Friday, November 19, 2010

Fish the Skinnies for Chromers

Skinny Creek Chromers are as big and beautiful as their big water counterparts.

This fall has seen rainfall just short of biblical proportions. So much, in fact, the Oswego River has been all but unwadeable for days on end. And right when the stream went down enough last week for guys to be able to walk across its upper rapids, we get another burst of rain, raising it to levels normally only seen in spring.

Rains that make river anglers go to bed crying, however, send creek anglers to sleep smiling. You see, when skinny creeks are swollen to the point of pouring over their banks, chromers rush into the expanding whitewater to pig out on all the trout and salmon eggs the heavy current sweeps out of the pebbles and carries downstream like a conveyor belt loading corn into a silo.

Doug at Fat Nancy’s Tackle Shop (877-801-FISH) says “the ¾-inch of rain we’ve had the last couple of days has the creeks so high, yesterday one guy complained they were unfishable. But they’re going down today, and should be at perfect levels by Friday.

Equally important is that the weather forecast calls for intermittent rain over the next couple of days, keeping the creeks at optimal levels, and steelies swarming in, all weekend long.

“What’s more,” Doug adds “this is the first week without a whole lot of people around. There’s a lot of room on the Salmon River now and that’ll keep the locals fishing there, leaving the skinny creeks short of anglers and full of fish.”

The best skinny creeks, primarily because they offer public access, are Little Sandy and Grindstone which feed “Lake O” directly, and Trout and Orwell Brooks, tributaries of the Salmon River.

Little Sandy Creek can be accessed from the DEC’s Norton Road fishing access site (off CR 15) and at the bridges in the village of Sandy Creek. Grindstone Creek can be accessed from Selkirk Beach State Park, the NY 3 bridge, and DEC access sites on CR 28. Trout brook has a fishing access site on CR 48, and Orwell Brook has a little access around its mouth.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Boundary Deer

Pulaski native, Stan Oulette, with a 10-pointer he took with a bow on the northern side of the Northern-Southern Zone line near his home.

Most deer hunters agree your best bet for bringing home the venison is on opening day.

But which opening day? The northern or southern zone’s; bowhunting’s, or the regular season’s. And if you really want to split hairs, maybe it’s Suffolk County on Long Island which has its own opening day.

After a moment’s thought, a reasonable guy would conclude that most deer are taken on opening day of the southern zone’s regular season. Mainly because it covers the biggest part of the state, and almost all of NY’s primo agricultural land, the most productive deer range.

Still, there’s one small part of the southern zone that’s far more productive on opening day: the edge where the two zones meet. You see, the first shots fired on the northern edge of the boundary send surviving deer over the border. And they stay there, in massive numbers, for as long as they’re not being shot at. Come November 20th, the boys and girls who hunt the southern edge of the boundary will have more than their fair share of deer to chose from--for a day, anyway.

Oswego County is one of the few in the state that boasts both zones, and the line splits us almost in half. What’s more, our portion of the southern zone includes the Lake Ontario plains, an area known for massive quantities of above average size deer.

And this year’s crop promises to be one of the best in recent memory. Stan Oullette, a Pulaski native known for his excellent hunting skills claims “this year’s rut is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we have some huge bucks running around.”

To prove his point, Stan showed me a 10-point buck he took the second week of November with his bow just north of the Salmon River, on land he manages strictly for trophy deer.

After taking my fill of photos, I complimented him on his prize. He looked me in the eye and said, without flinching, “Spider, I’ve seen two deer this year that would make this one look like a spike horn.”

Taken aback by his comment, the seriousness of his tone, I blurted out “You mean you got atypicals running around your preserve that have single horns poking out of their heads like Medusa’s snakes?”

“No, you…” (I can’t finish the sentence in a family oriented blog),” he replied. “This year we got bucks with horns as big around as my wrist!”

That’s saying something. Stan, a former Marine who spent half his life running heavy construction equipment, is built like a bear. A deer with horns that big is definitely a wall-hanger. Two in the same neighborhood prove how marvelously deer-friendly our range is.

All of Oswego County’s southern zone is in private hands. You have two options. Knock on a farmer’s door and ask if you can hunt his property--the most he can say is no, but he might say yes. Or you can hunt on private property for a fee; two that come to mind are K&G Resort Inc., and Deer Creek Motel and Pheasant Shooting Preserve (315-298-3730).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rainbows among the Browns--and Golds--of Autumn

Mike with his biggest brown ever!

Runs of coho and kings have petered out on the Salmon River. Still, some can be found in the whitewater…And they’re huge. I saw a king landed on October 30 that went forty pounds if it went an ounce. Indeed, it was almost as big as the guy trying to carry it--and drag it--to his car.

The scale of this year’s run is still obvious. Cadavers are everywhere; stuck between the rocks and wrapped around submerged branches, they wave in the current like muddy banners left by a defeated cavalry charge. Late spawners, now reduced to living dead, mill around in the ripples and pools. It’s a sad end to the noble beasts, but it’s the price they pay for their 3 ½-year sensual feast as the biggest, baddest kids in the drink.

Their loss is the trout’s gain. The river is loaded, from Douglaston Salmon Run to the fly-fishing only section, with huge browns and steelhead. Unlike the salmon, these guys ain’t there to spawn and die. On the contrary, the browns are there to spawn and the chromers are there to thrive by feasting on the caviar deposited in the gravel by the salmon.

Living classroom

With all the fish sure to be around, I called my cousin a few weeks ago and invited him to bring up his three oldest sons for the fishing trip of their dreams.

“Sure!” he responded.

He came last weekend.

We hit Altmar on Saturday, and saw quite a few steelies landed, and the huge king mentioned above. But we couldn’t buy a solid hook-up if we waved a fist-full of flies, egg sacs, whatever in the current.

Sunday was a different story. We started at Deer Creek at first light. The water was low and the fish weren’t in.

An hour later we headed for Pulaski, hit the staircase and worked up to the base of the village pool. Along the way, I got nine hits and landed one fish--what can I say, they were faster than I was.

Mike, Iggy’s oldest, got two hits and landed an eight-pound steelie and a 10-pound brown--ah, the speed and stamina of youth--all granted by the forces of nature to a guy who had only caught stockies until then.

Andy, Iggy’s 16-year-old, lost a couple fish, but the “excitement was well worth it!” he claimed.

And John, a 13-year-old with a smile that could make the sun blush, nailed a nice 18-inch steelie, too small to keep…except in his fondest memories.

We used single, plastic eggs fished in pockets and the edge of the current.

The kids had a ball and assured me they’d be up again soon, and often. Now, that’s a thought for a bachelor bracing for retirement.

The browns are in heavy now and should remain for the rest of the month, their numbers declining as November wears on. The steelies will be there till spring.

The fish are cooperative. It’s a great time to go out and tangle with one of these beauties. And while you’re at it, bring along a youngster and show him the ropes. It’ll be a lesson the kid will carry in his memories for the rest of his life.

You don’t really need any highly specialized tackle, either. The young men above used my Shakespeare spinning combos, pretty standard stuff you can get at any outdoors store that carries fishing gear. There are plenty to choose from throughout Oswego County and Central New York.

Being a professional, I like to look like one and use an 8 weight Pflueger Trion Fly-fishing combo.

By the way, these fish didn’t get big by being careless. While they’re not exactly leader shy, what they don’t see won’t distract them. Use a fluorocarbon leader like Berkley’s Professional Grade Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. It costs a little more but it’s well worth it.

The Salmon River is super slippery. Use traction devises like Korkers.

Andy showing off brother Mike's steelie.

John holding his first steelie.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Withdrawing Walleyes from the Bank

Oneida Lake is on the edge.

Fishing the surf.

To the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, it’s the biggest geographic feature splitting the state into northern and southern tiers. For meteorologists, it marks the southernmost spot of the lake effect snow region. And come fall, walleye anglers see it as the best spot around for taking massive quantities of delicious walleyes from its edges: the surf and bank.

Late September’s cooling water temperature starts the fish moving inshore. But the major forays to the shallows don’t start until mid-October.

And they’re in right now…Boy, are they ever.

Normally, reasonably competent anglers expect to catch at least one walleye ranging from 15 to 18 inches every night they go out, doubles sometimes, and a limit at least once.

This year it’s different. The fish are larger. I’ve seen more 22-inchers already than I’ve seen any other autumn so far this century. In addition, I’ve seen a couple two-footers, and one that went 25 inches.

The hottest spot is Oswego County’s southeastern edge, particularly the area around Cleveland. On any given night, a line of anglers forms on the sagging concrete wall of the Cleveland Dock Fishing Access Site, working stickbaits in the shallow water parallel to the north shore.

Others walk out on the decaying breakwall on the southern end of the FAS and take walleyes from the surf by casting due west.

The “eyes” are there pigging out on massive schools of buckeyes and shad, in water so shallow, the whites of their bellies look like whitecaps as they take the minnows on the surface.

If you think that’s exciting…it gets better. In fact, the autumn bite provides the greatest sensual feast fishing has to offer. For example, on windless nights you stand a good chance of seeing a school of bait moving right for you. Appearing like a choppy spot on the glassy surface, the patch of ripples slides silently past ya, often erupting into a jumping rain as walleyes charge into the group for dinner.

Equally thrilling is when a walleye--or sheepshead, bass, whatever--takes the lure at your belly right when you’re getting ready to pull it out of the water. Sometimes the hit is so violent, it’ll send a small tsunami into your waders.

This fabulous bite will continue until mid-November, slowly petering out until ice seals the lake for winter.

Osceola's Wayne Carew with a typical walleye taken at the Cleveland docks.

A good night's catch.

The night fishing scene at the Cleveland docks.

This 22-incher shows 2010's crop of walleyes are larger than normal.