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.