Thursday, June 19, 2014

Salmon River’s Hidden Gem

By Spider Rybaak

Capt. Rick with an average-size Salmon River Reservoir smallie
Separated from the Adirondack Mountains by the Black River Valley, the Tug Hill Plateau rises some 2,000 feet above sea level on its east side, and slides west, dropping to about 300 feet above sea level by the time it reaches the northeastern corner of Oswego County. Its harsh winter temperatures and proximity to Lake Ontario create lake effect snow, draping the area in 6 feet of powder during mild winters, piling more than 10 feet most of the rest of the time. Wikipedia reports the village of Redfield got buried under 141 inches of snow in a little over a week, February 3 -12, 2007.

All that water’s got to go somewhere. Some tumbles down the east slope into the Black River. A little even reaches as far down as Oneida Lake. But the greatest volume squeezes into countless streams and cuts a southwesterly course through “the Hill,” ending up in the Salmon River Reservoir, where the raging rapids are reined in, forming a peaceful body of water punctuated by numerous forested islands.

And it’s loaded with fish. Professional guide Rick Miick proved it to me a couple days ago.

Last Sunday he called to ask: “Spider, wanna go fishin’ with me and Stan in the Upper Reservoir for walleye tomorrow morning?”

“You bet’cha. What time?”

“Six a.m.,” he answered. “Meet us at the Jackson Road Fishing Access Site.”

We shoved off on time. Someone had stolen the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s nice aluminum dock, so I had to hold the boat in about two feet of water while Rick parked the rig. Then we had to get into the boat the old way: climb.  I almost made it the first try. But my old bones played a trick on me and the next thing I knew I fell backwards into the drink. The water woke me up quick and I was out before I could get totally soaked. Still, my back side dripped all morning.

We started by drifting around a few small islands near the launch, jigging bottom in 10 to 15 feet of water.

We didn’t get any walleyes, but some spunky smallies and rock bass kept us whooping and hollering.

Around 11 a.m., we figured we’d try the larger islands. When we reached the 50-foot depths off Huckleberry Island, numerous rings began appearing on the surface ahead of us. Rick slows the boat down a little to see what’s going on and we find ourselves smack in the middle of a feeding frenzy. Small fish are splashing carelessly like fingerlings in a hatchery at feeding time; but a good number are just kissing the surface like big fish do.

I surmise they’re walleyes chasing minnows. Rick thinks they’re trout. Stan doesn’t care what they are…he just wants to catch some.

I begin throwing a Berkley Atomic Teaser.  Rick starts casting a minnowbait. Stan’s drifting a worm below a bobber. The warm spring day is partly cloudy, wind’s low…life is good.

We spend the next two hours casting hard baits onto a gently chopping surface sprinkled with rising fish. We catch and release roughly 20 cookie-cutter smallies averaging 13 inches each.

Neither of us has ever seen anything like it before. Oh sure, we’ve had our thrills watching trout feeding during hatches; and schools of bass and walleye corralling and picking off bait; but never over such deep water, in such quantities for so long.

Rick tells me the place is loaded with walleyes and trout. Past experience has taught me it’s thick with rock bass and crappies. Now I know it’s loaded with smallies, too.

Also called the Upper Reservoir, the place has two DEC bank fishing access sites on Cty. Rte. 17 on the south side of Redfield. Bank fishing access is available off C.C.C. Drive. A site on Camp Road is suitable for launching car top craft, and the Jackson Road access site boasts a paved ramp and parking for about 20 rigs.

Captain Rick Miick can be contacted at 315-387-5920;

Camping for up to 3 days, for groups numbering less than 10, is generally permitted in state forests without a permit. For camping regulations, go to and type in camping on state land in the search bar.
If you like the comfort of light switches, hot and cold running water and flush toilets, try Stan’s Deer Creek Motel on State Route 3; 315-298-3730.

Stan with a nice rock bass he named Balboa

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