Monday, December 23, 2013

Ice Fishing before Christmas

By Spider Rybaak
A couple happy ice fishermen.

The seriously cold weather we’ve had over the past couple of weeks put a hurtin’ on a lot of folk’s faith in global warming. Indeed, cousin Staash was about to use the pages of his autographed copy of Al Gore’s “Earth in the Balance” to fire up his pot-bellied stove. Saturday’s unseasonably high temperatures stopped him in his tracks and he returned it to its place of honor on his book shelf (that’s not so honorable considering he’s only got one book).

The extreme cold followed by the warm spell created a situation you don’t find around these parts very often: “Ice fishing before Christmas,” in the words of Jim Denson. He spent the better part of Sunday morning on Oneida Lake’s Big Bay with sons Kyle and Ryan.

Their efforts were rewarded with a mess of bluegill and pumpkinseeds, punctuated with several hawg crappies. All were caught on tiny ice jigs tipped with spikes (a gentleman’s word for maggots).

Ryan claimed the ice was 3 inches thick, safe enough, according to the DEC’s Web site (, to support groups of ice fishermen lined up in single file.

They weren’t the only ones courageous enough to brave the early ice. Indeed, a larger number was out there on Saturday. But the following day’s warmer weather discouraged a lot from returning. By Sunday afternoon, the number of anglers was down to about a dozen, but for everyone leaving, new guys were coming out.

Getting out on the bay from DEC’s Toad Harbor Fishing access site on Shaw Drive (at the end of Toad Harbor Road, off NY 49, West Monroe), was too dangerous over the weekend because of soft spots. Most guys paid to park in the private lots of commercial operations like Big Bay Marina, on Camic Road (off CR 37), and other  businesses in the neighborhood, and skirted the ice looking for high spots before heading out.

If the warm spell continues, the ice will probably be too dangerous by Tuesday.  Be careful.

Jim Denson (center) and sons Kyle (left) and Ryan
with Sunday's catch.

Sunday afternoon on Big Bay.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Browns and Chromers

By Spider Rybaak

Centerpinning at the West River Walk's last stairs, upstream of the powerhouse.

December is the best month for taking trout from the bank in the city of Oswego.

Draining 5,100 square miles, including the Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake, the river running through town carries a lot of water, an average of 6,700 cubic feet per second, according to the United States Geological Survey. Late autumn storms can raise the stream’s temperature and double its flow. Driven deep into Lake Ontario, the plume’s relatively warm current draws fish to the friendly rapids in downtown Oswego.

Last Friday water levels in the city reached 16,000 cfs, a level way too high to fish effectively from the high wall downstream of the power house. And Motel Row? Forget it, too much water to cover from shore.

By Sunday, the flow dropped to 13,000 cfs, just right for taking it to the bank.

A couple guys wading along the wall between the dam and the hydro plant scored browns and rainbows averaging 7 pounds each. Both were float-fishing with centerpin equipment. One used a bead, the other an egg sac.

Fishing from a drift boat was even better. Three guys running the rapids off Motel Row landed over a dozen steelies and browns. They were float-fishing beads with centerpin equipment.

“Center-pinning is the best way to catch steelhead,” boasted one.

Conditions were exactly what they should be in December. Surprisingly, there were very few anglers out. And it wasn’t even that cold.

Don’t be intimidated by the snow and ice. Oh, sure, you can see your breath, and getting your hands wet guarantees cold fingers. But dressing in layers and carrying a towel will keep you toasty.

Indeed, the hits alone are enough to beat the cold.

The rest of December promises more dynamite, run-off-triggered action.

January will turn the rain into ice and snow, cooling any thaw streaming over it. Oh, the fish will still bite, but not as eagerly on most days; sunny days can spur hot and furious action, however.

Anglers must wear personal flotation devices to fish the river upstream of the power house. Since the utility owns the property, it has the right to make the rules and anyone not complying with the dress code can be evicted.
View from the West River Walk upstream of the power dam.

Drift boat at Varick Dam.

A float fisherman working the tailrace at the foot of the West River Walk's high wall
while a drift boat works the Dug Out on the other side.

Jon, Fair Haven, NY, holding a decent steelie taken on a bead off Motel Row.

J.J.Elmer with a big brown he took on a bead off Motel Row.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Steelheading without the Leaves

By Spider Rybaak

Nice hen steelie taken on a wooly bugger.

One of the most frustrating things about early steelhead fishing is putting up with fallen leaves; they’re floating on the surface, suspended in the water, carpeting the floor. Come November, they can be so thick, it’s like fishing in a kaleidoscope.

To the uninitiated, that doesn’t sound so bad. After all, kaleidoscopes are entertaining, giving idle hands something to turn, bored eyes symmetrical patterns to feast on.

But fishing is serious business, and the Salmon River ain’t a romper room. If you have to spend half your time clearing leaves off the hook, the other half dodging leaves while trying to present a bait naturally, especially when you’re watching fish shooting the rapids, it can amount to an exercise in frustration, and that can make you grumpy.

So I went up to the Salmon River on Veterans Day to swing some streamers through the rapids with my Spey-casting equipment, conditions permitting.

Much to my delight, the conditions are super. Oh, a few leaves are still blowing into the water. But they’re so few, I only hooked a couple in the hour I fished.

Best of all, I hooked a steelhead weighing about 5 pounds, too, on a chartreuse wooly bugger I swung through the rapids behind a 10-foot Rio Spey VersiLeader, with a sink rate of 2.6 inches per second.

And I wasn’t the only lucky one on the river. A couple guys hooked steelies on beads they were float-fishing with centerpins in the Long Bridge Hole. Another took one in the rapids on an estaz egg he was chuck-n-ducking in the bottleneck, at the curve, about 100 yards upstream.

I was Spey-casting in the pool between the Long Bridge pool and Village pool, a relatively shallow spot with heavy rapids; two features that discourage normal anglers--which normally means there’s fish and room.

You see, most guys fishing the Salmon River think like humans, and concentrate on deep, slow moving pools.

I like to think like a fish. Right now, the water temperature is in the high 40s, and trout are still very active. Since they’re as lazy as I am, they hang out in fast water (they’re streamlined, the current goes effortlessly around them) where eggs float down to them and all they gotta do is open their mouths and suck ‘em in. And if a streamer swims by…well, that’s icing on the cake.

Steelhead are running the river right now in search of easy pickings; which means they can be anywhere…and they’re hungry.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Best Downtown Fishing Around

Spider Rybaak

City mallards and anglers: Varick Dam.

The city of Oswego’s miracle mile boasts the greatest trophy fishing in the country.

Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary runs through the middle of town. Draining Oneida Lake and the Finger Lakes, the Oswego River is a magnet for bank anglers targeting warmwater species like catfish, walleyes and smallmouth bass in summer. But when October nights stir autumn’s chill into the rapids, massive quantities of the lake’s biggest salmonids move into downtown’s caressing currents to find mates under the neon.

Currently, king salmon are the rage. They hang out anywhere there’s fast-water, from Bridge Street all the way to the pools below Varick Dam.

The main stage for anglers trying their luck at landing one is the Linear Park lining the west bank. Running from the power house to just south of the silos looming over the harbor near the river’s mouth, a distance of almost a mile, the fence-lined, concrete wall offers a safe platform for battling these brutes.

Action is fast and furious along the northern half of the park, particularly from the power house to the end of the middle wall channeling the deep tailrace, roughly behind, and a little north, of Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778). Larry offers advice, a full line of tackle and a fish cleaning station.

This year, the most productive bait is skein and eggs cured with Pautzke Fire Brine. Most guys float-fish the stuff; suspending it anywhere from 3 inches to a foot off bottom on a slip bobber, and ensure their bait stays at the proper depth by walking the wall at the same pace as the current.

Fly-fishermen targeting steelhead in the rapids between the dam and the north end of Leto Island (access from Leto Island is closed, so you’ll have to wade to get to the east bank), are getting more kings than chromers on estaz flies and streamers, but the number of ironheads promises to increase dramatically from now through November. Some browns are also in the fast water.

Walleyes are still in the river, too, mostly in the deeper water downstream of Utica Street. They’ll hit floating crankbaits like Bass Pros XPS Minnows and Thundersticks, and worms rigged on Dixie Spinners and dragged slowly on bottom. Be prepared to tangle with incidental steelies and brown trout.

Anglers must wear personal flotation devices to fish the river upstream of the power house.

Below the signs announcing the power company's dress-code requiring personal flotation devises beyond this point.

Charter Captain Andy Bliss unhooking a nine-pound domestic rainbow taken below the power plant.

Mike Viggiano, Nanticoke, PA, carrying a steelie he took in the rapids a little downstream of the dam.

Father and son team from Long Island and their kings.

Josh Collette (left), president of the Oswego State Fishing Club, Phil Jenkins (center), interim treasurer, and club member Jordan Rabinowitz discussing fishy subjects at West Linear Park. Sanctioned by the Student Association, "the club is for recreational purposes and to further educate the student body on ethical and sustainable fisheries," explains Collette.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Surfin’ for Oneida Lake Walleyes

By Spider Rybaak

Solitary figure fishing in the fading light.

October is the best time of year to grab your walleye dreams and head for the bank.

The sun’s annual migration south, a move it starts discreetly in late June, becomes impossible to ignore this month. Setting around 6:30 p.m., not rising again until after 7 a.m., its hang-time in the northern hemisphere is less than half the day; and will get shorter and shorter until late December. Less light means less photosynthesis which translates into fewer weeds, a drop in zooplankton, and cooler temperatures. The resultant food shortage, lack of cover, and chilly weather drive bait into shallow water; and walleyes follow.

While open-water bait and predators find a degree of comfort around mid-lake shoals, humps, and shelves skirting the islands, the choicest habitat is found close to shore. You see, nutrients, relatively warm temperatures and run-off (murky water fish find useful for cover) ride the currents of tributaries; and they feed the lake from the bank.

What’s more, fish react to changing conditions, and are driven by instinct. One of their greatest motivators is the wind. It stirs up bottom, especially in shallow water, moving nutrients--and everything that’s hungry—towards shore.

That’s why when you look out over the lake this time of year, even in broad daylight, you won’t find many fishing boats out there. They’re all in close.

Dusk contributes to the magic by sweeping away what little light remains. Emboldened by the lack of visibility, fish come in even closer, sometimes into water barely covering their dorsal fins. Just look along the lake’s shoreline at dusk, you’ll see numerous silhouettes of solitary anglers rising out of the waves in the fading light.

They’re not there for bullheads!

Surf fishing for walleye at night is about the most exciting way to go for these delicious beasties. The setting sun usually puts a damper on the wind. The lake’s surface simmers down, and by the time the sun’s corona creeps below the trees, twinkling stillness surrounds you.

Schools of gizzard shad invariably swim by. They appear in such numbers, their rafts dimple the surface. Reaching your side, the formation silently splits, wrapping around you like whitewater skirting a rock. Predators attacking from below the school, or stalking its periphery, send showers of silver erupting through the undulating, moon-lit glare.

Seeing a walleye hit a minnow within arm’s reach is exciting; having one slam your lure right in front of you is downright magical.

The eyes will be withdrawing minnows from the bank into first ice. Good baits are Bass Pro Shops XPS Extreme Minnows, Jr. Thundersticks, Rapalas and Challenger Minnows.

Cleveland Docks and Godfrey Point (NY 49 in Cleveland), the fishing access sites off I-81 in Brewerton, and Phillips Point (from I–81 exit 32 (Central Square), take NY 49 east for 3 miles, turn right onto Toad Harbor Road, then left about 3 miles later on McCloud Drive and travel 1 mile to its end) are hot spots worth trying.

Jim Novak, Secretary of the Oneida Lake Association, holds a nice walleye he took just after sundown.

Nightly limit.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Yellow Perch Triangle

By Spider Rybaak

Dave France with a nice jack perch he took at the entrance to Big Bay.

David France and James Daher are fishing buddies. They love perch. And their best spot in autumn is Oneida Lake.

Thirty years of working in the bait and tackle business has taught James a thing or two: “The lake turns over in August. By the end of the month, an algae bloom usually turns the water into pea soup and the perch all but shut down. By mid-September, the bite starts turning around again, slowly at first, accelerating as water temperatures drop. When the water hits the mid-50s, instinct tells the fish to prepare for winter and they go on a feeding binge. My magic formula at this time is: wind, weed edges and 13-foot depth,” says the colorful bait monger.

He and Dave like the west end of the lake, an area they call the “triangle.” Dave claims one of these spots usually produces.

“You gotta have a gentle wind,” says Dave, who spent his youth in Constantia. “You want it to blow just hard enough to agitate the surface into a ripple or slight chop. North and west winds are best.”

Launching at Oneida Shores County Park on the South Shore, they head due north. At the edge of the weed bed carpeting Big Bay, they search for the magical 13-foot depth. When it appears on the depth finder, they run along the line looking for fish. When some appear, James lowers the anchor, and both toss their bait over the side, weighed down with enough split-shot to get to bottom.

“When the bait touches down, I crank it up three to five inches off the floor,” says Dave, “and still-fish. I call this system vertical fishing; the only action the worm or minnow get is what the waves give ‘em.”

If they go without a hit for a half hour or so, they move east about two miles to Three Mile Bay and repeat the procedure. When the hits run out, they move again, this time south, to the weed edge crowning the channel drop-off at the western tip of Frenchman Island.

Minnows and worms work equally well for perch; but worms allow you to catch sunfish, too.

James Daher with a super smallmouth he took on a fathead minnow.

Moonrise over Wantry Island.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Salmon Everywhere: Oneida Lake, too.

Spider Rybaak

Gene Carey, founding member of the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club, walking towards the FCASC's hatchery at the Harden Furniture Dam on the West Branch of Fish Creek, McConnellsville, NY.

Fishing on foot might not sound as glamorous as doing it from a souped-up Lund, but it has its benefits. For instance, it’s good exercise while moving around looking for hits; and a great way of gathering valuable intelligence. That’s how I heard the story of a guy who allegedly caught an Atlantic salmon below the dam in Caughdenoy last week. 

Now, I remember seeing one caught in Phoenix back in the 1960s.  And just about anyone who’s been fishing the Seneca and Oswego Rivers for any length of time can tell you a story or two about landlocks caught in the whitewater in Oswego, Minetto, Fulton, even Baldwinsville.  Experts surmise these fish were stocked by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in Lakes Ontario or Cayuga.

But how do you explain an Atlantic salmon in the Oneida River?

The Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club, that’s how. Formed in 1997, the group has been working to restore the species to its native waters ever since. 

While Fish Creek was never the primary residence of great numbers of Atlantic salmon, it served as an important nursery. In the old days, Lake Ontario claimed the greatest population of landlocked salmon in the world until dams and Industrialization’s rampant pollution all but wiped them out in the beginning of the 19th Century.  When it came time to spawn, they ascended its tributaries, including its second biggest, the Oswego River. Formed by the confluence of the Oneida and Seneca Rivers, the Oswego offered them access into Oneida Lake and the ideal spawning habitat of its largest tributary, Fish Creek.

The club’s program is funded through dues, raffles, the sweat of its members and donations.  Its fry are raised at a hatchery club members built on the creek’s west branch, at the spillway to Harden Furniture’s mill dam in McConnellsville. The company donated the site, as well as a $5,000 grant to build the thing. Spey Nation has been chipping in over the past three years with an annual $1,500 grant.

According to Eugene Carey, a founding member of the club (he’s on the cover of my first book “Fishing Eastern New York”), the facility is working out very well. The equipment is run by solar power so electrical outages aren’t a concern.  The creek’s fluctuating temperature prepares the fry for the conditions they’ll encounter in the wild, and the water’s natural nutrients, easily identifiable by the young, spur their appetite so they don’t have to be coaxed into feeding by club members.

Incoming reports bear him out. Oneida Lake’s ice fishermen have been treated to a smattering of landlocks each year this century. In the fall of 2011, three beauties ranging from 25 to 27 inches were caught in the canal at Sylvan beach. This summer, two were taken by open water anglers on the lake. 

The dream collectively envisioned by this small, dedicated group of romantic anglers in 1997 is materializing. If the trend continues, Oneida Lake tributaries will soon be giving Lake Ontario’s feeders stiff competition for NY’s native salmon.

Powered by the sun.

Water works: Inside the fish hatchery.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Salmon Everywhere

By Spider Rybaak

Sue with her biggest king.

Up until this summer, the term August kings referred to the legions of mature salmon that traditionally stage off the mouths of Lake Ontario’s tributaries in late summer to await the biological urge that shuts down their hypothalami and launches them upstream to spawn. This year changed that definition.

Oh, massive quantities of kings are still staging in Oswego County’s territorial waters. Indeed, the Oswego River draws an amount proportionate to what you’d expect the smallest Great Lake’s second largest tributary to attract. Its plume reaches out into the lake for miles, hooking the hormones of fish from here to Canada, drawing massive quantities of trophy Chinooks and cohos to the city of Oswego’s north bank.

It’s obvious from all the charter boats trolling within a mile of the Port City right now. In the past, they’d be out so far the first half of September, you’d need binoculars to see half of them.

And the fishing’s great. On the evening of August 29, Captain Richard “Big Dick” Stanton (Stanton Charter Service; 315-685-0651) took outdoor writer/online visibility expert Sue Bookhout fishing less than a mile due north of the city. It only took her about two hours to land (it was her first time out so she lost some) her limit of salmon: kings weighing 10 and 23 pounds, and a 12-pound coho; all of ‘em on a fly dragged behind an echip flasher.

Out in the lake, action like this is expected this time of year; and lots of guys plan their vacations accordingly. So this kind of excitement, within easy sight of the big city, is typical and loads of fun.

The Salmon River is a different story. Normally, only small groups of kings climb the stream in August;  usually on reconnaissance runs up to the Black Hole, sometimes a little further, with the majority falling back to regroup and join the major runs of mid- to late September.

This year kings began trickling in by the first of August, running the entire stream. The second week saw noteworthy runs.  And they haven’t stopped coming.

Fran Verdoliva, the state’s program coordinator for the Salmon River, says these are all wild fish, surmising that naturally bred kings run earlier than hatchery fish.

Captain Rick Miick concurs. “In the past, fish that ran this early would come in and out. This time they’re spawning and dying.”

September 1st saw lines of anglers at all the popular spots in Pulaski. Anglers interviewed for this blog claimed the fish upstream were all taken and a new run was shooting through town that morning.

The fish being hauled up the bank were all silvery, indicating they were fresh-run.

“These salmon are at their peak,” claimed an unidentified angler. “Unlike hatchery-bred fish, they’re super aggressive, avoid man…and fight!!!

 “With all these wild fish around, it’s like mother nature giving us another month of salmon in the river,” adds the New Jersey native.  “I can’t wait to see what she’s got in store for us when the browns and steelies start running.”

This season promises to be another for the record books; Oswego County’s getting good at doing that.
Captain Dick adjusting the drag during the fight.

Pay-off for two hours of trolling.

 Boats trolling for kings less than a mile off Nine-mile Point.

Stairway to Home.

Viewing platform on Maple Ave., Pulaski.

Discussing theory.

Hey buddy, give me a hand.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Training Gold

By Spider Rybaak

Gary and Kelsey.

Gary Fischer has been hunting birds for over 60 years. He’s been training dogs to retrieve for that long, too. He learned both from a beagle.

“When I was growing up,” explains the Central Square native, “I loved to hunt. But I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t know much about dogs, either. One day my beagle follows me into the field…and he knew a lot about both.”

Since then, Gary’s trained five golden retrievers, two Brittany spaniels and two pointers. As you can probably tell, he doesn’t do it professionally. Rather, he takes the family pet out, and, with a patience that would make Mother Teresa proud, teaches the pooch everything it needs to know to be his most valuable hunting asset…after his gun, of course.

“You have to start ‘em out immediately,” says Fischer. “In fact, breeders start the first step in the process, called socializing, by exposing the dog to people and different situations like playing with balls, chasing sticks and stuff.”

According to Fischer, the best time to pick up the puppy is when it’s about 7 to 8 weeks old. After you get to know and trust each other, you start training.

Fischer advises you field train 5 times a week—“don’t let the dog get bored”—and “obedience train” every day for about 10 minutes. “Repetition…repetition…repetition…,” he adds.

Fischer’s latest trainee is nine-month-old Kelsey. A golden retriever, she’s been studying under the master for about six months. Typically, class starts out in the fields on the north shore of Oneida Lake, followed by a little water work in an adjoining swamp.

On the day we go, Gary’s doing remedial work; something he calls breaking her to the shot.

“She’s not holding when the gun goes off or when she sees the game,” says Fisher.  “When a pheasant flushes or a duck flies into range, you want the dog to stay put, giving you a clear shot. If she jumps into the picture prematurely, she can get shot, scare off a second bird…a lot can happen. Secondly, you want the dog to stay put so it can see everything that’s happening,” he adds.

Arriving at the field, Kelsey’s anticipating everything, proving dogs have imagination. As Gary’s showing me how to insert the dummy onto the barrel of the launcher (it’s attached to a cylinder that fires a blank 22 cartridge; gas propels the dummy), Kelsey practically knocks me down trying to get at the thing. As they head out into the bush, she’s jumping at his every move, even before he gives me the hand signal to launch.

His first sign is for me to fire a simple blank.

Hearing the report, Kelsey tugs at the leash, trying to jump at her imaginary bird. Gary keeps her put.

Next, he signals me to launch a dummy.

This time Kelsey is surprisingly calm.  Gary issues gentle commands for her to hold and she stays put. When he says “out,” she takes off like someone fired a rocket under her butt and heads right for the spot in the grass where the dummy hit, mouths it and returns to her master.

After several more practice runs in the field, we head for a swamp. I launch 4 dummies and Kelsey retrieves each one immediately upon command. Surprisingly, I feel proud of her—so does Gary.

“OK, Spider, she can hunt. Let’s call it quits.”

We head back for the truck; each of us salivating over the thought of duck season being just around the corner.

Fischer offers the following advice:

 Any good working retriever can make a great family dog; most family dogs will not make good hunting dogs.

If you’re thinking of getting a pup, get it from a breeder with proven credentials like hunt test titles and field trial points. Mexico, NY’s Adirondac Goldens (, has a national reputation for breeding truly great dogs.

For additional information, check out the Finger Lakes Retriever Club ( and The Golden Retriever Club of Central New York (

Good places to train your dog in Oswego County include:

Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area, Toad Harbor Road (off NY 49), West Monroe;
Happy Valley WMA, NY 104 (between CR 22 and NY 13), Town of Parish;
Deer Creek WMA, NY 3, two miles north of Port Ontario.

Oswego County’s Fishing and Hunting Guide contains a map showing the locations of these and several more state forests and WMAs:

Fischer loading a dummy on the launcher.

Kelsey locating the dummy.

Delivering the dummy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Time… and the Fishin’s Easy

By Spider Rybaak  

Father and son posing with a 23-inch walleye taken at Cleveland Docks on Sunday night.

A good ol’ algae bloom blossomed over Oneida Lake the last week of July. Common in the 1950s and 60s, the event spread an undulating carpet of thick green slime over much of the lake’s surface, triggering deep anxiety among worrywarts. When the ultimate die-off occurred in the first week of this month, turning the water a chalky color, and planting a stench riding its waves, the authorities closed popular beaches temporarily.  

Fatalists began gnashing their teeth and pulling the hair out of their heads; convinced global warming had finally reached the breaking point…Oneida Lake was Ground Zero…We were doomed.

But they were disappointed. You see, the bloom and gloom came and went and the water’s as clear and the fishing’s as good--some say even better--as before the event.

Last weekend was the first to be free of the condition, drawing the masses to Oswego County’s territorial waters of Oneida Lake.

Brewerton looked like a roving boat show. A steady stream of watercraft of every size and description ran the river in both directions. Every inch of the municipal dock was occupied and as soon as a space opened up, a vessel was maneuvering into the spot.

Some bank anglers jockeyed for casting positions on the dock. The bite was typical for this time of year; slow but productive, for those that kept pluggin’, anyway. However, even those who weren’t getting communications from the deep telegraphed to their rod tips were happily catching rays and enjoying the sights and sounds of the Oneida River slicing through the countryside.

Still, the majority avoided the congestion and simply fished at the access sites on both sides of the I-81 Bridge.  Most everyone reported catching something, mostly sheepshead, pickerel, bass and panfish.

In the background, guys fishing the river from boats were realizing decent results. Bucketmouths and pickerel were cooperative in the shallow bays on both sides of I-81; smallies and northerns were hitting on the river channel’s drop-offs. 

Most believe walleyes don’t hit in August, reasoning the lake is full of food and the pike suspend, feeding on minnows that are constantly swimming by.

The rest of us keep our mouths shut and jig for them in relatively deep water like the channel below I-81 and Cleveland Docks. Walleyes are naturally drawn to current, and both spots have it. You have to fish early and late, when boat traffic is at its slowest.

Then there’s Caughdenoy. The Oswego side is wide open, offering great access above and below the dam. The plunge pool always has sheepshead, catfish, smallmouth bass and panfish, and walleyes move in at night. The quiet water on top has monster cats, sheepshead, northern pike, bucketmouths and smallies, and panfish.

Summer’s winding down and the fishing is only going to get better from here on in. But if you wait, you’ll blow the last vestiges of long, lazy days fanned by pleasant breezes. You might not see catfish jumping but you should be able to catch a few.

The lake's water was chalky in the beginning of August.

Caughdenoy on Sunday afternoon.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Between a Muskrat and a Toad

By Spider Rybaak

Bucketmouth taken on a spinnerbait on the shoals due north of Oneida Shores County Park
I’ve found myself between a rock and a hard place many times.  I’ve flown in planes and fallen in love, so I’ve been between heaven and earth, too. But yesterday’s fishing trip with Ray Chittenden was a first:  between a toad and a muskrat. 

Literally. You see, we went to Oneida Lake and concentrated on the fish-rich waters between Muskrat Bay and Toad Harbor.

While other parts of the lake may harbor the lion’s share of walleyes right now, few can compare with the massive quantities of various fish species found in this magical piece of Oswego County’s territorial waters.

What makes it so productive is its wealth of structure and habitat. Windfalls, reeds and docks line the south shore, while marsh and forest, watered by creeks and springs, cling to the north side’s wildlife management areas. Off to the west, I-81 provides riprap and bridge abutments. And down the middle of it all, flanked by fishy drop-offs, runs the main channel’s deep currents.

And Ray knew how to milk it for everything it had…except walleyes. 

Our first fish is a rock bass weighing at least half a pound. A pickerel comes aboard shortly afterwards, followed by a monster pumpkinseed; all in the first half hour.  

Searching for Mr. Walleye, we move east, into deeper water. Ray puts away the worms and starts casting. His efforts pay off with a three- pound bronzeback taken on a YUM Walleye Grub dragged on bottom along the drop-off west of Buoy 136, and a two-pounder that took a Berkley Power Teaser tipped with a Honey Worm and worked around Buoy 137. 

“OK,” he says, “We got enough smallmouths, let’s go for a  bucketmouth,” and aims the boat for the weed bed due north of Oneida Shores County Park boat launch. As soon as his spinnerbait touches the water, a largemouth of about two pounds nails it.

“We’re on a roll,” he boasts, and suggests we try for some panfish. 

We drift along Muskrat Bay’s shoreline, past residences ranging from simple cottages to palatial homes fit for a bank executive. Six perch and a blue gill later, our time running out (I only had four hours to fish) Ray asks “do you want to give walleyes another shot?”

You bet’cha!”I answer.

We head back for buoy 136 and start drifting. I’m jigging a Sonar; Ray’s working bottom with a worm on a spinner harness. The wind blows us toward the river.

A few minutes later he’s into another fish, a legal bucketmouth. 

While anglers just about everywhere are complaining about the summer blues, smart pluggers are enjoying great fishing on the west end of Oneida Lake. 

Come on over and give it a try.

 Ray with a nice smallie taken on a YUM Walleye Grub.

Monster pumpkinseed's like the waters between Muskrat Bay and Toad Harbor, too.

Bass pros scouting the west end of Oneida Lake

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kings are back in Town

By Spider Rybaak

First mate Kevin holding Chad's brown.

            Good buddy Dick Stanton called Sunday night.

            “Hey Spider…The kings are back in town. I’m heading out tomorrow with some close friends.  You’re welcome to come along.”

            “Is Kevin first mating?” I asked.

            “Are you kiddin’??? “ he asked rhetorically with such emotion I could hear his eyebrows rising in disbelief.

            “He’s the best,” claimed Dick. “I don’t even think about other first mates when he’s around.”

            Well, I’m not one to refuse a seat on a charter boat, especially when Big Dick’s in charge and Kevin Rodrigues (the Portuguese spelling, I’m informed) is playing second fiddle.

            “I’ll see ya at the dock at 6 a.m.,” I promised.

            Dead calm sat on the lake, squeezing its surface into a mirror finish. A light fog frosted its edges.

            Kevin starts setting lines after we clear the breakwalls at the mouth of the river.  Less than a half-mile out, he’s busy letting out the third rig when a 4-pound brown devours the Sigg’s Rigs fly. Ron Marlett , a retired NYS Trooper, tells his grandson to grab the line.

            Moving with speed I can only dream about, 16-year-old Chad Tyson is reeling the brute in. A few minutes later, we’re all high-fiving the youngster.

            Kevin no sooner gets the line down again when another fish hits, prompting the good captain to suggest, with the calm of a seasoned pro, “Someone ought’a grab that rod.”

            In a blur, Chad’s up there again. Heck, I didn’t even have time to turn my neck to see which rod it was.

            This is a much bigger fish. After battling for about 10 minutes, a 16-pound king is in the boat.

            “When do these fish start converging on the waters off Oswego,” I ask Capt. Dick after everything settles down.

            They start showing up in June and their numbers grow steadily through September, when the biggest show up. Still, even now you can easily get kings weighing 20 to 30 pounds,” he says.

            As if on cue, another rod trips with such ferocity I swear the boat went backwards for a split second. The fish hit the copper line which was out over 100 yards. I knew it would be tough bringing this one in, so I decided to go to the head.

            George Panarites, another old friend of Dick's, passes too.

            Fortunately, we had Chad aboard to do the heavy work. What a sport, I thought, as he took the rod.

            Fifteen minutes later, Kevin lands the 23-pound king. Everyone but Chad is panting after the battle. The youngster just wants another one.

            A short time later, George notices one of the outside rods acting funny and decides to bring it in. A keeper lake trout is on the other end. “Ah, a nice griller,” he remarks, contentedly.

            This kind of action is average from now until the leaves start turning. If Capt. Dick (315-246-4767; is booked when you wanna go out, he’ll be able to refer you to someone almost as competent. If you’d rather do it yourself, check out the list of charter captains on Oswego County’s website;

Chad battling a big king while grandpa Ron offers encouragement.

Kevin netting the prize.

Chad with his biggest king.

George with a griller.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Whitewater Summer

By  Spider Rybaak

Photos by Susan Rybaak

A family of tubers floating through the Trestle Pool.

A web of exciting whitewater slices through Central New York. Unfortunately, much of it is too dangerous (Black River), shallow (Scriba Creek) or short (the rapids at Caughdenoy) for most of us to play in. The Salmon River, on the other hand, is just right.

Running for roughly 13 miles, from the spillway at Lighthouse Hill Reservoir to its mouth, this world-famous trout and salmon stream’s base flow is kept at 185 cubic feet per second year-round. That’s the minimum required to keep its rapids at the right speed and level to maintain the sensitive habitats that mature salmon and trout need to spawn; and their offspring require to carry them through their first few months of life and their trek to Lake Ontario.

Serious whitewater enthusiasts rank the Salmon River as a pitiful Class II, about as exciting as spit in the bucket.  But for average folks, its pleasant, safe pace allows for leisurely floats in tubes, kayaks and canoes, down playful rapids lined in riverbanks teeming with colorful plants and wildlife, all under the graceful flight of bald eagles to ospreys.

Still, even the meekest among us harbor fantasies of risky adventures some of the time. Several years ago the authorities, after gentle coaxing by whitewater interests, decided it wouldn’t hurt to shift the  Salmon River ‘s thrill level higher periodically and decreed that the power company release additional water five weekends each summer for recreational purposes.

The second of this season’s flow increases took place 4th of July weekend and legions of folks took to the rapids in everything from tubes to over-sized rubber duckies to indulge in some bubbly. About the only complaint competing with the laughter wafting over the whitewater was that the water didn’t stay up a little longer.

Good news. This year ain’t typical, and when the screws were tightened on the water gates, the rapids didn’t slow down a bit. The above average rainfall pouring over the region since the beginning of summer hasn’t drained off the countryside yet; and at this writing the level is at 650 cfs, well above the normal for this time of the year. Considering the size of the river’s drainage, it’ll take all of a week, maybe longer, for the flow to resume its typical summer level.

While the thought of a stream flowing so high above average is enough to send the fear of rapids coursing through your veins, it’s really not that bad in a shallow stream like the Salmon River.

That doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind and jump in carelessly.

 What it does mean is you can enjoy a long, comfortable, relatively safe float down whitewater averaging 70 degrees. But you gotta play smart. Here’s some tips to keep you safe:

- Always wear a life jacket.
- If you go by tube or air mattress, make sure it’s big enough to float your body weight.
- If you get thrown into the fast water out in the middle, don’t try to stand; you might get your feet wedged between rocks and the force of the rapids can submerge you. Float on your back, feet first, until you come to a slow moving shallow area before trying to walk out.

If you go by canoe or kayak, bring along a fishing outfit. Atlantic salmon and Skamania—summer-running steelhead--are drawn into the stream by high water. They’re in top shape this time of year, guaranteeing you a run for the money.

If the water goes down before you can make it, no sweat: additional whitewater releases are scheduled for the weekends of July 20-21, August 4-5 and August 31-September 1.

Launches and take-outs with parking areas line the river. Some of the most popular include:

- CR 52 Bridge in Altmar
- Sheepskin Road, about 100 yards east of its intersection with CR 48, Pineville.
- Northeastern corner of the CR 2A Bridge, about a mile east of Pulaski.

Enjoy…and stay safe.

Spider casting  a streamer for Atlantic salmon as kayakers watch.

The river's at the perfect height, the weather's just right,
for a float trip.

Fishy encounter: Kayak angler and Spey-caster at the Trestle pool.