Monday, November 9, 2015

Lake Neahtawanta: Best Kept Fishing Secret in Oswego County

By Spider Rybaak

The Pier at Lake Neatahwantha is a great place to teach kids to fish.
Covering roughly 750 acres on Fulton’s west side, skirted along its north bank by NY 3, Lake Neahtawanta affords easy access to the city’s 11,800-something residents.  Yet this huge pond on the edge of town doesn’t see many people at all.

You can blame its lack of fame on the Oswego River, the state’s second largest stream. Running through the heart of the city, boasting two sets of fish-rich rapids and a long stretch of canal, all lined with hundreds of yards of easy access, the river draws a lot of fishing pressure.

Natives don’t mind, however. Not because they’re altruistic and want to share their bounty; but because they have a plan B: Lake Neahtawanta.

Iroquois for “little lake near the big lake,” Lake Neahtawanta averages 6 feet deep and drops to a maximum depth of 12 feet. Roughly 75 percent of its shoreline is wooded, but its northeastern corner is wide open and public, offering loads of access on manicured lawns.

Savvy natives fish the place from the bank and boats. If you ask them how the fish are hitting, most remain calm, just shrug, and confess to catching some white perch, maybe a bullhead or carp. Not exactly something worth writing home to mom about.

That’s about all the attention most anglers give the place. And that’s a terrible shame.

Hailing from the south shore of Oneida Lake, I have all the dynamite fishing I want close to home and never found a good reason to fish this lake until 2010. That’s when Mike McGrath, my partner in a kids fishing program, suggested we do a couple sessions at Lake Neahtawanta. He took me up there and introduced me to the place.

The fishing was good. We added the spot to our list and have been staging a couple kids fishing classes there every year since.

Warm weather angling for white perch, bullhead and sunnies is popular from Bullhead Point Park. A pier stretches out for nearly 100 feet, and is favored by anglers who wish to fish in relatively deep water. The rough shoreline along the parking lot, and the manicured lawn that wraps around the northeastern corner for several hundred yards, are popular with folks who just want to kick back and relax while watching their rod tips for communications from the deep.

A few northerns and largemouth bass are also present, keeping things interesting. In fact, a local I know claims everything you find in the Oswego River, including unusual species like bowfin and gar, thrive in these waters.

Perhaps Neahtawanta’s greatest claim to fame is ice fishing.  In fact, its hard-water bite for crappies and panfish is legendary, drawing more anglers onto the ice than spring through fall.

While it’s possible to launch car-top craft from Bullhead Point, a more suitable spot is North Bay Campground. Located a couple hundred yards west of the point, at the end of Phillips Street, it offers a hard surface ramp. In addition, it has 36 seasonal sites and 42 day sites--each with easy access to the water--a camp store, a hard surface launch, a beach, bathhouse with showers, and a playground.

White perch are the lake's most cooperative fish.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Central NY’s Best Surf Fishing

By Spider Rybaak

Surf Fishing

Most folks think surf fishing is only productive off the beaches of big waters like the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. However, big lakes will do when oceans are few; and Oneida Lake ranks right up there with the best of 'em.

But there's a catch: beach fishing on New York's biggest lake is only productive in spring and fall when in-shore water temperatures range from the upper 50s to the lower 70s, drawing massive schools of minnows, with walleyes hot on their tails.

If you're like most guys, carrying a thermometer to check water temperatures isn't up your alley; you go by intuition instead. Die-hards wade for pike as early as late August and continue through November. Your average Oneida Lake surfer, on the other hand, hits the waves during their most productive time: mid-October through mid-November.

Don't confuse bank fishing with surf fishing. When you fish from shore, you're firmly on solid ground; whereas surf fishing leaves you standing in water up to your thighs or even higher with nothing but determination supporting you in the wind and waves.

But the rewards are great. Walleyes love the surf. That's because minnows in water that's only 2 to 5 feet deep have less room to escape than those in deeper water.

Best of all, fishing for walleyes in the shallows is very sensual. They often break the surface while chasing their prey, and while fighting to get off the hook.

The best way to fish the surf is with minnow-imitating crankbaits like Rapalas and Storm Thundersticks. While many believe rattling baits generally draw more strikes when the fish are aggressive, others say silent bait works all the time, even on moon-lit nights when the walleyes are skittish.

Toad Harbor Wildlife Management Area's Phillips Point (from NY49 in West Monroe, take Toad Harbor Road to McCloud Road) is the most popular spot to wade because it's remote and easily accessible from a public road.

There are other good spots, too; the shelf along the metal breakwater on the northeastern corner of the I-81 Bridge, for instance; and the rocky point reaching south from the Cleveland Docks Public Fishing Access Site off NY 49 in Cleveland.

Sunset: Best Time for Walleyes

Mixed Bag of Anglers in the Surf

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Salmon at the Gate

By Spider Rybaak

Stairway to Salmon Heaven.

Early birds have been complaining the kings and cohos are running late this year. But as anyone with a little knowledge about the species can tell ya, they gotta run sometime; and that sometime is soon.

Last Saturday sparked a few into moving. Not massive numbers, mind you, just enough to keep things interesting. In Altmar, visitors attending the hatchery’s annual open house were treated to a steady stream of cohoes and a smattering of kings climbing the fish ladder all day long.

Downstream, cohoes were porpoising all along the river, challenging anglers to come and get ‘em. Those who were savvy in bait presentation, and knew how to handle a rod connected to an angry salmon, caught their limits.

Rob, over at Fat Nancy’s, says guides are reporting the mouth of the Salmon River is loaded with fish.
Rick Miick, owner of Dream Catcher Charters and Guide Service (315-387-5920) agrees. “I was out last Sunday night and the place was loaded with fish. The mother lode of kings is 50 feet deep, about a mile straight out in front of the mouth,” he adds.

“The cold temperatures and rain the weatherman predicts for this week are bound to drive them upstream,” predicts Miick.”

Once the ball gets rolling, salmon will continue running heavy all of October, slowly petering out by mid- November, just in time to make room for the steelhead that’ll be lured upstream in search of salmon eggs swept from the spawning beds by the current.

Presently, Beaverdam Brook in Altmar is swollen with salmon making their way to the hatchery.

Visitors to the facility, located on CR 22, can expect to see cohoes averaging 8 pounds and kings weighing up to 40-something pounds climbing the fish ladder all day long.

While loads of salmon are already milling around the gate waiting to be admitted into the hatchery, the vast majority is still too green to be stripped of spawn. Hatchery personnel are expected to start collecting and mixing the ingredients around Columbus Day.

The public is invited to watch. Call the hatchery (315-298-5051) for details.

At the last rung.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Kings are Back in Town

By Spider Rybaak

At the west Dam in Oswego.

Boasting one of the most popular campuses in the State University of New York system, Oswego sees its share of out-of-towners. But the return of students in late summer isn’t this port city’s only surge of visitors. A river slices through the heart of town and when the salmon run its rapids this time each year, the license plates in the parking lots on both banks hail from all over the country.

The first fish trickle into the inviting current as early as late August. They don’t all come at once, but stagger their return: one here, a couple there, a dozen up the middle. A few today, more tomorrow, none the third day, and so many on the fourth day the river seems to push upstream.

Typically, late September sees the migration accelerate. Conditions are never exactly the same from year to year so there’s no sure-fire formula for when great quantities of fish will be there. The only thing that’s certain is that the fish will come…and anglers will follow hot on their tails.

One magical morning--sometimes as early as the second week of the month, other years not until the beginning of October--so many fish ascend the fast water, colorful locals swear the river rises a foot or more. Guys who wade the river encounter so many fish they have to dodge ‘em or risk being knocked over.
Last week saw groups of fish ranging from a dozen to a couple hundred running the rapids each day.
By Sept. 17, word got out and anglers punctuated the rapids like waving, multi-colored ribbons. Saturday saw massive numbers of anglers weaving through the fast water, many tugging straining stringers attached to salmon averaging 20 pounds.

The action petered out by Sunday, but enough fish kept climbing upstream to keep patient anglers plugging away at them all day long.

Ritch, an employee over at the west bank’s Larry’s Salmon Shop, claims “salmon are stacked up in the pools below the dam.”
“As a matter of fact, we get a good morning-bite right behind the bait shop,” he adds.

Salmon numbers will increase in the river steadily until the end of the month, when they’ll stabilize, offering  action bordering on fantasy through the month of October.
Football-sized browns will join them next month, offering world class trophy fishing for this popular species until December. They’ll be followed in mid-October by large quantities of bragging-sized steelhead which will continuously run upstream until early spring.

From the looks of the run so far, the bubbly in the city of Oswego will host another bumper crop of salmonid this season.

Come on up and cast some flies or egg sacs at this big water’s monster trout and salmon. The only thing that’s certain is your arms will get tired. You'll have a better than even chance of hooking the fish of your dreams; a thrill that’ll turn your aches into bragging rights.

Off the wall. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lighthouse Hill Reservoir

By Spider Rybaak

Sign at the parking site on CR 22.
Cool September nights are starting to spur salmon into spawning mode. As of Monday, 9/14/2015 a few fish are trickling into the Salmon River, but “nothing too exciting yet!” according to an angler throwing streamers last weekend in the rapids upstream of the US 11 bridge in Pulaski.

From the looks of it, the run will follow the usual pattern: A few fish here and there up through this week, followed by major runs from next week through October, and then slowly petering out, all but disappearing from the stream by mid-November.

If you decide to head up this week and good numbers of fish aren’t in yet, a good alternative is to hit the Lower Reservoir for rainbows and browns. Also known as Lighthouse Hill Reservoir, this 164 acre impoundment is stocked annually with 4,000 yearling rainbows running 8 to 9 inches, and offers naturally spawned browns up to 5 pounds, and holdover rainbows averaging 2 pounds.

Summer sees the fish move to the 50-foot depths out in the middle where they’re pretty much ignored by anglers because the impoundment’s small size makes trolling for them hard work…and relatively boring. Still, the water filling the reservoir is drawn from the cool depths of the upper reservoir. Carried down the hill by a huge pipe, it’s protected from the sun and remains cool all the way to the powerhouse at Bennett Bridge.

September’s longer nights conspire with the flow released by the powerhouse to lower water temperatures enough to draw trout into shallow water. By the middle of the month, the fish move in close enough, especially at dawn and dusk, to be within range of guys casting spoons and spinners from shore.

The hottest action is at the reservoir’s tailrace where the cool, highly oxygenated rapids run at the perfect temperature and pace for trout. A good way to target them is by casting streamers across the current and letting them swing downstream. The fish usually strike when the fly hits the edge of the fast water and straightens out. Hold on tight because the strike is always violent, leading to the phrase: “the drug is in the tug.

Spinners and spoons cast upstream and across the current produce, too; and worms fished on bottom along the currents edge work after a rain.

Getting to the fish is easy, too. A fishing access site, complete with parking for about 10 cars, sits right off CR 22, between the bridges--one goes over the tailrace, the other over what’s left of the original Salmon River. Another access site is off Hog Back Road, on the east bank. The state’s regular trout regulations govern the water above the reservoir’s dam.


Tailrace Point powerhouse discharge on the left

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fishing in Fulton

By Spider Rybaak

Fishing lesson below Lock #3.

Oswego means different things to different folks. To most, it’s simply the county hugging Lake Ontario’s southeastern corner. History buffs recognize it as Lake Ontario’s oldest port city. And academics think of its SUNY campus, one of the state’s greatest teachers colleges.

Anglers, on the other hand, appreciate Oswego for its original Indian meaning: mouth of the river. From October through March, they’re drawn to the city with dreams of catching trophy trout and salmon the size of the ones swimming through their imaginations.

Unfortunately, chinooks and browns won’t be in the city’s fast waters until next month.

But that’s OK. You see, the remaining 22 miles of river, stretching from Three Rivers to the top of its last dam, is the haunt of massive quantities of popular warmwater game fish like walleyes, northern pike and black bass, and lesser species like sheepshead, catfish, carp, panfish, bowfin, gar, you name it.

What’s more, much of the river’s most productive water is accessible to the public and easy to reach. You see, the water’s natural course is fairly steep, and it tumbles over some serious drops in places like Phoenix and Fulton.

The rapids were tamed by locks and dams when the Barge Canal was built early in the 20th century. Harnessing the river’s power opened a tsunami of economic opportunity. Hamlets around the dams flourished, becoming cities. Before long, riverside communities built recreational infrastructure like river walks, parks and public launches.

Fulton is especially blessed. Its east bank offers access sites at both of its bridges.

The South First Street access site (at the southeastern corner of the NY 3 Bridge) offers parking for about 20 cars and pedestrian access. You’ll have to climb a long set of stairs to get to the water. You won’t be able to reach the rapids from here, only the deep, slow moving water in the canal, and the channel coming out of the powerhouse.

The northern (Oneida Street) bridge offers similar access on its southeastern corner, also off South First Street.  From this site you can walk north on the canal’s western retaining wall for about a quarter mile, to a spillway, arguably the hottest fishing spot in Fulton.

Before the State stocked salmon and trout into Lake “O,” Fulton was considered the hottest fishing destination on the Oswego River for everything from walleyes to monster catfish.

Still is, in fact, and its wealth of public access makes it one of the most convenient fishing spots in the state for warmwater species.

View from the top of the lock.


Friday, August 14, 2015

School for Bassin’

By Spider Rybaak

Randy Howell
Back in the old days, vacation meant a break from school or work so you could fish to your heart’s content. Nowadays, a lot of guys take vacations to go back to school…to learn how to fish.

Fishing classes have been around since the days of Christ when ancient Romans cast flies made of dyed wool for rainbows in the Tiber River. More recently, mail-order giant Orvis has been offering fly-fishing lessons for years. This author has been conducting free kids fishing classes each summer since 2004, and is up to 25 sessions annually (contact Oswego County Tourism for a schedule).

Now a bass fishing school is coming to Oneida Lake.

On August 2, 2015, Get Hooked Fishing Academy,  billed as “the top Northeast bass fishing school,” held a promotional event in Brewerton, kicking-off a six-month, hands-on course “designed to improve participant’s skills and knowledge in the sport of bass fishing.”

Get Hooked will teach students how to catch bass consistently, in all seasons. You’ll be trained in “different rod and reel set-ups, differences in fishing line, fishing knots, artificial baits and lures, all while learning to think, adapt and react instantly to the fishing environment.”

Mike Pikulinski, one of the founding members, says “the program has been in the works for a number of years now. Our hope is that these classes will be a fun and healthy way to bring the community, youth and families together …”

“Some of the pros scheduled to appear include Randy Howell, 2014 Bass Master Champion [he just won the August 6-8, 2015 Bass Masters Opener], Brent Chapman, Jacob Powroznik and more.”

Picking Oneida Lake for the course is a no-brainer.  Ranked 40th on the list of the country’s top bass lakes, its fish-packed waters have been floating bass tournaments, including major national competitions, for years.
What’s more, its location just north of Syracuse, a major metropolitan area, subjects the water to heavy fishing pressure. Its bass get stuck a lot, quickly becoming seasoned veterans, challenging to catch and perfect teaching models.

Get Hooked’s mission statement reads: “To improve all anglers’ skill level as it relates to fishing, environment, conservation, but most of all to enjoy the sport of fishing. Let’s all strive to become better people that will contribute to nature and society in a positive way.”

For more information, visit GetHooked.us., call (315) 634-9493, or email info@gethooked.us.

Brent Chapman
David Dudley


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Time and the Fishin’s Easy

By Spider Rybaak
Easy fishin  below the dam at Caughedenoy.
An old timer I know loves to drift and troll. He’s easy to find because he loves to sing. Unfortunately, he has a terrible voice and it's powerful enough to cut through everything from Oneida Lake’s heavy boat traffic and high winds to the water noisily squirting through the sides of the flood gates at Caughdenoy and the gentle roar of the rapids below.

But a voice terrible enough to force flies off a sun-ripened carp cadaver ain’t his only claim to notoriety. He adds further insult to the natural world by endlessly singing the same refrain over and over…hundreds of times in one fishing trip.

I heard him in Caughdenoy a couple days ago. He was sitting on the bank, drinking a bear, bottom-fishing in the plunge pool below the floodgates and singing: "Summertime... and the fishin's easy."

“How they hittin’?” I ask.

“A rockie and sheepshead,  he replies, and resumes singing.

I start casting a Bass Pro Extreme minnow about 10 feet below him. Fifteen excruciating minutes, and a sheepshead later I inquire: “Is that the only tune you know?”

My question sends him into deep thought, almost trance-like. It was the longest quiet spell I’ve ever experienced in his presence.

Just as I'm getting up to check his pulse, his lips flap to life.
“I’m just singing about what we’re doin’” he replies. “Look at us, we’re just sitting here pot-luck fishing, hoping for a catfish, sheepshead, sunny, sucker, whatever. It’s late summer and the fishin’s, easy."

Several folks around us were taking it easy, too. Some fished the deep, slow water above the dam, others the pool and rapids below.

One guy was standing out in the middle, in the mild rapids just below the pool. Sticking his rod into his hip boots so his hands were free for a beer and a smoke, the rod tip poked out of his head like an antenna, and the cigarettes smoke wafting around him made him look like he was short-circuiting.

The sun was high and the wind was refreshing. And in the long spells between hits, talk and laughter filled the air.

But there were a lot of silent spots, too, where folks just sat, forgetting about life for a little while and watching the river run by.

Bottom-fishing above the dam at Caughedenoy
The rapids below the dam offer easy fishin', too

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ladies Rule the Range

By Spider Rybaak

Ladies preparing to rule the range at Fulton's Pathfinder Fish and Game Club: (left to right) Rose Bentley, Trinity, FL; LouAnn Daniels, Oswego, NY; and Joy Lower, Mexico, NY.

LouAnn Daniels loves to shoot.

The Oswego native is so good at it she participates in shooting events like the Ladies Charity Classic, a National Skeet Shooting Association affair which raises money for worthy causes ranging from Ronald McDonald House and Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital to the Wounded Warrior Project and Fisher House Foundation.

But her activism doesn’t stop there. Indeed, her love of shooting, and the freedom and empowerment it provides, has led her to teach countless women how to handle firearms, skillfully and safely.

In July 2013, she wanted to reach more women and started Ladies Rule the Range, a day-long shooting event designed to teach beginners the thrill of shooting sports.

Events are held each summer at Fulton’s Pathfinder Fish and Game Club. Club members serve as instructors.

“The first year 51 ladies, ranging in age from 14 to 80 years old, entered the competition. The second year 81 entered. This year we hope to break 100,” claims Daniels.

This isn’t simply a fund raiser.

“It’s a social event,” says Daniels, “with a lot of camaraderie and laughing.  Ladies pack everything from pistols and shotguns to lever action rifles,” she adds, “and they shoot skeet, five stand, archery…”

Daniels considers recreational shooting a family affair. She tells how one man brought two daughters and his wife to an event and they all took to it like a spark to gun powder.

“One actually loves it,” she boasts.

Daniels even taught her 27-year-old son how to shoot.

He loved her gun, so she made a deal with him. If he beat her at skeet 3 times in a row, she’d give him the gun. Two months later it was his.

She didn’t mind, however, because it gave her the incentive to buy the pump gun she always wanted a year later.

This year’s Ladies Rule the Range event takes place at the Pathfinder Fish and Game Club on Saturday, July 25th.  Doors open at 8: a.m.; “shooting starts promptly” at 8:30.

A $25.00 fee entitles participants to the use of a gun (bring your own if you got it), ammunition, targets and lunch which will include pulled pork from a wild boar.

Cowgirl and cowboy action shooters will give demonstrations on a set depicting the Old West.

For more information, contact Daniels by calling (315) 409-6566; or email her at tdaniels002@twcny.rr.com.

LouAnn Daniels spotting for Rose Bentley
-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  


Seven year-old Sonya Benhassen of East Syracuse struggling with a huge largemouth bass she caught at the June 27 Kids Fishing Class Spider conducted at the Oneida Lake Fish Hatchery.

Another fishing class is scheduled at the hatchery, located on NY49 (right at the bridge) in Constantia, on August 22. Class runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and all equipment is provided FREE for the day; or bring your own.

Thank you.
Spider

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Christian and Polish Woven Nymphs

By Spider Rybaak

Christian Snyder releasing a brown he caught on a Polish woven nymph.
Christian Snyder knows his way around Oswego County’s trophy trout streams. Hailing from Phoenix, he knows the Oswego and Salmon Rivers intimately.   And while he catches his fair share of nice Skamania on these world-famous streams, there are times when he wants to pull big trout out of small places. When he gets the itch, he heads for one of the county’s famed skinny creeks.

Places like Sandy Creek, for instance, a stream so narrow and low this time of year, your average angler only looks at it fleetingly, decides it’s too small and continues down the road.

Snyder, however, is anything but average. He knows from experience that Skamania, summer-run steelhead, spawn in “skinny cricks” during hot weather.  And that they’re in there right now.

Don’t expect the number of fish you see autumn through spring, however. Just one here and there, separated by long stretches of shallow, squeaky-clean water running through pristine summer pastures and woods.
While just about any nymph or streamer will do, Christian prefers Polish woven nymphs. Also called European nymphs, they’ve been catching skittish European trout for years. And they work here, too, but most Americans just haven’t heard about ‘em.

Constructed with a bead head and a small strip of lead wire wrapped around the hook to give it weight, it’s finished by being wrapped in thread to give it a soft, caterpillar-like look and feel.

They’re most effective when dead-drifted through runs and pockets. You’ll catch a lot of small trout, but that’s OK because you’ll be giving them valuable lessons in life like the importance of exercising extreme caution around hooks bearing food.

Every now and then you’ll experience a hit so powerful, it’ll startle you. That’s because the human mind is naturally skeptical about seeing huge fish swimming in water barely deep enough to cover their backs, especially this time of year.

But a small number is there, offering fishing experiences bordering on miraculous.

While the state’s most productive Skamania stream is the Salmon River, its feeders, as well as just about any Lake Ontario tributary that flows through Oswego County, also draw lake-run fish.

Steelhead are typically thought of as cold weather fare.  And the majority fit that mold. But a sizeable number runs summer streams, giving pleasant weather anglers trophy opportunities under balmy, sun-drenched skies. Good spots to try are Sandy and Grindstone Creeks.

Chris sells his flies, and guides for skaminia professionally. Call him at: (315)  748-2393

The last three rows contain a selection of Polish woven nymphs.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Scriba Creek: Bass and Panfish

By Spider Rybaak

Family Effort
Scriba Creek runs through Constantia New York. A dam on the north side of town, about a quarter-mile above the lake, blocks fish from migrating further upstream. Wild brown trout occupy the cool waters above the barrier, warm water species like bass and walleyes spawn down below.

Most walleyes complete their business before opening morning and beat fins back to the lake. Still, opening day always finds a few late bloomers in the plunge-pool and rapids. Savvy locals usually catch them all before sunup.

While most fish are good at keeping on schedule, there’s always a few that aren’t. So I conducted a kids fishing class at the hatchery last Saturday hoping someone would get a late-blooming walleye.
About a dozen kids showed up for class. Before the second line was even out, the boy who made the first cast was into a fish: a 2-lb. largemouth.

It conducted itself in noble fashion: jumping twice, tearing off for the other side (drag screaming for mercy) and stubbornly circling below our feet for over a minute. Finally, fish and boy exhausted, the hawg reluctantly came to the bank. A couple hero shots and high-5s later, it was released.

A two-year-old girl was next. Watching her bobber circle, she grabbed the pole and was about to set the hook with the force of a lumber jack. Her dad told her to be patient. And when the bobber dove, she pulled back and the fight was on.

The bass was a bully, however, and a couple seconds later dad had to take over. Out came a two-pound bucketmouth. The little girl hid behind her father initially, but came out with a little coxing, and even petted the fish.

The day’s tally was three bass of about 2-pounds each, 18 sunfish and 10 rock bass ranging from 3 to 6 inches, and a few finger-sized fall fish.

The next free fishing class at the Oneida Lake Hatchery will be held on June 27, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free bait and tackle will be available, compliments of yours truly and Oswego County Tourism. Or bring your own.

The Oneida Lake Hatchery is on NY 49 in the heart of Constantia.

Taking Cover


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cabins in the Park

By Spider Rybaak

Newly renovated cabins at Selkirk Shores

New Yorkers love the outdoors. Mostly that’s because we’ve got loads of natural spaces to explore. Many of the most popular are right here in Oswego County’s big back yard.

Our county boasts a disproportionate share of the state’s natural wonders. The squeaky-clean beaches of Sandy Island Beach State Park, the towering sand dunes of Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area, the bluffs towering over Lake Ontario off Sage Creek Drive, the cobblestone beach at Selkirk Shores State Park, to mention a few.

And all of these are just in our corner of Lake Ontario. We haven’t even touched inland spots like Kasoag and Oneida Lakes, the Salmon River falls and reservoirs, the Oswego and Oneida Rivers, our fantastic web of streams, and sprawling state forests and Wildlife Management Areas.

Indeed, Oswego County is graced with more than its fair share of natural wonders. So many, in fact, folks from all over the world come up to our neck of the woods to indulge their senses and build memories in the spectacularly scenic places we call home.

And while we have all kinds of spots in which to rough it, there comes a time when tent camping just doesn’t cut it; when we don’t want to leave behind comforts like light switches, showers, and flush toilets. Or times when we want to introduce family and friends to our good fortune without dragging them away from the comforts of home.

For moments like these we have Selkirk Shores State Park; 1,000 acres of mixed forest, marsh, river front and cobblestone beaches so beautiful you’ll wanna write home to mom about ‘em.

The cabins are perfect for contemporary campers. The park offers 24 cabins and 3 cottages for those who like the security of solid walls. Two of the cabins are newly renovated and are fully ADA compliant. Each cabin comes with an open fireplace, toilet and kitchen.

If you want to sleep under the stars, the park offers 148 campsites (88 electric), including several on a bluff offering more lakefront than you can fit into your range of vision; and sunsets you’ll be dreaming about forever.

There’s plenty to do, too. A web of fabulous hiking trails slices through the grounds. The marsh is loaded with waterfowl raising families in summer, and flocks taking breaks during spring and fall migrations. A fishing pier is within casting distance of the mouth of Grindstone Creek, a productive spawning site for lake-run trout and salmon.

Selkirk Shores State Park is located on NY 3, about 1.5 miles south of Port Ontario. For more information, go to www.nysparks.com/parks/84/details.aspx , or call (315) 298-5737. All advance reservations for cabins and sites can be made by using www.reserveamerica.com or dialing 1 (800) 456-CAMP.

Fishing from the Pier, Selkirk Shores State Park

Monday, June 1, 2015

Sturgeon of State

By Spider Rybaak
Sturgy, the 4-something-foot resident sturgeon at the Oneida Lake Hatchery in Constantia.
Anyone worth his weight in jigheads knows the best walleye fishery in the Northeast is Oneida Lake. Likewise, savvy bass anglers agree it’s one of your best bets in the state to nail limits of keeper bass punctuated by a trophy or two. And the perch grow so long and fat they’re called Jacks.

But there’s more lurking within this Central New York lake than just world class game fish and panfish. Unusual critters like lake sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish this side of the Mississippi, thrive here, too.

Capable of living over 100 years, growing up to 9 feet long and weighing close to 200 pounds, this fish is one of the oldest species on earth, dating back to the Jurasic period. Armored with gigantic plates on its back and sides, propelled with a huge, shark-like tail, graced with a bottom sucking mug only a mother could love, this beast looks like it came out of some steamy, primordial swamp or cooling pond of a nuclear power plant.

But it’s as American as Apple pie; native to the Oswego River drainage which includes Oneida Lake.
Sturgeon, along with several other native flora and fauna, were all but wiped out by the middle of the last century. Seeing the devastating effects pollution had on the woods and waters, conscientious Americans spawned an environmental movement, and a massive clean-up ensued.  Given a clean slate, most of the natural world rebounded on its own. Larger beasts with long life spans required a little help.

NYSDEC met the challenge, carefully reintroducing species like Atlantic salmon into Lake Ontario, whitefish into select Adirondack ponds, paddlefish into the Alleghany River system and lake sturgeon into Oneida Lake.

DEC’s sturgeon stocking program in Oneida Lake went so well, recent surveys reveal sturgeon are naturally reproducing in the place.

They’re not out of the woods yet, however, and probably never will be. Fish this big take a long time to reach sexual maturity--up to 20 years--and their size makes it tough to find hiding spots in shallow lakes and streams, making them extremely vulnerable.

So they enjoy protected status in NY State. It’s illegal to fish for them. If one is caught, it must be released immediately.

With a little help from their human friends, lake sturgeon populations have a good chance of bouncing back to former levels.

When that happens, it’ll be possible to walk along the bank of the Oneida or Oswego Rivers, or even Verona Beach State Park and see monster sturgeon splashing around in shallow water.  When this becomes commonplace, it’ll indicate man has taken a significant step forward in returning some of nature’s biggest animals to their rightful haunts.

Help Wanted
All about sturgeon

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lake Neahtahwanta: A Great Place to Teach Kids how to Fish.

By Spider Rybaak

Carp enthusiast Mike McGrath, McGrath and Associates Carp Angling Services, shows a syudent how to handle a carp.
Kids take to fishing like minnows to water. Problem is a lot of youngsters don’t have anyone to take them out the first time to teach them the basics. While it’s true the internet has videos giving step by step instructions on everything from tying a cinch knot and bait selection to casting and fighting the fish, nothing beats an adult’s guiding hand during a child’s first hours on the water.

It’s just natural for a kid to need someone to look up to when casting a rod the first time. And it doesn’t take much for an adult to get the swing of things. In fact, you don’t even have to know how to set the rig up because every retailer that handles fishing equipment, from the lowliest bait shop to massive outfits like Bass Pro Shops, sells spin-fishing combos that are already rigged. They’re so simple to use, I’ve had 3-year-olds master long distance casting after only three tries.

In fact, they’ll be so impressed with how far they can reach they’ll spend half the time --initially, anyway--practicing how to cast.

Eventually, they’re gonna have to wet a line, however, and you’re going to have to find a safe place to take them. Oswego County makes that easy: Lake Neahtahwanta.

Located on NY 3, off Fulton’s west side, this 750-acre lake averages 6 feet deep and drops to a maximum of 12 feet deep. Roughly 25 percent of its shoreline is manicured park, and a fishing pier right at the road reaches out about 100 feet. Railings make it safe for kids, and, at the deep end, a covered gazebo with benches keeps the weather at bay and a load off your feet.

Best of all, the place is loaded with fish; mostly panfish like sunfish, white and yellow perch. However, there’s a lot of bass, crappie, northern pike, channel catfish, bowfin and monster carp around, too.

A typical day usually sees realistic fishing accomplished.

For instance, Mike McGrath, owner of McGrath and Associates Carp Angling Services and I have been conducting kids fishing programs at Lake Neahtahwanta for well over 5 years. We keep coming back because it’s one of the only places around where you can expect to catch a fish every time you go out, from shore, no less; and usually, you’ll catch a whole bunch.

Our most recent class was last Saturday, May 16, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. I taught bait fishing techniques, providing fishing outfits for 12 kids. Mike taught trophy carp fishing techniques.

And the fish were biting. McGrath’s students landed a dozen carp ranging from 5 to 15 pounds.

Not only did Mike instruct the kids on how to fight these fresh water giants, a feat requiring skill, as well as endurance, he also showed how to draw the fish by seeding the waters with a mixture of grains. Stirring in a little water to help the ingredients stick together, Mike shapes a clump into a pancake, drops a hook baited with corn into the center and packs it into a ball the size of an orange. Heaving it out, he rests his rod in a holder, sits down, relaxes and waits for the hit.

In the meantime, I’m up on the pier teaching how to tie a hook onto the line, bait it with a worm and cast it out. Before long, my kids are catching fish.

Mike’s kids have to wait a little longer, but their patience is rewarded when the first carp hits with such force, it almost drags the rod into the drink.

Although the worm anglers are catching a lot of white perch, sunfish and yellow perch, the fish only weigh a few ounces. Mike’s carp, on the other hand, can go over 20 pounds.

We’ll be conducting four more FREE fishing classes on Lake Neahtahwanta this summer (June 20, July 11, August 15, and October 10,) and four classes at the NYSDEC Fish Hatchery in Constantia, NY 49, on Oneida Lake (May 30, June 27, Aug. 22, and Sept. 12).  Classes run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All tackle and bait will be provided for free.

For more information, contact me at Srybaak@yahoo.com, or Mike Mcgrath: mmcgrath2@twcny.rr.com.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

River Walk

By: Spider Rybaak

Trilliums line the paths along the Salmon River in Altmar like runners made from magic carpets.
There’s nothing like balmy May temperatures under azure skies to stir Oswego County’s fish into biting. Problem is the same conditions trigger the bane of the Northcountry: black flies.
They don’t usually bother gung-ho trout purists too much: we’re up to our knees in the drink and they stay onshore where leaves and grass give them cover from the wind.

And that usually settles that.

Things get a little complicated when the Mrs. wants to tag along; to fill her lungs with fresh air, I suppose, rub some sun on her skin, maybe just to  see why I smile so much after getting off the stream.

When that happens, three things decide our destination: low density of bugs, a lot to see on shore, and nearby natural wonders for when the fishing’s done.
Almar, NY fits the bill.

You see, the Salmon River runs through it. And although the major salmon and steelhead runs are still 4 months away, there’s a lot of natural stuff going on in this sleepy little town to keep you and fellow travelers occupied, particularly over the next week or so, before summer’s thick green carpet covers the forest floor.

For instance, the trail for the first 100 yards or so downstream of the CR 52 bridge is loaded with exciting features for everyone: nice trout runs for you, a fabulous wild garden for your non-fishing buddy.

Beds of trilliums cling to the trail’s edge like snowbanks. As you get closer, they begin to sway alongside the path like runners made from magic carpet. Stand right over them, and they’ll hook your eyes with delicate beauty, drawing you into their intricate design.

Covered in a forested knave, shrouded in the sound of rushing water, carpeted in a colorful explosion of foliage, this wonderland casts a spell on everyone who comes here, bringing them back year after year.

While more famous natural wonders punctuate America’s landscape, none is easier to reach than the Salmon River. The New York State Thruway brings you an hour south of it and I-81 crosses it.
So, next time you’re dreaming about spellbinding, natural settings, don’t settle for mind games. Instead, c’mon up to Altmar and feast your senses on this patchwork of natural beauty.

Fungus staircase.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Oneida Lake: still NY’s Walleye Hot Spot

By Spider Rybaak

A few of the winners line up.
Walleye season’s opening weekend proved once again what every pike enthusiast in Central New York knew all along: Oneida Lake is still your best bet when it comes to these toothy beasts.
From one end of the lake to the other, anglers netted pike, mostly walleyes, but a few northerns, too, including an 38-inch monster allegedly taken west of Frenchman Island.

Both sides of the Erie Canal at Sylvan Beach were lined with colorful anglers all weekend, from the opening minute straight through Sunday night.

Caughedenoy hosted loads of bank anglers throwing all the usual suspects, from Thundersticks and Rapalas to bucktail jigs and worms.

As expected, the crankbaits took the lions share in the plunge pool below the gates, primarily because they cover a lot of water and, most important, swim over most of the spot’s notorious snags.

Still, a couple old timers took their limits on bucktails. Not only by jigging them rapidly  to keep them above the rocks, but also by steadily swimming them, a technique locals claim was developed exclusively for the fast water on the Oneida River’s biggest oxbow.

Brewerton contributed some walleyes, too. The NYSDEC’s Fishing access sites on both ends of the I-81 Bridge coughed up a few for anglers jigging  Sonars in the deep water below the bridge, or running minnowbaits parallel to the canal’s drop-offs.

Out on the open lake, walleyes were hitting worms drifted on harnesses (spinner-rigged and plain), bucktail jigs, and Sonars.

The Cicero- Mattydale Lions Club held its 2015 Walleye Derby on Oneida Lake over the weekend, drawing 1,877 anglers to compete for more than $10,000.00 in cash and prizes.

Top honors went to Georgia native Jack Barber for a 27 3/8 inch walleye he took on a bucktail jig.
Herkimer native Mike Zucker won the drawing for a highly coveted  12-foot Low powered by an 8 horse. Merc.

Not surprisingly, jigs manufactured by Five-O Lure Co. and Voodoo Custom Tackle, a couple local firms, landed their users in the money.

The awards ceremony was held at Bartel Road Bait and Tackle, 5501 Bartel Road, Brewerton (315-676-2144). Bartel Road Bait and Tackle, a company specializing in all the popular Oneida Lake baits, announces its upcoming Pickerel Derby, May 26, 2015, from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m..

"The best 4-fish weight wins top prize,” says co-owner Kim Goffredo.

Tickets cost $10.00 and go on sale May 9.

“This derby is 100% payback,” says Goffredo, adding “ $8.00 goes into the general pot and $2.00 goes into the lunker pot.

“Last year we made 50 tickets and 151 anglers showed up,” claims Kim, suggesting anglers should sign up early.

For more info, call Bartel Road Bait and Tackle: (315) 676-2144.

At the weigh-in.





Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ice-out

By Spider Rybaak

Entrance to Toad Harbor last Sunday morning

Ice time was more stubborn this year than most, making a lot of folks worry we’d go from winter to summer without stopping at spring.

Trout anglers didn’t mind too much because the extended chill left local streams very fishable. Opening Day saw creek levels only slightly high, at levels you’d expect after a light rain, not during the thaw.

Unfortunately, what was good for trout anglers was terrible for Oneida Lake panfish fans. You see, panfish anglers saw NY’s biggest pond still crowned in hard water on April Fool’s Day. Worst thing was, the ice was thin and porous, solid enough to prevent bank-fishing, too weak for ice-fishing.
Friday night, April 17, warm winds finally took their toll on the ice. Come morning, a creepy fog shrouded the lake. When it finally burned off, the lake was iceless. Some backwoods bays still had sickly floes and small pockets of fragmented ice beating themselves against the banks, but nothing serious. By sunrise on Sunday, ice was as rare on the lake as fur on a catfish

Panfish anglers stormed their favorite spots looking for fish dinners. While the east end, especially Oneida Creek’s mouth, hosted the majority of activity, Oswego County spots saw their share of anglers, too.

On Big Bay, anglers swarmed the cuts at the Toad Harbor Fishing Access Site at the end of Shaw Drive. They came by boat and by land. And while the fish weren’t in as thick as they would have liked, crappie were coming in slow and steady, rewarding patience with fresh strawberry bass dinners.

Guys were also trying their luck on catching panfish in Toad Harbor Swamp’s outlet on McCloud Road. The Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area skirts the west side of the outlet, and most of the openings were occupied.

The water’s still a little cool but it’s warming fast and runs of crappies and sunnies can take place this weekend, next weekend for sure.

Oneida Lake shrouded in fog.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Ice

Scriba Creek on opening day of trout season, 2015
By Spider Rybaak

If you like ice and snow, this past winter (It’s spring, right?) fulfilled your wildest fantasies. In fact, it’s still giving us a chill.

April 1st, opening day of trout season, saw anglers struggling through knee-deep snow just to get to the water. Once they made it to the edge, their trouble was worth it.

“The mild thaw has Scriba Creek running perfectly, almost at summer levels” said one angler while putting his gear away at the side of the road. “Normally I have to bounce worms on bottom with lots of weight this time of year because the water’s too high and cold to use anything else,” he added.

“Not today. I landed two 12-inchers, and had a nice brown of about 15 inches break free. They all hit a gold ribbed hare’s ear nymph,” added the Cleveland resident who declined to give his name.

“What a thrill. I was actually fly-fishing--this time of year, no less-- a sinking line, no additional weight at all. The big one came out from under the bank, and hit right in front of me. It was like slow motion in the clear water, man. After jumping a couple of times, he spit the fly back at me like it was old gum,” he chuckled.

Oneida Lake is still solidly in winter’s grip, handing icers some dynamite late season opportunities.

What’s good for the anglers isn’t ideal for the birds. Canada geese and other migratory waterfowl are having trouble finding liquid water. Most are concentrated in the Oneida River on the east side of Brewerton.

A few others are treading shallow water at the mouths of small streams trickling down from the Tug Hill Plateau. Works of natural art, these rivulets slowly, deliberately tear into Oneida Lake’s icy crown, reaching further and further into the drink by the hour, giving cabin weary soft water anglers something reassuring to look at while waiting for ice-out.


Oneida Lake resident Susan Douglass
admiring a rivulet busting through the ice.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last Chance Snowshoeing

By: Spider Rybaak

Reading the Trail Guide.
This winter has been disciplined…so far. The cold and snow came when they were supposed to, and temperatures remained low enough to keep things icy for the past couple months, without benefit of a January or February thaw.  Now March is giving us the cold shoulder with a controlled melt, slowly, teasingly, letting the landscape peek through the snow.

And that’s a welcome sight for Oswego County’s walkers. While living in one of the snowiest regions of the country accustoms us to winter, the long spell of exceptionally frigid conditions we’ve just endured forced a lot of us to spend most of the past few weeks bundled up indoors.

Something we’re not used to. You see, winter’s a fact of life around here. Its patchwork of sparkling, squeaky-clean ice and snow is beautiful to behold. And when it’s so brutally cold that we’re forced to stay inside for most of the season, we miss it.

Fortunately, the way March is going we’re getting us another chance: it’s frigid enough to keep winter fresh; mild enough to let us comfortably play in the snow.

Now, I’m too old to romp around in it. But I love to admire frozen water’s handiwork. Fortunately, Oswego County is my kind’a place: loaded with natural beauty, and expert at clearing the roads leading there.

Take the Salmon River falls for instance. Towering about 100 feet high, it’s almost totally frozen, clinging to the cliff like a clump of massive, icy columns held together by welds of frozen foam.

Upstream and down below, its course is a work of art.  Shelves of ice reach out toward the middle for its entire length. In slow moving stretches, like in the village of Pulaski, a cap of ice envelops the stream, a few narrow strips of dark brown water punching through the center like monster, porpoising salmon.

All the while, life goes on: anglers climbing its snowy banks and wading its icy flow; deer drinking from its banks; steelhead breaking water while climbing the rapids.

The weatherman predicts the next few days will be unseasonably cold, promising the river’s frosty setting a short respite from its looming fate.

Better hurry, though spring is only a couple weeks away. And like all youth, it’s enthusiastic and energetic, eager for the ice and snow to go away.

Get there from I-81 exit 36 (Pulaski) by heading south on NY 13 for about 8 miles to Altmar, turn left on CR 22, travel a little over 4 miles, turn right on Falls Road and continue for 1.5 miles.

The falls, like many natural wonders, can be dangerous if you're careless. Exercise caution and common sense when admiring its beauty; and always go with a friend.

You're gonna need snowshoes; there's still 2 feet of snow at the Salmon River Falls.
Salmon River Falls from the overlook at Falls Road.
Want more information on snowshoeing in Oswego County? Visit http://visitoswegocounty.com/the-great-outdoors/cross-country-skiing-snowshoeing/

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Salmon River in the wake of a Record February.

By Spider Rybaak

Lawn Chair for the Weary
Folks will be talking about last February for years. The daily temperature only averaged 9 degrees Fahrenheit and the month never saw the mercury rise above freezing. Add 50-something inches of snow to the equation and you come up with the wintriest February on record.

So far, March doesn’t seem to be much better. In fact, the way it’s roaring outside the window today (March 2), you’d think it’s trying to imitate last month. But the weather forecast is calling for a couple days above freezing late this week, maybe warmer next week, making it a good bet that the month will spend some of its time luxuriating under balmy March conditions-- days in the 40s and 50s.

With all that snow piled up out there, the mild weather will unleash torrents of run-off. Fortunately, the weatherman predicts moderate warming for the near future, which will raise water levels slowly, just enough to draw steady runs of fresh steel into Lake “O’s” tributaries.

The feeder most favored by the majority of chromers is the Salmon River. The fish have been coming up all winter. But the anglers haven’t. As a result, the stream’s full of ‘em—more than usual. And their numbers are growing daily.

It ain’t all rosy, however. Shelves of ice cling to the river’s banks below Pineville, and a little further down, the ice actually crosses the river.

But it’s still a great time to go for them in Altmar. The water is at perfect levels and the river is at a constant 34 degrees; cold by our standards, heavenly to chromers. Snowpack makes getting down to the river a little challenging, but well-beaten paths lead to all the popular spots.

Better hurry, though. All the snow that’s been clobbering us is gonna melt eventually. Hopefully, it’ll do so gradually, taking  the river all month to reach spring levels. And while the fishing is sure to be great then, why wait? The slow snowmelt we’re enjoying now offers loads of opportunities, and elbow room to boot.

Egg sacs and glo bugs are the bait of choice for most anglers. Fly-fishing purists are doing well on patterns like copper Johns and black stonefly nymphs. Spey casters are getting their fair share swinging brown or chartreuse wooly buggers through the current. Spinning enthusiasts working inline spinners like Roostertails slowly through pools and deep pockets are getting fresh trout, too. Float-fishermen are catching a lot on beads and 3-inch Berkley Trout Worms.

The main thaw is still a ways off. In the meantime, the Salmon River is fat with steelies just begging for your attention. Hit the stream at your earliest convenience; you’ll be glad you did.

Salmon River set in a Crown of Ice, Pulaski, NY
Steelheading last Monday in Snowy Altmar


Friday, January 30, 2015

Sandy Pond on Ice

By Spider Rybaak

Ice shanties on Sandy Pond.
You seldom hear Lake Ontario and ice-fishing in the same breath. That’s because you can’t trust the wind out there. Even during the most severe winters, when the lake is entombed in white for as far as the eye can see, the ice is brittle at best and all it would take is a Canadian sneeze to fragment it, blowing it south to pack sunny Oswego's beaches in an icy, pizza-like crust.

That’s why nature gave us the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Wetland Area, 17-miles of sandy beach stretching from the mouth of the Salmon River to just north of the Black Pond Wildlife Management Area. And while the dunes and magnificent shoreline draw countless sun worshipers from around the world in summer; and the viewing platforms spotting the wetlands see hordes of birdwatchers spring and fall; winter gets into the act, too, beckoning legions of anglers to the ponds tucked-in behind the dunes, to walk on water and drill for fish dinners.

Eight large ponds grace the place. The northernmost, Black Pond, is unpredictable; a couple years ago high water broke through the sand barrier at the beach and drained the thing, leaving nothing but a skinny creek. And South Sandy, the southernmost pond, doesn't offer any public access. The six in-between boast fish year-round and some, like South Colewell Pond, even have public launch sites with parking, but they’re not always plowed.

That leaves the biggest in the system, North Sandy Pond. Measuring about 3 miles long and over a mile wide, fed by numerous creeks, loaded with habitat warm water species thrive in and boasting some of the first safe ice in the county, it’s the premier ice-fishing destination on this corner of the big lake.

The pond is best known for its northern pike and perch fisheries. Northerns ranging from 22 to 28 inches, and perch running from 7 to 10 inches are plentiful, and quite a few larger specimens are available. Lake walleyes are becoming more and more common under the ice around here. Their hormones hooked out in the lake by the pond’s fragrant plume, big females start trickling in around late February, and spawned-out males hang around for a couple weeks after the season opens. Look for them over rocky bottoms on the south end, near the mouth of Little Sandy Creek.

This is also the best spot to catch steelhead on their way to spawn in Little Sandy Creek. Crappies and sunfish are also popular, and mostly targeted on the north end.

Limited street parking, a large pay lot, and free pond access (the slot on the east side of the restaurant) are available at the end of Wigwam Drive, off CR 15. Free parking and winter access (though not always plowed) are available at Sandy Pond Beach, at the end of CR 15. Woody’s Tackle, a full service bait shop located on NY 3, about three miles south of the pond, can provide up-to-the-minute fishing information. Call 315-298-2378. Sandy Pond is ringed in private property. Don’t venture on anyone’s land without permission.
Iced jack perch. 
Walleye on ice.