Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Oneida Lake’s Mixed Bags of May

By Spider Rybaak
Mark Yarema with the day's first pike.

Mike Yarema loves to fish for walleyes. He especially likes targeting them with jigs in relatively deep water. For the longest time, his biggest gripe was finding jigs that could stand up to the pressure.

His search for high quality bucktails that could survive a hard day in his hands on Oneida Lake, his favorite spot, led him nowhere. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he lost a few every now and then and had to replace them.

“You don’t lose jigs too often on Oneida,” he complains. “So at day’s end, a typical jig ends up with paint chipped off its head, even losing its hair.”

So what does he do? He starts making his own.

I met Mike last January while working on the last pages of my next book “Fishing Oneida Lake,” (Burford Press), due for publication early next year.  I still had a couple sections that needed tweaking, and the man’s knowledge of Oneida Lake pike and their habits proved extremely helpful. I took a couple of his jigs and planned on using them this spring.

Well, I forgot about them and fished the currents at the mouths of my favorite Oneida Lake tributaries on opening day with my usual curly-tail grubs and crankbaits. I did pretty good, catching my limit in the first couple of hours.

Surfing the web on the following Monday, I came across Dave Figura’s article on the results of the 36th Annual Cicero-Mattydale Lions Club Walleye Tournament on Oneida Lake on opening weekend. I read the results and learned 13-year-old Hunter Garrimone won the day with a 26 3/8 inch, 6 pound 7 ounce “eye” he nailed on an i1 Bait jig.

That’s Mike Yarema’s brand, I thought

Sure was. Mike calls me a little while later to tell me the story, ending the conversation by inviting me to go fishing with him.

At 5:30 Thursday morning, May 15, we headed out of Oneida Shores and hit the flats west of Frenchman Island.  The wind was blowing us steadily west as we began our drift. Me, Mike and his budy Mark Shea start throwing i1 Bait 5/8 ounce jigs in black and purple, working them slowly on bottom in 17 feet of water.

Mike nails a 20 incher on his third cast. Mark lands one a few casts later. About 15  minutes later it’s my turn to put one in the boat. Five minutes after that, I catch another.

Then the pike shut down.

We switched to blade baits and everyone started catching small perch. A couple hours of runt perch later, the pike turn on again and we all catch our limits.

We decide to try our luck on crappies and move to Big Bay. Everyone ties on a tiny jig. Mike and Mark tip theirs with spikes; I tip my Berkley Atomic Teaser with a red Honey worm.

Mike and Mark start the ball rolling with monster sunfish. I finally catch a big bluegill, followed by a bucketmouth.  Some crappies came around and we caught 8.

By 10:30 a.m, live well teaming with fish, we decide to head for home.

On the way back, I look at the i1 Bait jig Mike gave me and it’s as good as new. No chips on the finish, not a hair out of place. Even the steel leader attaching the stinger to the jighead are still in line.

i1 Bait jigs are made in Phoenix, NY specifically for Oneida Lake walleye, and are built tough to withstand the lake’s two biggest jig mutilators:  rocks and pike teeth. They cost a little more but they’re worth the added expense.

Check them out at www.i1baits.com.

Mark with a crappie

Mike unhooking another one

Mark Shea's first walleye of the day

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Kids Fishing Classes

By Spider Rybaak

Marshall, an associate of McGrath's, holding a Lake Neatahwanta catfish as his student looks on.
New York is etched in a fabulous web of fishing hot spots. But even fantasies have highlights, and the most exciting fishing destination in the Empire State is Oswego County.

Not just for trophy seekers, either. Granted, catching a walleye or brown trout big enough to hang on the wall is a common goal; but it’s at the end of the line, one of the final tests of an angler’s skills. 

And expert anglers don’t just appear out of nowhere -- It takes years of patience and practice, even apprenticeship, to fully develop fishing skills. And although some learn the game as adults, most trace their interest back to when they were kids.

Mike McGrath is a good example. Packing almost two generations of angling expertise, the man is savvy in all things fishy: from tying flies and fly-fishing for trout, salmon, northern pike and black bass, to trolling for muskies, jigging for walleye and bottom fishing for monster catfish.

With all that knowledge under his cap, you’d expect to find him chiseling out a name for himself on the marble column of the world’s greatest anglers; or at least living high on the hog competing in the tournament circuit.

But that’ll probably never happen. You see, this mild mannered Central New Yorker is a husband and father.  And like the countless other unsung heroes throughout history, McGrath couldn’t live with himself without donating part of his life to giving back. He does it by instructing someone else’s kids in the secrets of carp fishing.

McGrath’s choice of the species is simple. He knows that youngsters have short attention spans. Although catching panfish is fun, the thrill is often fleeting. On the other hand, when children catch carp, the experience is so intense it’s burned into their fondest memories, often hopelessly hooking them for life to the character-building sport of angling.

Watching the master spin his magic, observers often ask: “But why carp?”

When you get to know him, the answer becomes clear: McGrath is a man of the times. An unabashed internationalist, he specializes in this fresh water behemoth because of its worldwide appeal; it’s the most popularly sought fish in the Old Country. (The fact that the Oswego River drainage boasts one of America’s greatest populations of huge carp doesn’t hurt, either.)

Having served apprenticeships under European and Asian masters, Mike knows his game. Like a turkey hunter, he draws his quarry in close. Instead of calling the fish vocally (he has trouble vocalizing the gurgles and grunts of carp speak), he lures them in with his “10 pack,” a gob of grain bound by sticky stuff like bismuth that he “packs” into clumps the size of softballs and heaves into the water. As the pack slowly dissolves, its flavors are released, drawing carp and catfish into the area.

He’s good enough at it to turn a profit running McGrath & Associates Carp Angling Services. But he always makes time to teach, and pairs up with this writer regularly to offer free classes on local waters.

To see how McGrath does it, or to learn how to fish with worms or lures in my section, you are invited to attend one of our classes. See the schedule below:

May 10:  Oneida Lake Hatchery, NYS Rte. 49, Constantia; 
11 a.m.-1 p.m.

May 17:  Lake Neatahwanta, NYS Rte. 3, Fulton; 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

June 14:  Lake Neatahwanta, NYS Rte. 3, Fulton; 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

June 28:  Oneida Lake Hatchery, State Rte. 49, Constantia; 
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

July 12:  Lake Neatahwanta, NYS Rte. 3, Fulton; 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

July 19.   May’s Point Fishing Access Site, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, NYS Rte. 89;  11 a.m. -1 p.m.

August 9:  Lake Neatahwanta, NYS Rte. 3, Fulton; 
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

August 16:  Great Swamp Conservancy, 8375 North Main Street, Canastota; 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

September 6: Lake Neatahwanta, NYS Rte. 3, Fulton; 
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

October 18:  Lake Neatahwanta, NYS Rte. 3, Fulton; 
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mom and daughter admiring the child's first fish, caught during Spider's section of a kids fishing class on Lake Neatahwanta.

Mike McGrath unhooking an average-size Lake Neatahwanta carp.

Typical fishing class conducted by McGrath and Spider.