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.