May 2, 2008
Walleye Opener: Oswego County's Rite of Spring
By Spider Rybaak
Each year, the first Saturday in May stirs the passions of countless anglers throughout the northeast, sending them, or at least their dreams, to Oswego County.
The reason is plain: gallon for gallon, Oswego County's waters offer more walleyes than any other area of the state. In fact, the county is bordered on three sides by some of the best walleye habitat in the northeast.
Oneida Lake is famed worldwide for the species. Its outlet, the Oneida River, is a local early season hot spot.
And that's just the beginning. The Oneida Lake system drains into the Oswego River, Lake Ontario's second largest tributary. Formed by the confluence of the Seneca and Oneida Rivers at Three Rivers Point, this stream flows north for roughly 24 walleye-friendly miles before pouring into Lake Ontario in the city of Oswego.
May and early June find walleyes close to shore and hungry, easily accessible to bank and wading anglers.
The best spot for trophy fish in the 10-something-pound range is in downtown Oswego, right around the Bridge Street (NY 104) Bridge. Evening is considered prime time, but some pretty big “eyes” are taken in daylight, too. Cast Thundersticks and Rapalas, or bottom fish with nightcrawlers plain or on spinner-rigged harnesses.
Access is plentiful in the parks lining both sides of the river.
Upstream, the village of Phoenix has a reputation as a walleye magnet. They congregate in the fast water below the dams and are taken by casting bucktail jigs, Bombers and Smithwick Rogues into the hole below the flood gates on the east shore and along the old mill on the west bank. At night they hang out in the shallow rapids. Normally, by mid-May the fast water on the east side is low enough to wade in hip boots. A fishing access site at the Culvert Street Bridge offers parking and a paved ramp.
Caughdenoy, the site of an Erie Canal-era lock, offers good fishing all straight through early June in the plunge pool below the flood gates. White bucktail jigs are productive, but rocks littering the floor make jigging on bottom an often frustrating exercise in losing lures; surprisingly, retrieving the jig at a steady clip works very well and saves money. Shallow running crankbaits like Thundersticks, and noisy ones like Rat-L-Traps also produce.
A few informal access sites with parking are located on Co. Rte. 12 (head west on Co. Rte 37 out of Brewerton for about three miles and turn left at its end).
Located right at the source of the Oneida River, Brewerton boasts ample fishing access from the north wall, a long concrete structure located east of the US Rte.11 bridge. Fishing worms and minnows on bottom, casting crankbaits, bucktail jigs, or scented grubs, all the usual suspects work.
Oneida Lake tops off this fabulous walleye run. Best known for its open water fishery, bank and surf fishing are popular and productive early in the season and in the fall.
The state fishing access site below the north end of the I-81 Bridge offers ample parking and is wheelchair-accessible. Sitting right at the source of the Oneida River, this spot holds walleyes year-round.
To get there, take I-81 exit 31, head west on Bartell Road for about a mile, turn north on US-11, cross the bridge, turn right onto Co. Rte. 37 and follow it to the I-81 bridge.
Surf fishing in Oneida Lake is a thrill until mid-June and in autumn. The best spot is Phillips Point, in Three Mile Bay Wildlife Management Area. Oneida Lake's winds primarily whip out of the northwest so this spot offers a scenic, relatively sheltered experience, steeped in gently caressing waves. Crankbaits are most productive.
Get there from I-81 by taking exit 32. Head east on NY 49 for about three miles, turn right onto Toad Harbor Road, then left a couple miles later onto McCloud Drive and continue to the end.
For visitor information and a detailed guide to fishing and hunting in Oswego County, NY, contact the Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning at 1-800-248-4FUN, , or log on to www.visitoswegocounty.com
Spider Rybaak is an award-winning outdoor writer who has been published in more than 20 periodicals. He is the author of “Fishing Eastern New York” and “Fishing Western New York” guidebooks that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him by .
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