Friday, December 21, 2012

Oswego County Recreation Trail

By Spider Rybaak

Oswego County Recreation Trail Head Sign

Central New York played a key role in the economic development of our nation. Today, the original routes that carried the Industrial Revolution to every corner of the country have been covered over by pavement, submerged under the Empire State’s canal system, or left to nature. Fortunately, the builders of this massive ancient infrastructure did their jobs well--so well, in fact, it’s gonna take natural succession a long time to hide the evidence in the portions that were simply abandoned.

And while that might goad the sensibilities of purist environmentalists who feel smug sitting around thinking and talking a lot, it’s a God-send for average folks looking for cheap ways to recreate and exercise in the open air. You see, nowadays these forgotten routes etch the state in a web of paths lined in natural splendor, offering folks scenic avenues through the historical record.

Take the Oswego County Recreation Trail, for instance.  Running the bed of the New York Ontario & Western Railroad (abandoned in 1957), it’s the easiest, most convenient path you can take through our past. Stretching for roughly 26 miles, from Maple Avenue in Fulton to a little east of North Street in Cleveland, its gentle grade is ideal for hiking, biking and snowmobiling.

The OCRT is actually two trails: the western arm reaches from Fulton to Central Square, where it’s blocked by Interstate 81 (the highway was built after the railroad was abandoned, and no one thought of tunneling the trail under it); the eastern stem picks up on the other side of the interstate, about 1000 feet west of CR 37, and runs all the way to the county line in Cleveland, beyond which it becomes rutted and beat as it continues for a short distance into Oneida County.

In Oswego County, the well-maintained path slices through a patchwork of developed and natural areas. And while the scenery along its entire length is worth the trip, the eastern section is longest and offers the most diverse habitats.

Spawned on its west end at a dented guardrail preventing vehicles from going over the edge of the demolished railroad bridge over Little Big Bay Creek, the east branch cuts through agricultural fields and pastures, skirts woods and small parks and crosses creeks and brooks, offering a menu of splendid scenery, including golf courses, Toad Harbor Swamp, the dam on Scriba Creek, (just upstream of the Oneida Lake Fish Hatchery), thick, dark forests, scenic back-country beaver meadows, even a backyard pond in Cleveland that sports its own bridge over a feeder brook, and a cannon protecting it.

Access is easy. From CR 37 to the edge of Constantia, roads heading south off NY 49 cross the OCRT; and there’s parking at the shoulder of Toad Harbor Road. On the east side of the village, the trail crosses NY 49 and, from here to its end, is accessible by all roads heading north from the highway.

In Constantia, shoulder parking for about 10 cars is off Hatchery Road, a few hundred feet north of the NY 49 intersection. East of the hamlet, parking is allowed on the shoulder of some cross-roads and North Street.

The trail gets a little tricky in Cleveland. On the east side of its junction with Center Street, the OCRT widens, turning into Sand Street. But a few hundred feet later, on the other side of North Street, it assumes the charm of a trail agaiin.

Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and horseback riding are also allowed on the trail.  Motor vehicles, other than snowmobiles, trail groomers, Oswego County highway equipment, and authorized emergency vehicles, are prohibited from the trail. ATVs are only allowed on the eastern-most section of the trail between Toad Harbor Road and the Oswego-Oneida county line.

At press time, coils of gray and white rolled over the barren, late autumn landscape lining the OCRT. Soon, hopefully before Christmas, winter will shroud this natural canvas in sparkling snow punctuated with ice, adding frosting to the Holidays.

Merry Christmas.

Osprey nests...


The OCRT runs past marshes...


Over abandoned beaver meadows...

Wooded brooks...

And Creeks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Deer Season’s Opening Weekend

By Spider Rybaak

Scott Timmerman and sons (l to r) Logan and Brandon pose with his monster 8-pointer, taken in the southern zone, just east of NY 3.
The Southern Zone’s Deer season dawned on Oswego County in spectacular fashion. The beasts were plentiful; hunters were, too; and the weather was as deer-hunter-friendly as you could hope for.

As in the past, areas containing a good mix of farmland, forest and marsh were most productive.

The NY 3 corridor was especially so.

The reason: “Last winter’s mild weather was gentle on the local deer population,” says David Ouellette, part-owner of Deer Creek Motel and Pheasant Shooting Preserve (315) 298-3730. 

“In addition, our close proximity to Lake Ontario gives us a lot of moisture, which translated into good crop growth on local farms last summer. Finally, we have a lot of state parks in the area where gun hunting for deer ain’t legal; and numerous wildlife management areas loaded with dynamite deer habitat. Combine these factors and you come up with one of the best deer hunting areas in the state,” he adds.

Two guests of Deer Creek Motel and Pheasant Hunting Preserve had the carcasses to prove it.

On opening day, Roger Babeu dropped a nice buck on property leased by the motel in the southern zone, near Grindstone Creek. The farmland he was hunting is gently rolling. What’s more, it’s a short distance from Selkirk Shores State Park, a spot notorious for ideal deer habitat.

Pete Surette, on the other hand, took a nice four-pointer right behind the motel, in the northern zone. The area he was hunting was also gently rolling and watered by Deer Creek.

But Oswego County ain’t just for opening day. Scott Timmerman proved it by shooting a massive eight-pointer on Sunday, the morning after, when deer that survived the first day are notoriously super paranoid.

That’s another plus Oswego County has going for it. You see, world class fisheries like the Salmon River and Grindstone Creek draw lots of anglers. The same goes for spectacularly scenic Selkirk Shores State Park which gets loads of campers, picnickers and hikers. 

As a result, our deer are a lot more comfortable with human scent wafting through the woods than they are in other regions of the state and that makes them a little more careless…often just enough to help a competent hunter fill the freezer with delicious, corn-fed venison.
Roger Babeu, Groveland, MA, with a nice buck he took with a 7 mm last Saturday.
Pete Surette of Middleton, MA with a crotch-horn he took behind Deer Creek Motel on Opening day.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Oswego’s Rapids Carpeted in Golden Brown

By Spider Rybaak

Alex Korol, a SUNY Oswego student, holds one he landed while float-fishing a bead with a centerpin rig

This month all of New York is blanketed in the fading reds and golds of an aging autumn. But there’s still a lot of brilliance and vibrancy out there if you know where to look. And one of the best places to feast your eyes on the year’s last moments of splendid beauty is the city of Oswego.

But don’t look on shore. You see, the river running through the city is loaded with mature brown trout. Vying for mates, they’re decked out in their finest colors: dark brown backs fading into rich golden sides glimmering with red spots. There’s so many trout, in fact, the stream throbs with all the life traveling through it.

OK, that might be stretching things a bit. Still, there’s more brown trout in the deep tailrace stretching from the north end of the power dam to the tail-out where the heavy current breaks into whitewater than anyone can remember.

And it’s not like great quantities of salmonids is something new to the spot, either. Indeed, Pacific salmon pile into the tailrace in such numbers in October, the high wall seems to lean under the weight of all the anglers.

What’s unusual right now is the incredible number of trophy browns…big ones, up to 20 pounds.

No one was more surprised to see so many fish than I. Kwame Belle, a journalism major at SUNY Oswego, is doing an assignment on a “Bucket List” of stuff to do in the city of Oswego, and felt fishing should be included. I agreed.

Well, the salmon runs are over, so I called driftboat /charterboat  operator Captain Andy Bliss, (315) 591-4578, my favorite source for fishing information on the Oswego River, for suggestions.

“Browns are easy to get right now off the wall below the powerhouse,” he answered. “There’s a lot of ‘em because the water’s been so low, they’re milling around waiting for it to rise before running up to the dam.”

He wasn’t kidding. In the two hours or so Kwame and I fished, I personally saw 20 browns and five steelhead landed, and at least that many lost. (Kwame and I got zilch—so it goes, I guess.) The guys were bottom bouncing: casting out, letting the bait sink to bottom and walking it downstream. Most were using beads.

Browns are traditionally available in the river until late December.  This weekend, however, promises to be one of the year’s most propitious for a trophy: the weather’s supposed to be clear, water low and opening day of deer season should move half the anglers off the wall and into the woods, reducing competition considerably.
Kyle Buck of Hammondsport with one of his browns.
Bob from Colorado comes up to Oswego each year in November for the splendid fishing.

Kwame Belle, a SUNY Oswego student, tackles his "Bucket List" on the Oswego River.

Belle may have left fish-less, but the smile says it all!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hot Steelie Action on the Salmon River

By Spider Rybaak

Typical October-run steelie.

Anglers have been catching steelhead in the Salmon River for most of October. Like the stream’s flow, however, they only ran in trickles. 

Until last week’s rains changed everything. As water levels rose, massive quantities of steelhead poured upstream. They were still coming Sunday night, and the whole river is loaded with ‘em.

And they’re huge. Fish weighing in excess of six pounds are more common than smaller ones.

And fight…? I watched three fish get hooked at once in the rapids at the head of a popular hole in downtown Pulaski. After spending the first few seconds stubbornly struggling against the flow, they all jetted back into the pool. Guys standing along their path had to hop, bend--including backwards--duck, dodge and jump in a surrealistic dance to get out of the way. Back in the hole, the fish started leaping, porpoising, tail-walking, making the water look like it was boiling over with molten silver.

These fish are fresh, boasting olive backs fading into speckled, chrome-plated sides that’ll temporarily blind you if the sun reflects off them and strikes you in the face.

And careless…they act like they’re still in the safe, open waters of the lake. I watched several slide effortlessly upstream along the edge of the river, in water that barely covered their backs. I don’t know if their gutsy strategy was evolution or just plain luck, but-- to my amusement and surprise--they snuck past the gauntlet of anglers focused on the middle of the stream.

As the week progresses, things should only get better. You see, Hurricane Sandy’s heavy rains will raise water levels further. As Oswego County’s rivers rise, they’ll penetrate deeper into Lake Ontario, drawing even more fish upstream—and that includes skinny creeks like Grindstone and Little Sandy, maybe even Deer Creek, and brooks like Orwell and Trout.

One man’s perfect storm is another’s opportunity for a wall-hanger. So don’t be a victim, go fishing instead. The time is ripe for the fish you’ve been dreaming about to come into your life.
The steelies just kept on comin'.
This steelie hit a tiny glo-bug the size of a trout egg

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ducks in the Wind

By Spider Rybaak

Dock side.

Just about any time you look into the friendly skies over Oswego County this month you’ll see and hear chevrons of migrating Canada Geese.  The reason they’re more cautious (they’re flying much higher, and unwilling to come down near us) than the geese we’ve seen all summer long is because they’re truly wild, not the locals that were mostly harvested during last month’s early season. Hailing from the Arctic Circle, they’re on their natural fall migration to swamps in the south and don’t want anything to do with humans.

You’ll notice a similar paranoia displayed by a lot of the mallards and other ducks, too. And while their hunting season doesn’t start until October 27, a lot of these guys are also new arrivals from the great white north and they cotton to humans about as readily as cats to rats.

That’s why there are so many duck blinds along the shore of Oneida Lake. In order for hunters to get close enough for a shot nowadays, they have to dress in camo, hide in a blind surrounded by spreads of decoys, call the waterfowl in and pop up to shoot them as they’re coming in to join the decoys.

This form of duck hunting requires a lot of work setting everything up, teaching a dog to retrieve and learning how to properly call the fowl.

What’s more, shooting the birds requires a lot of skill. They move fast, especially when a hunter pops out of his concealment, scaring them all half to death, and shooting a couple if he’s lucky.

But the thrill of having done it makes it worthwhile, especially in Oswego County.

You see, we’ve got some of the hottest duck hunting spots in the state. For instance, Lake Ontario offers hunting opportunities for open water species like buffleheads, while its bays and barrier ponds offer mergansers, mallards, black ducks, you name it. Similarly, Oneida Lake and the sprawling wetlands in its Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Areas (3,495 and 120 acres, respectively) offer world class waterfowling.

And then there’s always the Oswego and Oneida Rivers and the wetlands in our northern WMAs, especially Happy Valley.

One of the most exciting ways to hunt is with a canoe. Stan Oulette, owner of Deer Creek Motel (315-298-3730), suggests float down Deer Creek, feeder to another popular Oswego County WMA, Deer Creek Marsh. 

“Paddle along quietly,” he advises, “and you’ll get shots at ducks you’ll spook at every bend in the stream.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s access site on NY 3, a couple miles north of Port Ontario, offers a beach launch for car toppers and parking for about 10 cars.

For information on everything from hunting zones and hunting seasons to the “Rational for Waterfowl Hunting Seasons,” go to and click on hunting seasons. For a map of state forests and wildlife management areas in Oswego County, go to
Among the waves.
Beach house. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Oswego River Comes Alive

 By Spider Rybaak

Migell Wedderburn with a nice king he caught fly fishing in the old riverbed between the middle wall and Leto Island. "They're all over, and I hooked so many they tore my leaders to pieces," claimed Pennellville resident.

Huge schools of salmon started charging into downtown Oswego over the weekend. Hundreds are staged in formation in the power company’s tailrace. Suspended anywhere from 18 inches to three feet below the surface, averaging more than 20 pounds each, they look like a surrealistic raft of monster sardines on a hari-kari mission outside of a processing plant. In reality, they’re waiting for the river to rise a little, and offer them an easier, safer path upstream

Adding to this once-a-year angling extravaganza are legions of brown trout ranging from 6 to 15 pounds. Only about 1/3 the size of the kings, the water level is much more comfortable for them and they look and act like giddy aces, darting through the assembled Chinooks like fighter planes tearing into a formation of sluggish bombers.

The vast majority of salmon is still decked-out in fading silver to olive drab, the color of fresh-run fish. However, black specimens (precocious salmon that matured a little quicker than average) slice through the group, heading upstream to spawn. Easy to spot if you’re wearing polarized sunglasses, you can see them carelessly jet over the school,  jump the low barrier atop the ancient riverbed directly in front of the turbines (see photo below), and, sometimes, even follow their dorsal fins cutting the surface of the whitewater as they beeline-it for the dam.

Most of the fresher fish still have a few days to go before their biological clock sets off the alarm that’ll force them willy-nilly into the dangerous shallow rapids. They’re milling around, waiting for rain to swell their passage, or at least the cover of darkness, before making their run.

Still, all the good seats in the tailrace are filling up fast. Some of the more independent salmon, feeling crowded, join the single file of scouts steadily going over the top into the no-man’s land of whitewater. Even though their numbers are small compared to what’s waiting down below, there’s enough in the bubbly to offer world class fishing.

Surprisingly, few anglers were around on Sunday. In fact, less than a dozen fished from the high wall downstream of the powerhouse. A lot more were in the rapids upstream, especially around the dam, but nowhere near what you usually find during the peak run.

Rains were heavy in the Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake regions and the water is sure to come up this week. This run is a good one, maybe even one for the record books.

Brookfield Power Inc. has issued a new dress code for the river between the dam and the powerhouse: you must wear a personal flotation device to enter that part of their property. A guy sitting in the crane on top of the falls that clears debris from the intake canal is watching and throwing anglers out who aren’t conforming. It’s no sense giving him a hard time because the power company owns the western half of the riverbed and has the right to regulate who fishes there.

Regardless, be careful in the rapids. The water can come up at any minute and one of the best ways I know to ruin a fishing trip is to get carried away by the current, PFD or not, getting all wet and losing your rod and reel. Before entering the river, make a mental note of where the water is on a rock or retaining wall, and the flow pouring over the dam. If it seems to be going up, get out quick. If you gotta err, err on the side of caution; you can always go back in if you misjudge.

Robert Donegan of Caughedenoy holding a king he caught on the Salmon River on 10/8/12.

Father and son catch a big brown...and a memory.

Frank Panek, Uncasville, CT holding his king.
King going over the top.
Jump for freedom: One that got away.
The number of anglers on the Oswego River this past weekend was surprisingly small for the peak run.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pheasant Season Just Around the Corner

By Spider Rybaak

For most outdoor lovers, October in Oswego County promises streams swollen with trophy salmon and trout, Oneida Lake walleyes moving to within casting distance of shore, and the discordant songs of waterfowl streaming through the air above it all. But water sports ain’t all the county has to offer. Indeed, when the waters meet dry land—and they always do, eventually--new habitats are created, ideal stomping grounds for birds of a different feather: pheasants.

Pheasants hail from Asia. And although they’ve made a solid foothold in America, primarily the Midwest, the species doesn’t do too well in northern NY because our predators, everything from skunks to foxes, feed on their eggs and young.  And while some chicks survive and even propagate, their numbers are few and getting a home grown ring-necked pheasant is extremely challenging.

But Oswego is loaded with edge habitats mature birds find to their liking: farmer’s fields, hedgerows, woodland undergrowth, and brushy clearings around wetlands. So the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation raises thousands of birds each year and releases them into the wild when they reach adulthood.

This year the NYSDEC will release 30,000 birds just before the season opener: October 1, in Oswego County. What’s more, the agency will unloose the county’s share just before the special youth hunting weekend, September 29-30, 2012.

To qualify for the special season, a child must be between 12 and 15 years old, possess a current hunting license, and be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian while hunting. The elder is required for supervision only and isn’t permitted to do any actual hunting (see page 34-35 in the “New York Hunting and Trapping Guide for further information).

The lion’s share of the ring-necks destined for Oswego County is going to be released in two publicly owned parcels: Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area and Three-Mile Bay WMA.

Three Mile Bay WMA is south of NY 49 in West Monroe and is easily accessible off Toad Harbor Road, McCloud Drive and West Road.

Deer Creek Marsh WMA is a couple miles north of Port Ontario, on the west side of NY 3.

Pheasant in flight near Deer Creek WMA

Deer Creek Marsh WMA pheasant habitat as seen from the Rainbow Shores Drive public access site, about 1/4 mile west of NY 3.
Salmon River Update:

This month marks the lowest the Salmon River has been in September in recent memory. Still, kings have been storming upstream in strength for the past week.

Stringers loaded with kings. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Low Water Salmon

By Spider Rybaak

The results of Captain Dick Stanton's outing last Saturday morning.

Nestled in an incredibly beautiful and productive web of waterways, Oswego County ranks high on the short list of the world’s greatest freshwater fishing destinations. And this summer we’re proving it in spades. While all the other self-proclaimed capitols of the fishing world are crying because the drought has drastically reduced water levels--and creel counts--our charter captains are smiling, pulling into port with coolers loaded with trophy salmon.

Take Capt. Richard G. Stanton (315-246-4767), for instance. The last two times he’s gone out, he’s led his highly satisfied clients to 16 keepers (see photos).

“We got these off Oswego, 50 to 70 feet deep, over 90 to 120 feet of water,” reveals Capt. Dick. “The vast majority was taken on Echip flasher/A-Tom-Mik fly combinations, and Moonshine spoons,” he adds.

Anyone who knows anything about Great Lakes salmon knows this is nothing new. Indeed, blessed with the Oswego (Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary) and Salmon (the most famous cold water stream in the Great Lakes) rivers, our corner of Lake Ontario is notorious for drawing the biggest concentration of mature salmon in the lower 48 states.

Unfortunately, the rivers aren’t faring so well...yet. Rain has been so scarce lately, that streams everywhere are running at about half of normal capacity. At this writing, the Salmon River is barely at 185 cubic feet per second (cfs); normal September flow is 300 cfs.

Still, a few salmon are in. Not in any great numbers, but enough to reward patient anglers with some of the most exciting fishing imaginable. You see, the fish are already staged off the Salmon River’s mouth and more are arriving every day. They feed like pigs while waiting for the signal (a drop in the stream’s temperature, rising water, nature’s clock running out, whatever) to collectively enter the flow. And while most wait to storm upriver in mass, there’s always a few that run early, on their own or in small groups, usually after dark.

These precocious critters rule the night. In the morning, they’re caught unaware and become easy prey to early-rising anglers. Veterans that survive daylight’s ambush head for the safety of pools and mill around all day avoiding hooks. 

But they’ll re-enter the rapids in daylight if fishing pressure subsides; and it often does the first couple weeks of September.

The key is to find a spot that isn’t crowded with excited anglers. Then you gotta hunt the beasts stealthily: wear camouflage (on sunny days, blue or white will do) and walk slowly, quietly. Swinging streamers through the rapids, or working egg sacs, gobs of skein or imitations like pieces of sponge in pockets and channels, often produce strikes.

As far as the Oswego River goes, Larry Muroski, owner of Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778), says, “The water’s in the low 70s right now [September 9] and it’ll take at least a week, probably a little longer for it to cool down enough for fish to start coming in.”

But come they will; and early indications are this is gonna be a banner year for big ones. 

A word of caution: Wear a personal flotation device whenever wading one of Lake Ontario’s major tributaries. Although the rivers are low and easy to wade right now, you have to remember they drain wide areas. For instance, the Oswego drains the entire Finger Lakes region and Oneida Lake. A storm upriver can send a mini-tsunami barreling downstream, raising the water to dangerous levels without warning. In addition, pay attention to the water level by mentally marking its location on a rock, wall, tree, even your boots; and if you see or feel it rising, get out as quickly as you can.

New Dress Code for the Oswego River: Personal flotation devices required to fish upstream of the power plant--Coast Guard approved, no less.

Capt. Stanton's results on Sunday morning.
Early birds on the Salmon River last Sunday.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What this Year’s Final Bassmasters Elite can Expect

By Spider Rybaak

An average Oneida Lake bluegill makes sunnies from anywhere else look tiny.

The 2012 Bassmasters Elite Series tournament wraps up on Oneida Lake this week, August 23-26. And although I fished the place pretty hard in the early weeks of the season--and the bass were abundant, cooperative and big--I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go out and try my luck just before the tournament…to test the waters, so to speak, and see what our visitors to Oswego County had in store.

So I get in touch with my buddy Ray, a native of nearby Liverpool. Not only is he a pretty decent fisherman and all around nice guy, he’s got a boat--and I don’t--which makes him the perfect fishing buddy.

We launched from his berth in Brewerton and headed out for open water. The weather was fair, the southerly winds moderate. We started a few feet from the Onondaga County bank and drifted toward Oswego County.

Half way to Big Bay the perfect hit slams my black and white bucktail jig tipped with a worm. I set the hook hard and I’m into a pretty respectable battle.

A couple seconds later, I knew it wasn’t a walleye because it was fighting too hard; and it couldn’t be a bass because it wasn’t fighting hard enough. I figured it for a sheepshead; a northern pike, maybe a cat.

It was neither. Instead, it was the bane of just about every bass enthusiast I know: a chain pickerel. Packing a mouthful of razor sharp teeth, these guys are notorious for biting through the line--biting-off, in Oneida Lake speak--getting away, lure and all. Losing baits and having to tie new ones on in the thick of competition is gonna make a lot of this weekend’s guests grumpy, I thought.

Reaching the weeds at the high side of the northern edge of the channel, I change to a spinnerbait and draw a couple more monster pickerel to the side of the boat where they look at me with pagan hatred in their eyes, but don’t hit. Sissies, I think as I cast out again.

After about a half hour of short strikes and some clumps of weeds, I switch over to a 6-inch YUM Dinger and pitch it into the holes and edges of weeds, emerging weed ends, weed clusters, anything unusual that we approach.

A nice largemouth of about 4 pounds nails it in a narrow channel between stands of vegetation. Diving for bottom, he burrows into the weeds like a drill. But he never has a chance. An old hand at bucketmouth tactics, I keep my favorite Abu Garcia Revos loaded with 30-lb test UltracastFluorobraid topped off with long stretches of 25-lb test Berkley’s Pro Spec Fluorocarbon leaders. A short, forceful pull on the line and the bass, crowned in weeds, reluctantly comes to the boat. I flip him in so quick he looks at me all surprised and stuff. After taking the hero shot illustrating this blog post, I release it to give the guys in the upcoming contest a chance at catching the happiness I just experienced. 

Large bass have an intoxicating effect on me and I couldn’t stop whooping, hollering, talking away. I should’ve, though, because right when I’m modestly bragging about my prowess, I get another perfect hit, from a bass even larger than the first, but set the hook too late. I feel the tension on the line and see him jet out of the water like a green geyser with a big lump in the middle but my line comes in empty.

A few minutes later, I’m still carrying on, another hits and I lose him, too. 

All this time Ray’s having a blast with sunfish and perch. The guy loves panfish and was busy working on filling his freezer.

Before long, the massive weed bed in Big Bay starts getting boring and we motor over to the other side of the lake to start our drift anew. But the wind picks up and the temperature changes noticeably, growing colder, and uncomfortable.

As often happens on NY’s largest lake, the wind died down as unexpectedly as it came up, things got comfortable, and we regained confidence. We felt pretty good and thought we might catch another bass or two, maybe a walleye and plugged away. But it seemed we couldn’t find another fish even if we were in a submarine.

So we packed it in and I went home to reflect on the day.

It is my unprofessional opinion that Oneida Lake’s bass population is in great shape for the upcoming Bassmasters Elite. Indeed, it might even be one for the record books.

Stay tuned.

Ray showing a nice bucketmouth.

Oneida Lake's pickerel are bigger than average.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Like Minnows to Water

By Spider Rybaak

A couple more students.

You hear old folks talking a lot nowadays about how kids don’t have a handle on the real world.

“They’re so into texting they’re forgetting how to look straight ahead and their fingers and thumbs are mutating, curling and forming calluses on their tips!” claims cousin Staash.

While you couldn’t be faulted for thinking he’s exaggerating, he does have a point: the digital world has made life convenient; so easy, in fact, the wonderful virtual world that electronics brings into our living rooms and backyards can make stepping out into a landscape shrouded in iffy weather and uncooperative wildlife seem risky, or even a terrible waste of time.

Granted, interacting with digital images is the most efficient way known to science for pumping surges of excitement through kids, without them ever getting their hands dirty. But there’s more to life than the sterile audio/visual stimulation found in the digital universe. Indeed, nature whips countless sensations into every second of the day: a breeze’s gentle caress; the cacophony of boisterous waterfowl; the quiet splash of a turtle diving off a log; frogs croaking and jumping  for cover; the scolding of a startled blue heron; the pull of a fish struggling to free itself of a hook…

What’s more, these thrills are free and constantly playing along the banks of the streams and lakes watering Oswego County’s great big back yard. And the best way to launch children--adults and senior citizens, for that matter--into a future steeped in the wonders of the natural world is to take them fishing.

It’s not all that hard to do. All ya need is a rod and reel combo, some bait and a kid--anyone’s’ will do; provided you get the parents’ permission, of course.  There’s plenty of safe spots around to fish, like the parks lining both sides of the river in the city of Oswego; the locks at Fulton and Phoenix; above and below the dam in Caughdenoy; the municipal dock on the north bank in Brewerton; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Fishing Access Site on CR 37, below the north end of the I-81 bridge; Cleveland Docks on NY 49; Fulton’s Lake Neahtahwanta...

If you don’t know much about angling, don’t worry about it. Kids take to fishing like minnows to water, and if the fish ain’t hittin’, the kids are sure to have fun watching nature bustling all around them.

However, it’s always nice to catch something. In fact, landing a first fish, regardless of size or make (carp, perch, sunfish, bullhead, to mention a few) is sure to etch itself deeply into the person’s memories for life, and might even hook them hopelessly to a lifelong pastime.

With that in mind, me and Mike McGrath, owner of McGrath & Associates Carp Angling Services, have begun conducting free monthly fishing classes this year. Primarily designed for kids, we provide everything from instructions to loaner equipment--and we’ll teach their parents, too.

Our last one was held at Fulton’s Lake Neahtahwanta last month. McGrath, one of America’s pre-eminent carp experts, held 10 children and their guardians captive for two hours, explaining and demonstrating carp subjects ranging from habitat preferences and mixing chum (a recipe of grains, syrups Marukyu baits and other delights used to draw the fish in close) to the knots and terminal tackle they’d need to successfully fish for the species.

After his course in theory, McGrath led the kids to a spot on the lake, cast out a couple lines and promptly caught a 10 pound carp. The students and their parents were mesmerized by the man’s expertise in fishing for this monstrous species, a popular game fish in Asia and Europe.

Meanwhile, I was on the beach handing out free Berkley PowerBaits, including Atomic Teasers, Power Honey Worms, Ripple Shads, Atomic Mites and Wigglers, and Johnson Beetle Spins to each student, and loaning Shakespeare Classic rod and reel combos to kids who didn’t have their own fishing equipment.

Worms were also available, but half-way through the session, so many kids (95 percent) were catching everything from bluegills and pumpkinseeds to white and yellow perch on the PowerBaits, everyone started using them and the worms were spared.

Our next class is this Saturday, August 18, at Lake Neahtahwanta’s Bullhead Point (where the gazebo stands on the pier), from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. To get there, head west on NY 3 in Fulton and follow it west to the edge of town.

For more info, contact me at or McGrath at

A couple of students.

McGrath teaching how to mix bait.

Big fish...Wide eyes...and McGrath explaining it

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Salmon River Summer Salmon

By Spider Rybaak

Local fly-fishing guide Pat Miura (315-777-3570) holding a trophy landlocked Atlantic salmon he took last spring from the Salmon River's Douglaston Salmon Run.

When you’re as pretty--and mildly wild-- as the Salmon River is, everyone wants a piece of your beauty and grace. And while the stream is lined with beaten paths for fishermen, hikers, bird watchers, yodelers, wildflower lovers, you name it, the only way to satisfaction for whitewater enthusiasts like kayakers and tubers is to get all wet. So in the spirit of making everyone happy, the power company conducts special releases each month during summer--two in July.

This year’s releases have mostly already taken place, and August was cancelled because of low water levels in the reservoir. So there’s only one more planned officially, the first weekend of September.

However, there’s always a chance we’ll get some heavy rains this month; and if we do, the river will come up all by itself. If that happens, grab a rubber tube, air mattress, kayak or anything that’ll float while you’re in it, and a buddy--you wanna have two cars so you can leave one at put-in and take-out—and launch on a whitewater thrill so mildly exciting, you’re guaranteed to get wet.

No craft?...Not into whitewater?...No sweat. There’s more to do during high water.

Take fishing for landlocked Atlantic salmon, for instance. Indeed, the Salmon River is the best fast lane in the U.S. for catching a keeper trophy landlocked Atlantic. Our Atlantic salmon are stocked by the NYS DEC.  (Natural strains of Atlantic salmon are ocean-running fish, and are on the endangered species list.)

Known as the king of fish in Europe because of its superb beauty, extraordinary leaping prowess, incredible power and stamina, and ability to survive the spawning ordeal and do it a second, even third time (it’s the only American salmon capable of spawning more than once), pursuing this fabulous critter is one of the most worthy challenges anglers face in freshwater.

Up until the 19th century, Lake Ontario boasted the world’s greatest population of these marvelous game fish. Pollution, over fishing, dams blocking migratory routes, and exotic species nailed their coffin shut before World War I.

The feds and NYS Conservation Department (precursor to today’s NYS Department of Environmental Conservation), spurred by the increased environmental awareness spawned during the hippie era (the 1960s), decided to restore the species into the tiniest Great Lake.

Late in the last century, the authorities stocked various Lake Ontario tributaries with baby Atlantics in various stages of development. But the lion’s share of their attention went to Little Sandy Creek, the northernmost skinny creek in Oswego County. It was stocked heavier than the rest, and was even placed off-limits to fishing during the salmon runs to protect the returns. The experiment failed.

Alewives, exotic forage that entered the Great Lakes system through the Erie Canal, were waging biological warfare on the Atlantics and winning. Rich in Thiaminaze, an enzyme that breaks down thiamine, a vitamin essential to salmon reproduction, the salmon were eating themselves to impotence. The condition was called the Cayuga Syndrome, after Cayuga Lake where it was first fingered. Oh, the fish still went through all the moves--run upstream, court, lay their eggs, fertilize them--but the offspring died before they could get beyond the sac-fry stage. Mortality was total.

Finally figuring out what was happening, the authorities lifted the ban on fishing the Little Sandy and got used to the idea that the only way to maintain a token presence of the species in Lake Ontario was by stocking, often with fry from eggs washed in thiamine.

Thousands of Atlantics have been stocked annually over the past 20-something years. While these numbers are tiny compared to the quantity of Pacific salmon stocked each year, the effort gives anglers a chance at catching this highly desirable and coveted native New Yorker.

The most warmwater tolerant salmon, a few Atlantics are in the river all summer long. Periods of high water, like after a rain or during whitewater releases draw fresh fish upstream. What’s more, the food rich higher water often spurs a feeding binge.

So if you’re into fishy challenges, the Salmon River offers one of the toughest in the fishing world.

But there’s more.

“For the past three years, 2009, 2010 and 2011, we’ve netted as many as 48 naturally reproduced fingerlings in the river in any given year,” claims Dr. James Johnson, ecologist and branch chief at the USGS’ Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science in Cortland, NY. He attributes this exciting development to “changes in lake conditions: fewer alewives--less Thiaminaze.”

There’s no shortage of theories. One even speculates the round goby, an exotic species indigenous to the Black Sea, is the hero in this wonderful mystery.  

I asked Dr. George Ketola, a research physiologist at Tunison Laboratory, if the gobies could be helping the salmon replenish the thiamine status in their eggs.

“That makes good sense,” the Dr. replies. “Gobies are high in thiamine and with the availability of that food source before spawning…if they have a month or so of exposure…it should make a difference. And I suspect it helps their spawning.”

A little over three years is a long spell in salmon time, long enough to reach trophyhood. The possibilities are the stuff of fantasy, and if you participate right now, you could be one of the pioneers in this developing fishery.

How do you tell a naturally spawned fish from a stocky? Scott Prindle, fisheries biologist at the Cortland office of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation says about the only sure way is to look at the belly fins. If the leading edges are kind’a thick and wavy, there’s a good chance it’s a hatchery fish (they get calloused from bumping and rubbing their tank’s bottom). If the fins are straight and narrow, it’s probably the real thing.

By heading up to the Salmon River you’ll experience the thrill of a naturally warmed rushing river, and the chance of catching a naturally bred trophy landlocked Atlantic salmon, something that ain’t been seen around these parts for over 100 years.  

So c’mon up to the Salmon River; we'll keep the stream up for ya...for a little while, anyway.

Fran Verdoliva releasing a nice landlocked Atlantic salmon he took in the summer of 2010.

NY007  John Kendell showing a trophy he took from the Salmon River in the summer of 2010.