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.