Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gobbler Numbers on the Rise

Stan Oulette of Deer Creek Outfitters with toms he led his clients to.

First the bad news: In its report, “Spring Turkey Take by County,” the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that last year’s statewide turkey harvest was roughly 25,800 birds, well below the 10 year average of 34,000.

Now the good news: although the state’s overall harvest was down 25 percent from the year before, Oswego is one of only five counties to boast a higher take in 2010 than in 2009. And from the looks of it, the trend is stretching into this year.

Now, a cynic might say these figures result from more hunters in Oswego County, or that the county somehow managed to avoid the harsh winter weather that did a number on the fowl’s population in the rest of the state.

Say what???!!!

I’m here to tell ya that Oswego County has about the same amount of hunters per capita as the rest of the state, and gets more than its fair share of snow. In fact, a big portion of the county, including some primo turkey range, is in the area known for “lake effect,” a measure meteorologists from around the country use to judge a region’s snowiness.

Truth is Oswego County is exceptionally good to turkeys. Lance Clark, a Senior Wildlife Biologist with the NYSDEC claims “Oswego County ’s turkey population has been building for the past couple of years.”

Most surprising of all, the growing number isn’t exclusive to the southern part of the county, where most of the farms are found. Indeed, a lot of the birds were taken in the Littlejohn, Deer Creek Marsh, and Happy Valley Wildlife Management Areas, vast tracts of undeveloped land.

You see, while turkeys do well in agricultural areas, they can do just as good in deep woods. All they need is mast bearing hardwoods--oak, beechnut, hickory, stuff like that--and openings that provide seeds, insects, and fruits like berries and apples.

Since WMAs are run to enhance wildlife habitat, DEC conducts patch/clear-cutting in heavily forested areas regularly to increase early successional habitats; the dense cover required by broods and the insects they feed on. Happy Valley WMA is the DEC’s most recent recipient of this management tool.

Marshy areas are also great turkey habitat. Two of the state’s finest are Oswego County’s  Deer Creek Marsh and Three Mile Bay/Big Bay WMAs. In fact, anglers fishing for crappie and panfish in Toad Harbor this time of year are always scattering turkeys while walking to fishing spots.

And don’t go thinking the last half of the season is the least productive. Most hunters only go out the first week. After about a few days of being relatively unmolested, most toms go back to doing what they like best: talking to the ladies.

So head out to one of the WMAs mentioned above, set up a hen decoy and start talking turkey. With a little bit of luck and a lot of patience, you’ll be eating wild fowl in no time.

A happy Deer Creek Motel client showing off his bird.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flatlining Browns

Capt. Miick fighting a brown

Water temperatures along Oswego County’s Lake Ontario shoreline are heating up. Late last week, they ranged from 46 to 52 degrees in eight to 14 feet of water. The brown trout came in, and boy, were they hungry.

“Spider, the browns started their spring thing in shallow water,” claimed Captain Rick Miick (www.trophydreamcatcher.com; 315-387-5920) on Monday of last week. “The weather calls for rain tomorrow. If it comes down hard enough, that should warm things up to around 50, putting the browns on a hot bite.”

“I’m heading out Wednesday morning. You can tag along, if you’d like,” he invited.

Launching at Pine Grove (head south from the NY 3/ NY 13 intersection for about a half mile, turn right and continue for a few hundred yards to the launch), we motored out of the Salmon River and turned south.

Rick set out planer boards and ran Smithwick Rogues on the outside lines, Michigan Stingers on the inside.

Run-off from the previous evening’s rain turned the lake into a study in brown: the inshore waters were murky, streaked by tributary plumes that were almost chocolate. In fact the water was so muddy in the morning, I tried talking the captain into fishing a little deeper, say 12 to 15 feet.

“Nah, they’re in close. They’ll find the lures,” he retorted, confidently.

It took a little while but he proved right. A four-pound brown nailed one of the Smithwicks as we ran through Grindstone Creek’s dense, brown plume.

Excited--and rusty after winter’s absence from open water--I kept the rod high as the fish neared the boat. Bad move: it shook its head and the hook came flying at me.

After gently lecturing me in the value of keeping the rod tip down when the fish comes into the motor’s turbulence, and slowly backing up to lead the fish into the net, Captain Miick good-naturedly re-set the line and we were back in business.

A few hundred yards later, another rod tripped. This time everything went smoothly and we landed a four-pounder.

The action stayed pretty fast for the next hour or so. We landed four cookie-cutter browns, all about four pounds, and lost another; not because of something we did wrong, but because the fish hit the spoon when the line was stopped as we made a turn and no one was expecting it. There we were, joking around and the drag starts screaming. By the time Miick reached it, the rod went flat. We know it was a brown because it jumped, flipping us a fin in derision as it got away.

The browns will stay close to shore, in anywhere from six to 12 feet of water as long as temperatures remain below 56. After that they’ll slowly follow their preferred temperature deeper and deeper as the weeks drag into summer.

For a complete list of Oswego County charter captains go to http://visitoswegocounty.com/fishing-hunting/fishing/charters-guides/.

Casting for browns from the pier at Selkirk Shores State Park

Capt. Miick holding our first cookie cutter brown of the day

Capt. Miick setting the lines