Friday, December 30, 2011

Browns in Oswego for the Holidays

Spider Rybaak

Oswego native and professional fly tier David Gagnon ( with a couple nice browns he took on a custom jig he designed and tied.

A couple days before Christmas--work squared away, Holiday gift giving on my mind--I set out to go shopping at Great Northern Mall in Clay, about 20 miles away. In the wrong lane at NY 31’s eastern entrance to the place, I look over my shoulder to see if I can slip into the right lane.  The center-pin rod stretched out on the floor in the center of my van catches my eye…

And I’m hooked.  The next thing you know, I’m past the mall’s entrance, turning onto I-481 north on a heading for Oswego--to check out the stores, I suppose?

Never happened.

When the river finally came into view on the south end of the city, its flow was perfect, more than I could resist. Run-off from the heavy rains that soaked the Finger Lakes Region a few days earlier still swelled the stream but all the sediments had dropped to the bottom by now, leaving the water high and clean, ideal for sight feeders. Intuition played with my imagination, creating thoughts of massive runs of steelies down there; and the store of human weakness in my heart drew me to the rapids like the sight of ripe road-kill draws a crow to the curb.

Crossing the river on the Utica Street Bridge, I turned left at the light, parked in the fishing access site next to the Post Office, hiked down to the river and headed upstream to fish the north corner of the west dam.

I never made it that far. As I walked the fenced-in concrete retaining wall stretching from the powerhouse to the falls, I see a guy fighting a fish in the rapids below the first gate (two gated staircases allow easy access to the river).

A minute later he lands a gold-bellied male brown of about eight pounds and tosses it on shore, in the direction of another, slightly smaller brown already wedged between the rocks.

One huge male brown decked out in autumn splendor has a way of stopping me in my tracks. A pair is enough to sweep away my inhibitions, provoking me to beg, politely and sternly: “You mind if I fish that seam between the fast water and the emergency platform upstream of you?”

“Go ahead,” the guy replies. “That’s where I got these two. Right now I’m gonna fish above the spillway, to see if there’s a steelie in there.

My first eight to 10 attempts are complete failures. Center-pinning equipment takes some getting used to. I hadn’t used it since early spring and lost my touch.

Eventually my cast hits the targeted seam. I watched the float bob downstream in perfect time with the current, carrying my bubblegum colored Berkley Power Floating Trout Worm through the strike zone. A couple seconds later it disappears.  I set the hook solidly into a feisty fish.

Before long, I’m leading a six-pound female brown to shore. Dave Gagnon, the guy who gave me his spot, works his way slowly upstream, offering to help me land my trophy. By the time he reaches me, I’ve already photographed the girl, and was preparing to release her.

“Want me to photograph you holding her?” he offered.

“Sure do. Thanks man.”

A couple high-fives later, and some serious whooping and hollering by me, Dave slowly heads back downstream; and I resume fishing.

A couple casts later, I’m into a steelie. The thing was right out’a SU mens basketball’s playbook; jumping and fast-breaking like Fab Melo in the paint. Gently coaxing the 18-inch female to shore, I remove her from the water long enough to take her picture, and release her.

Before I could wade out the five or so steps to my casting position, Dave’s into a fish. I head down to offer him assistance but he doesn’t need it. The brown is only about 14 inches, relatively easy to handle.

Releasing it, he casts out again and immediately gets another one, much bigger. After landing it, he calls it quits and heads for the fishing access site, three beautiful browns in tow; all caught on tiny jigs he designed and tied.

Another angler shows up as the sun touches the horizon and catches a brown on his third cast. He  catches another in the half hour left to fish.

Rain and snow in Central New York over the Holidays continues feeding the Oswego River and its growing fat with browns and steelhead. These conditions should remain into the second week of the New Year.
Me and my brown.
A small steelie for the Holidays.
Dave's last brown for the day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Snow on the Salmon River

By Spider Rybaak

Migell Wedderburn, Pennelville, NY, with a nice steelie he took in the catch-and-release section of the Salmon River on a home-made, egg-pattern fly.

Lake effect snow warnings kept crawling along the bottom of the screen while I watched Syracuse University’s basketball team trounce George Washington on December 10. Up to a foot was predicted to drop in the “snow zone,” a band running between northern Oswego and southern Lewis Counties.

First snow always excites me. After that, it progressively loses its appeal as winter drags on, so that by March snow’s the last thing in the world I’m dreaming about. But right now it’s kind’a magical, bringing memories of Christmases past, sugarplum fairies, fun--but useless--stuff like that. 

So the next morning me and Susan headed for Pulaski to feast our senses on what promised to be one of this winter’s nicest, most scenic days—maybe get a chance to nail a steelhead, too.

Stepping out of the door, we were disappointed that a dusting of pure white wasn’t carpeting the neighborhood. A crinkly skim of ice etched the water in the bay out front (we live on Oneida Lake), but that was all the frigid autumn night left behind.

We got on I-81 and headed north. Snow was absent all the way to Parish. Suddenly, spots of whitebegan punctuating the countryside. Nothing exciting, yet, but the spots grew into pockets…pillows…sheets.  By Tinker Tavern Road, a foot of snow blanketed the world in cold, hard innocence.

We got off the highway and headed south on NY 13. The storm turned the area into a winter wonderland…in autumn.

Natives expect—indeed, love—the effect extreme cold has on Oswego County. Winter comes early and stays late, drawing trophy trout into the Salmon River, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers to the Tug Hill’s vast tracts of snowy woods, photographers and artists to some of the most beautiful snow-draped, December scenery you’ll find in the Northeast.

So c’mon up some time this month and get an early taste of winter.
Susan Rybaak snowshoeing on first snow at Salmon River Falls, December 10, 2011.
Snowy Shoulders:   Salmon River in Pineville.
Unidentified angler and his steelie; Ellis Cove.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Oswego County’s 2011 Big Game Season Off to a Good Start

By Spider Rybaak

Kevin Marshall with his spikehorn.

It took me 50-something years to figure out there’s only a couple things in life I’m absolutely sure of: you can’t fool Mother Nature, and I make mistakes--a lot of ‘em, usually fooling myself by thinking I can get over on Mother Nature.

A good case in point is my decision to change my favorite deer hunting spot this season. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s forecast for the 2011 season states that “Wildlife Management Unit 6G (the eastern Lake Ontario Plains area I love) “produced several years of high antlerless harvest…With take of adult female deer exceeding take of adult male deer for the last two years, hunters should expect to find a slightly smaller deer herd and a lower buck take in 2011.”

Since opening day is a once-a-year hunting opportunity, and my favorite spot is in WMU 7A, practically on the southern border of WMU 6G, I was caught in a dilemma: do I believe the experts or stay with my instincts and trust Mother Nature would provide. I went with the experts and spent opening day in another county, in a WMU the authorities predicted would be better than it’s been in the recent past.

Bad move! I didn’t see anything.

That night, I get a call from my hunting buddy Stan Ouellette, owner of Deer Creek Outfitters (315-298-3730), asking me how I did.

“Nothing,” I replied. “Heard some rustling and snorting, but didn’t see any flags. How’d you do?”

“We got a nice 10-pointer. If you want some photos, you gotta come up by Monday because we’re gonna skin it.”

You guessed it, Stan’s operation straddles WMU 6G and WMU 7A, right off NY 3. He cultivates several sprawling properties in the area for “quality deer management.”

So I get up there Monday night prepared to photograph a deer. When I enter the Quonset hut he uses for storage, bucks are hanging everywhere; Stan’s clients got two more since the phone call..

That was enough to convince me to change my hunting plans for the rest of the season to what they were before I began believing forecasts. The last weekend of the season will see me still-hunting in the woods on the eastern Lake Ontario plains in the morning, fishing the Salmon River for steelies in the afternoon, and returning to the nearby woods to hunt until dark.

The nice thing about accepting that you make mistakes is that you can learn from each of them. That’s the best way I know of going forward, even if it means going back.
Brian Barna, Lansdale, PA, with a 10-pointer, his first buck.

Roger Baleu, Groveland, MA, and his 8-pointer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Salmon River Steel: Shimmering beneath the Surface

By Spider Rybaak
Raritan, NJ, native Seth Correa with his 12-pounder taken at Altmar.

In terms of temperature, the past few weeks have been pretty much like any other November on the Salmon River. The one notable meteorological difference is that rainfall has been lower than average. And that makes arm-chair anglers worry the stream isn’t high enough to spur self-respecting chromers to storm in to feast on all the salmon eggs laying around.

But steelies aren’t bothered by such petty human anxiety. Indeed, even though the power company has reduced discharges from the reservoirs a couple notches because of low water, the lake’s chromers still have enough wiggle room to run the stream.  

Busy surf-fishing for walleyes on Oneida Lake the past few days, I’ve been hearing all kinds of negative reports from guys standing next to me. One even claimed “the Salmon River is just a trickle of its former self, not fit for fallfish.”

Say what???!!!

 So I went up last week to see for myself.

Boy, was he full of it. The water was running at about 335 CFS, lower  than most gung-ho steelheaders would like, but still enough for the fish; and they were all over the place.

In Altmar, anglers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in both the fly-fishing only section and the regular regulations area. While the fish weren’t exactly tumbling over one another to hit the baits, the steady chorus of “fish on” echoing over the river indicated the bite was decent.

In Pineville, the action was even better. I watched several anglers land nice steelies.

Fish were hitting everything but the kitchen sink (one fella’ fished a large, white streamer he called the kitchen sink without catching anything). Tiny glo bugs and egg sacs, “chuck-and-ducked” in pockets, the heads of pools and along the edges of the current were effective.

Recent rains over the past couple days will raise the Salmon River and its tributaries enough to draw massive quantities of fresh steelies.

The stream’s floor is very slippery. Wear traction devices, a flotation device, polarized sunglasses and a wading staff for safety. 

In addition, the water’s getting very cold. Falling in can result in immediate shock. Protect your upper half by wearing fabrics next to your skin that’ll keep you warm even when wet: polyester, wool or silk. Wear Wrangler’s Fleece lined jeans under your waders to keep your legs toasty.

Autumn Steel

Mike Vitalone does brother Matt one better with this impressive nine-pounder.

Matt Vitalone, Rome, NY, holding a five-pounder he took in Pineville.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Indian Summer on the Oswego River

Syracusan Dave Bentley with a six-lb. brown. 

Frosty nights riding the cold snap that blew through the Northeast the first week on November knocked most of the leaves off Oswego County’s trees. The majority floated gently to the ground, carpeting the woods in crackling bursts of brilliant autumn colors. Massive quantities, however, ended up in run-off, turning the Oswego River’s rapids into a raging kaleidoscope, creating headaches for anglers trying to keep the fallen foliage off their lines while fishing the high waters.

Fortunately, fall has many moods. Along with the smirk of biting rains and cold snaps comes a smiley face: Indian summer. Wednesday morning, November 9, saw one of these happy moments.

Beaming brightly when I got up, hanging in a bright blue sky washed in 50-something degrees, the sun convinced me to head up to Oswego to check out the fishing. To my delight, the river was down to summer levels. Varick Dam, which spewed a frightening torrent of foam and froth just a couple weeks ago, looked like a teenager squirting water between his front teeth. Indeed, the flow below was so low, I crossed the river in hip boots.

Not in a straight path, mind you. The ancient river bed is pretty flat, punctuated with crevices and pools. I started out at the first set of stairs just south of the power plant and zigzagged my way across, ending up at the foot of the falls on the east side.

Still, there was enough water to accommodate a steady flow of spawn heavy brown trout, late running kings—which were in pretty decent shape for this late—and caviar-minded steelhead. Just about every seam, pocket and slick in the rapids had fish.

Downstream of the powerhouse, guys were casting into the channel right at the end of the no fishing zone and walking their baits down, past the stairs to the small group that was still-fishing on bottom at the end of the wall.

Fish were evenly distributed throughout the rapids stretching from the dam to the Utica Street Bridge.

This month can be iffy but we can reasonably expect a couple more unseasonably pleasant days. It all adds up to being your best time of year to get close and personal with a whitewater, trophy brown trout; your last chance to get a spawning king juiced-up with raging hormones; and your first shot at a fall-run steelhead. And if it’s in your cards, you can even have a banner day and get all three.

While a bunch of fish are available from the safety of the fenced wall lining the river downstream of the powerhouse, wading the rapids offers a more personal sense of excitement and adventure. If you’re gonna walk the fast lane, wear traction devices on your boots, carry a wading staff to help  keep your balance, wear polaroid sunglasses so you can see bottom through the water’s glare and a personal flotation device just in case the unthinkable happens and you get swept off your feet. Always pay attention to the falls and if more water is coming over than when you started, or if you hear the siren go off followed by announcements directing you to exit the river, head for shore immediately.

After all, there’s a lot of trout and salmon in the river in autumn and we want you back to help us catch ‘em again next week, next year...

 Bob Sedorovitz of Scranton, PA, with a 13-lb brown.

  Fishing at the northwestern corner of the Varick Dam

View of the dam: like a teen-ager squirting water between his teeth.

 Larry Paccione, owner of Extinction's Custom Rods (607-588-7077), Conesville, NY, holding a late-run king.

 Clay Winter, Conesville, NY, with a nice steelie he took below the dam.

 A happy angler, who posed on condition of anonymity, holding a nice steelie and brown he took from the rapids below Varick Dam.

Gerorge White and Jackie Stocum, Corning, NY, with the four monster kings they took below Varick Dam on November 9, 2011.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Oswego River's Monster Bottom Feeders

McGrath helping his associate Darryl Storie hold a 30-pounder.

Autumn swells the world in plenty. Forest, field, lake or stream…it doesn’t matter; they’re all brimming with nature’s bounty, and best of all, everything’s at its biggest and healthiest.

But all locations aren’t created equal; and Oswego County’s greatest claim to fame is its aquatic resources. Salmon, brown trout, steelhead, walleyes, bass, panfish, catfish, you name it, we’re loaded with ’em…big ones.

That’s no idle boast. One wide-eyed local, speaking on condition of anonymity, claims,“There’s so many fish around here this time of year, they’ve been known to overflow the waters.”

“You don’t believe me?” he continues, “check out the Salmon River or creeks like Grindstone and Little Sandy. Walk along the shore. Before long, you’ll run into salmon that beached themselves during the spawning run.”

And it ain’t just salmon and trout. Cousin Staash claims: “from mid-September through mid-November, I celebrate the year’s end by hitting quiet stretches of the Oswego River to take in the last warm rays, watch colors floating in the wind and water, and meditate, all while fishing for monstrous bottom feeders.”

Now, I like to do battle with a powerful catfish or carp as much as the next guy. Unfortunately, Staash likes to fish alone. Still, I figured being related carried some weight.  So I asked him if I could tag along next time he went.


His response was so brutally clear, it almost dragged me down to the bowels of despair. But it wasn’t to be, I guess, because right when I felt I was slipping under, I looked up at my answering machine and saw it blinking. The message was from Mike, owner of McGrath & Assoc. Carp Angling Services (315-469-5039;

“Spider,” it said, “We’re going to the Oswego River on Sunday, for the biggest carp of the season. You’re welcome to come along."

Cool, I thought. This guy’s even better at nabbing bottom suckers then my cousin.

So last Sunday at 9 a.m., I find myself all alone on the lawn below Lock 06 on the Oswego Canal. The plan called for everyone to be there at 11 a.m., but I’m always looking for an advantage and arrived a couple hours early hoping to claim the best spot.

All in vain, though. I was rigged for big catfish but the cold front that dropped the water temperature a couple degrees during the night shut ‘em down. I figured it would probably take the sun till noon to warm things up enough to spark a bite.

Around 11 a.m., I’m biteless - but happy. Overhead, chevrons of migrating waterfowl pierced the sky like noisy arrowheads. In the water off to my right a pair of muskrats was arguing about something, taking turns chasing one another. A couple spent salmon milled around at the base of the wall below my feet. It was like I was in the front row of the balcony over autumn’s stage, and time, its curtain, started new scenes with each passing minute.

Fortunately, the carp master, his son Mike, McGrath associate Darryl Storie and James Daher, owner of Mickey’s Bait and Tackle in North Syracuse, show up and break the spell.And they’re packing a tarp load of goodies: grains, powders, juices and other ingredients Mike uses for chum.

He starts mixing the goodies right away. Grits, dried milk, corn, unidentifiable stuff with names I couldn’t pronounce went into the bowl. Packing the mash into wads the size of hardballs, Mike launches them into the drink with a slingshot.

Baiting a couple lines, he casts out and places the rods in holders.

A minute later, the first carp hits; then another, followed by another, and another… You’d land a fish, re-bait, cast out again and a minute later, sometimes less, you’re into another fish.

According to McGrath, we landed about 1,000 pounds of carp in about four hours. We would have caught a lot more but photos, high-fiving, manly stuff like that takes time.

One was a 30-something-pounder, a carp the likes of which I’ve never seen caught before. My eyes have feasted on larger specimens in aquariums, magazines and on TV, but they’ve never seen a bigger one up close and personal.

Another would have gone 25 pounds. The rest ranged from 10 to 20 pounds.

"The Oswego River's carp fishery is under-fished," claims McGrath, the Pied Piper of carp, adding, "Autumn is the best time of year to get a really big one."

Mcgrath mixing the chum.
James Daher, owner of Mickey's Bait and Tackle and McGrath holding Jim's 25+-pounder.
Mike McGrath holding Mike Jr's. trophy as the boy looks on.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Walleyes Return to Shore

Beach Scene: Oneida Lake at dusk, in Autumn.

A few nights ago, I noticed a bunch of cars parked at the abandoned bridge at the mouth of Oneida Creek. I turned around and went to investigate. Roughly 15 guys were fishing from shore, and in the 10 minutes I stood there watching, four landed walleyes.

I returned to my car…rubbing my hands in glee. You see, I knew the reason they were there wasn’t because a large school of walleyes came in—if that had been the case, I would have seen a lot more caught.

The reason they were putting up with shoulder to shoulder competition on the east shore was because a stiff wind was blowing out of the south, sending whitecaps slamming into the entire length of Oneida Lake’s north shore, making for uncomfortable fishing.

And if my 50-something years of fishing have taught have me anything, it’s that this marvelous species loves the wind, and, as often as not, follows it.

So I aimed my wheels for Oswego County’s southeastern corner.  When I got to the Cleveland Dock fishing access site on NY 49, the wind was blowing so hard I was afraid it would wrap the violently swinging, wooden DEC sign around its holder.

Still, several guys were standing shoulder to shoulder in its shadow. The most successful were casting into the channel leading into the tiny harbor at the mouth of Black Creek. Unfortunately, there’s only room for one, so anglers had to wait their turn. When the guy on the spot caught his limit, he’d leave and the guy next to him would take his place, catch his limit...

That wasn’t the only productive spot, however. Walleyes sweep in and out of the dock all night long, heading for the mouths of its two tributaries to pig out on the minnows gathering there each evening this time of year.  Both are on posted property. However, the fish come within range of anglers casting from the harbor’s sagging concrete wall when they round the corner from the west.

Hardy anglers take their fair share of walleyes by wading out off the southern edge of the FAS and casting from the decaying breakwall lying there like a broken concrete snake. While they have to put up with waves and wind slamming into them, they’re rewarded by having three directions in which to cast, any one of which can be carrying  a school of “eyes” heading in.

From now until first ice, walleyes will be cruising the lake’s shoreline at night following schools of minnows looking for warmer water. The bite can happen at any time and can last anywhere from one fish to everyone’s limit.

Vary your retrieve. The fish will respond to a Rapala Husky Jerk retrieved steadily one minute, jerked the next, worked slowly and steadily the next cast, and twitched, with barely any movement at all, after that.

Other public spots worth trying are the park at Taft Bay, and Phillips Point at Three Mile Bay/ Big Bay Wildlife Management Area.

Autumn at Cleveland Dock at dusk

Night bite.

Cleveland "Eye"


Rich Carew with one of three walleyes he caught in less than 30 minutes at Cleveland Dock.


Jill Jerominek, of Osceola, with a nice "eye."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Oswego Drainage Cats

The author with a nice five-pounder taken in the city of Oswego.

Catfish, the Rodney Dangerfield of the aquatic world, is finally getting some respect; of all places, from  the State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC launched these handsome bottom feeders into the spotlight by placing a gorgeous specimen on the cover of its “New York Freshwater Fishing: 2011-12 Official Regulations Guide.” And while other species are included in the guide’s main theme, “Those Other Fish,” none is quite as popular as the catfish.

In fact—depending on who you talk to, of course--catfish are considered America’s most sought after fish. Available in all the Lower 49 States, they’re relatively easy to catch, grow huge, fight well when hooked and make pretty decent table fare to boot.

And while Oneida Lake is listed in Jim Everard’s piece: “Fishing for New York’s Big Cats,” as one of the state’s top seven spots for trophies, he could have just as easily included the Oneida and Oswego Rivers, too.

I know it, and so does a select group of locals who places cats right up there with the more glamorous tackle busters in their lists of favorites, alongside the likes of bass, walleye, pike...

Since they’re one of my favorite species, especially in autumn when they’re at their biggest and hungriest, I figured I’d spend a few days fishing for catfish pictures so I could do a blog on ‘em. My idea turned out to be loaded with thrills I’ll never forget.

You see, I went to a few spots from my youth, when cats were always readily available to boys whose only transportation was a bike. What I found was that the fishing is better, the catfish bigger, than existed in my fondest memories.

Oswego River Drainage

This fabulous watershed is loaded with cats...big ones. Some of the largest come right out of the river in downtown Oswego. Right now, salmon cadavers literally carpet the floor in food, so you have a lot of bait competing with you. Still, the wait can be worth it:  I’ve seen cats in the 15-lb range taken off the park walls lining both sides of the river in the heart of the city.

What’s more, catfish thrive in the entire river. Access is plentiful in Fulton and all the villages along the way.

Further upstream, specifically the Oneida River, also boasts good populations of these horny critters. Caughdenoy is famous--by locals, anyway-- for its trophies, both above the dam and in the plunge pool below. The canal in Brewerton is also a big cat hot spot.

Then there’s Oneida Lake. Channel cats, NY’s native breed, like deep, moving water. And that’s mostly found in the channel running the length of the lake, out of bounds for bank anglers. However, Oswego County provides a solution: Cleveland Docks. Located in the village of Cleveland, this spot has deep water right below its sagging concrete walls, and the lake’s cats find it a comfortable place to hang out while picking off individual minnows straying from the massive baitballs that swim in and out of the harbor constantly.

Notorious scavengers, catfish will hit just about anything, including lures. Still, a minnow, cut bait, shrimp or commercially produced offering like Berkley Gulp Catfish Dough and Berkley Powerbait Catfish Bait (they don’t feed, bleed or need refrigeration—perfect for keeping in the trunk or glove compartment), fished on bottom, work well.
Worms are good, too, but you might have to put up with everything in the drink stealing lots of your bait before a fat cat gets to it.

For everything you need to know--plus a whole lot more--to catch NY’s largest whiskered fish, read DEC Fish Biologist Jim Everard’s article “Fishing for New York’s Big Cats, ” in the current fishing regulations guide, available for free wherever fishing licenses are sold.

Mark Davis of Westmoreland holding a nice, 13-lb cat taken at Cleveland Docks.

Utica Native, Poelash Anm, showing a six-lb catfish he took on a minnow at Cleveland Docks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Skinny Creek Salmon

A couple dudes who requested anonymity--and their cohos weren't talking, either.

Eastern Lake Ontario witnessed the beginning of the largest salmon run of the season--thus far, anyway--on the night of September 28th. By the following morning, reliable sources on the Salmon River reported fish where plentiful throughout the river.

And Pulaski wasn’t the only spot hosting spawn-happy salmon.

Oswego got massive quantities of fish, too. On cue, their run was spurred by heavy rains that drenched Central New York, especially the Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake regions, last week, raising water levels in the Oswego River by almost a foot. So many fish charged the River in the city, folks driving south on NY 48 Thursday evening could see salmon trying to jump the Varick dam. Fortunately, the water was so high at the foot of the structure, the effervescence so thick, it cushioned the blows and the fish didn’t get seriously hurt slamming into the barrier, only a little humiliated and a bit frustrated; but they tried and tried again until exhausted.

This writer’s favorite form of fishing is for large fish on skinny creeks. Summer smallmouths in the Salmon River, steelhead in Little Sandy Creek, big native browns in Scriba Creek, and, most of all, huge salmon in Oswego County’s creeks and brooks.

So I went and tried my luck on Thursday  afternoon. I stopped at Trout Brook, at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Fishing Access Site on the shoulder of cty. Rte. 48. I was a bit disappointed to see the water was at normal levels. Once I got in, however, I was excited by all the fish. I counted at least 15 fish, a mix of kings and cohos, in about ½ mile, and caught a coho.

I never made it all the way to the mouth but a couple guys  who passed me heading back to the road, two limits of kings in tow , said the whole creek was loaded. “The further you go downstream, the more fish you’ll see,” one added with great excitement.

After about an hour, I split for the mouth of Grindstone Creek, at Selkirk Shore’s State Park. When I pulled into the parking lot, a line of guys stood atop the concrete wall at creek’s end--its mouth wanders and without the wall it would have sliced through the parking lot long ago.

Before I could wet a line, three guys had fish on at the same time. All three landed them.

I wasn’t so lucky. I hooked a couple but they split back to the lake and the last I knew, they were heading for Nine Mile Point, probably on their way to the Oswego River.

The skinny creeks are loaded with fish right now and will remain so for as long as the rain keeps coming. Other Oswego County thin streams worth trying are Little Sandy Creek and Orwell Brook.

So, if you’ve never experienced the thrill of hooking a monster salmon high on hormones, in a creek so small you can walk across it on most days, now is your best chance of the season.

Peter Barnes, a native of Dingman's Ferry, PA, straining over a king he took in Grindstone Creek.

Mike Isabella, Rotterdam, NY, takes a king from Grindstone Creek.

Schenectady, NY's, Larry Millen with his Grindstone Creek king.

Oswego Swollen with Kings

Glen Lystash, Hardwick, NJ, shows off his hard-won trophy.

Nothing spurs ripe kings and cohos to charge into Lake “O’s” tributaries like an autumn moon washed by heavy rains.

True, Oswego County escaped the brunt of the inclement weather that shrouded much of Central New York last week (September 18-24). However, her largest river, the Oswego, drains thousands of square miles, including the Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake.  And it takes a while for all that water to finally reach the city at its mouth. When it does, it signals the salmon waiting out in the lake to start revving their fins because it’s party time!

So, Saturday morning I called Larry Muroski, over at Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778), to see if any new fish were coming in.

“Yup,” he replied. “The river’s full of ‘em.”

Larry’s a man of few words but great on enthusiasm. When I heard his tone, I knew the fish were on the move.

The lake launched this season’s most significant run on Friday. The following morning, anglers who were expecting “just decent” action by the steady numbers trickling in all week were surprised by all the fish that were present, prompting one,who was retying after a king broke off, his fifth loss in less than two hours, to complain  “These fish are so big and so fresh I can’t hold onto them.”

“I’m a 20-year veteran of the Oswego River’s salmon runs and I’ve never seen so many fish in September,” he added.

And it’s only just begun. If the past is any guide, this run will continue for the next few days, until the water drops.

But even then, fish will enter this large stream regularly for the next four weeks, at least. A good way to gauge your chances of success is to follow weather and temperature patterns: cold nights generally send new fish upstream, and so does rain.

Some browns are present, too, but I didn’t see any steelhead. Browns will bearound in great quantities all of October. Good numbers of steelhead should start appearing the second week of the month and continue pouring in through December.

For Safety’s Sake

With all this water feeding it, the Oswego River is probably the most run-of-sensitive stream in the state. Combined with the extreme fluctuations caused by ebbs and flows in hydroelectric power generation, the river can rise a foot or more in seconds…and I’m not exaggerating. Make a mental note of water levels on rocks, walls and depth gauges, how much is coming over the dam, before stepping in. If you see, or feel, the water rising, get out immediately. If you hear sirens, followed by warnings, head for shore. Finally, wear a personal flotation device—it can be a life saver.

While nowhere near as slippery as the Salmon River, the Oswego has its slick spots. Wear Korkers or similar traction devices to help you keep your footing. A pair of Polarized sunglasses helps penetrate the surface glare so you can see where you’re stepping—and easily spot fish, too.

Fulton Carp Action

On September 17, carp, another of the river’s popular leviathans, were the object of the Wild Carp Club of Central New York’s attention. Seventeen members of the group reportedly caught and released over a ton of the beaststhat day in Fulton, New York.

For more on the club, including this season’s last three events, call Jason Bernhardt at 315-427-7109;

Bobby Fuller and Jeff Proctor with an average-size king.

Donata Taylor, Redding PA, uses some fancy rod handling techniques on an uncooperative king.

Auburn, NY's, Lee Rusin with his day's catch.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Returns are Here Again

Salmon Update: This season's largest run of kings entered the Salmon River Wednesday night, September 28. They're still entering the river as of this update, 11:30 a.m., Thursday morning. With rain predicted straight through the weekend, they should continue pouring in until the beginning of next week.

Owen Baxter, and his dad Don, of Boonville, N.Y. show off a Salmon River king

All the rain we’ve been having lately has spurred salmon into running Lake “O’s” tributaries a little early this year. In fact, enough fish entered the Salmon and Oswego Rivers in the first week of September to raise angler excitement to peak-run levels. And while a lot of guys got early thrills, these initial fish haven’t put a dent in the regular runs. Which, are just getting started.

Within the last few weeks, major numbers stormed the Salmon River (the Oswego always turns on a little later and should pick up this week). Anglers have reported tackling with near record numbers of kings and cohos.

Fortunately, for fish and fishermen alike, decent rain at regular intervals coupled with forecasts for more, means river conditions should remain almost perfect and stream banks and bottoms should be full of both for the next several weeks.

While Mother Nature is doing her part to make the angling experience more enjoyable, we are also realizing better conditions as the NYS DEC has been diligent in their efforts to eliminate lifters and snaggers from the environment.

“Now that lifting, lining, whatever…aren’t fashionable anymore, the chances of catching a clean fish are better than ever,” says Sean Rae, a Syracusan who fishes the river. “I’ve caught two today; neither one had wounds or hooks in its body.”

All the usual offerings are producing. Plastic eggs still seem to be the bait of choice but a lot of anglers are tossing flies, egg sacs and sponge to good effect, too.

What’s more, folks targeting early steelhead with everything from beads and Berkley Floating Trout Worms to yarn flies are finding their offerings are luring a lot of salmon.

Good numbers of fish are available throughout the river. Indeed, they’re stacked like cordwood below the bridge in Altmar.

The stream’s population of salmon should remain relatively consistent throughout the day for the next month or so as Brookfield Power continues to help balance the ebb and flow of natural precipitation. You see, the power company has agreed to release a steady stream high enough to draw and hold the beasts throughout the spawning season, a partnership that almost guarantees your trophy will be there waiting for several weeks to come.

For Safety’s Sake

The Salmon River is one of the slipperiest in NY. Wear clean Korkers or similar traction devices to help you keep your footing. A pair of Polarized sunglasses should be worn to help penetrate the glare so you can see where you’re stepping—and easily spot your prey.

Spawned in the Tug Hill Plateau, the Salmon is very sensitive to run-off and can rise quickly. Make a mental note of water levels before stepping in. In other words, note its location on a large object like a rock, bridge abutment, root ball or windfall. If you see, or feel, the water rising, get out immediately. Experts advise wearing a flotation device—it can be a life saver.

A hen coho taken by the author on September 21. 

Triple Deuce Charter's Matt Rubley, a Pulaski native, admiring a large male coho he took on September 21. 

Fishing at Ellis Cove on the Salmon River 

Watching the fish from the bridge in Altmar 

Stanley Cole of Snowcamp, N.C. fly-fishing for kings in the catch-and-release section of the river in Altmar.

Ron Haney of Altmar, who lost his right arm in an accident, shows how he fishes for kings