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 , or call (315) 298-5737. All advance reservations for cabins and sites can be made by using 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.

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