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.