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.