglers to have a fighting chance. I saw fish get taken in every pool I visited on the Salmon River. Kings mostly, with a few browns and steelies mixed in.

Water in the River Park's walkway, downtown Oswego, October 3.

South of the plant, more than two feet of water surged along the concrete wall lining the riverbank, forcing folks to fish from the sidewalk. Some brave anglers entered the water at the trail’s end but heavy current wouldn’t let them get more than 15 to 20 feet from the staircase.

Anglers fishing on the walkway upstream of the power plant, an area they usually fish from a dry bank.

Above the power plant, the stairway ended in water on Sunday.

Under normal conditions, salmon mill around in the lake waiting for high water before storming in. Usually, it comes after autumn showers that only raise the river a few inches to a foot per storm. As a result, the runs are staggered.

This year three months of rain fell in one day and the water rose to Global Warming proportions. It’s a good bet that a lot of salmon will take advantage, and come in groups to spawn, offering super fishing over the next several weeks.

So, there’ll still be plenty of salmon to catch, with late-running fish all month long.

In addition to kings with record-breaking potential, steelhead and brown trout runs should be off the charts. The high water will draw massive quantities of both species into the Salmon and Oswego Rivers; browns until the end of the month, chromers from now through spring.

The fish are huge, so’s the water. Put the two together and we stand to have the best fishing Oswego County--aka water of champions--has seen in 25 years.

When the water came down on Sunday, anglers began landing fish again.
A happy Sunday morning angler on the Salmon River

Friday, October 1, 2010

Salmon are In…and They’re Huge!

Notice: Given the recent weather conditions, the Salmon River and the Oswego River have become extremely dangerous. We urge anglers to consider fishing techniques other than standing directly in the water, such as fishing from streams, piers or driftboat, until the high water levels subside.

Normally, the last week of September sees waves of kings and cohos climbing the rapids of the Salmon River to spawn. This year the runs are on time but there’s one noticeable difference: the fish are the biggest they’ve been this century.

And that was expected. Fish that were taken from the tiniest Great Lake over the summer were huge compared to recent years. A lot of 35-something pounders were landed, including a 39 lb. 8 oz. fish that took America’s Fall LOC Derby. Better still, the Great Ontario Salmon Derby, a Canadian tournament sponsored by the Toronto Sun, was taken by a 40 lb. 2 oz. fish caught in July. The fish were so big, rumor had it charter boat captains were whistling “Happy Days are Here Again.”

I called some bait shops the last weekend of the month and they all reported the river was loaded with fish. One, under condition of anonymity, claimed so many fish were taken right in the heart of Pulaski, Main Street’s sidewalks were coated in a layer of fish slime.

I had to see that. But I couldn’t break away from other commitments until Monday night.

I got to Pulaski around 5 p.m. Parking on the shoulder on the side street heading to the ball park, right where US 11 banks west before crossing the Salmon River, I strapped my corkers to my sneakers (in case the sidewalks were slimy, you see) and headed for the bridge.

Salmon are everywhere in the river.

There was only about a dozen guys fishing on both sides of the crossing, but what the river lacked in anglers, it more than made up for in salmon. They were everywhere. I saw anglers fighting salmon, salmon frolicking on the surface in the Village Pool, and salmon climbing the rapids just upstream of the bridge.

I went to the Ball Park and the story was the same. Anglers were stretched out in comfortable distances from one another along the stream. Everywhere I went, someone was fighting a fish.

Kings ranging from 15 to 30 pounds made up the vast majority of fish I saw on stringers. But cohos ranging from 10 to 18 pounds were strung up with em in many cases…and that’s big for the species.

Again, that shouldn’t really surprise anyone, considering the world record coho, a fish indigenous to the Pacific Ocean, came out of the Salmon River several years ago.

All the salmon activity has spurred steelies into action. Several anglers I talked to, including PA resident Kurt Kmetz (see photo), have been catching steelhead ranging from 5 to 10 pounds on streamers like egg sucking leeches.

Thankfully, the unethical behavior spawned by snagging practices that were encouraged in the 1970s and early 1980s is a distant nightmare. There are fewer guys running up and down the river swinging hooks at everything with fins, and ethical anglers are reprimanding those who still try, so the fish have calmed down and are remarkably eager to hit a fly.

This world class salmon fishing is playing now through the middle of October. Get there early to claim the good seats.

PA resident, Kurt Kmetz, holding a 25-lb. king and a 15-lb. coho.

Village Hole