July 3, 2008
Lake Fishing Heats Up as Summer Progresses
By Spider Rybaak
OSWEGO COUNTY, NY -- Bordered by two of the largest bodies of water in the Northeast, Lakes Ontario and Oneida, Oswego County offers great fishing year-round. In summer, however, the hottest action goes off the deep end.
The lake stratifies as summer progresses: a warm surface layer, the thermocline (a thin center layer below which the temperature changes rapidly), and the cold, dark, bottom waters. Trout and salmon move offshore and hang out in and around the thermocline, in temperatures ranging from 53 to 62 degrees.
Equally important, bait seeks out this same comfort zone.
You can find the thermocline the old way, by dropping a fish tank thermometer attached to a string over the side, lowering it to various depths and letting it sit at each level for several minutes to get the reading; or the new way, with a fish finder like a Lowrance LCX-113, which comes equipped with a thermometer and displays temperature on the screen in real time.
Since the thermocline is often deeper than a flatlined lure can reach, you'll need a downrigger (a device attached to the gunwale which uses a heavy ball to get your lure deep and keep it there) or a diver (a device you attach to your line and set to reach a certain depth) to get there.
If you're targeting a species, the rule of thumb is that steelhead and salmon are above and within the thermocline, lakers are below it, and brown trout like shallower water where the thermocline intersects or hugs bottom.
Troll small offerings early in the season (spoons like Suttons and 3 ˝-inch Michigan Stingers) and bigger ones as summer ages (lures like J-Plugs, A-Tom-Mik Flies behind flashers or Michigan Stingers, and four- to six-inch strips of herring on cut-bait rigs).
In mid-August, salmon begin schooling near the mouths of natal rivers (the Oswego and Salmon) in preparation for their autumn spawning runs. Brown trout gather in smaller numbers for the same reason. Steelhead, a strain of rainbow trout that spawns in spring, show up to run the streams to feast on salmon and brown trout eggs. During this period, each species is often shallow enough to target by flatlining spoons and plugs.
Feisty smallmouth bass, one of Oswego County's best kept secrets, are also plentiful in the lake. They're structure oriented, so if you can find a rock pile, wreck, hump, or other object, chances are a school of fish in the1˝- to five-pound range will be there.
Classified a warmwater species, smallies nonetheless seek cool water in summer. Fish for them anywhere from 20 to 35 feet deep with crayfish, minnows, and jigs tipped with live worms or scented grubs and tubes.
Fed by numerous tributaries, this lake is loaded with nutrients and forage … and walleyes, bass, panfish and all the usual warmwater favorites.
Still, its most popular fish is the walleye. The state hatchery in the north shore hamlet of Constantia focuses on rearing the species, annually collecting 200 to 300 million eggs, and returning millions of fry and 220,000 fingerlings averaging five inches long.
Massive quantities of these walleyes reach 15 to 21 inches. In daylight, they can be found in weeds, on rock piles and in transition zones (where mud meets hard bottom, weeds meet rock beds …) and eagerly hit jigheads tipped with worms, YUM Walleye Grubs and Berkley's Gulp Alive 3-inch leeches bounced on bottom.
Todd Frank, a Pulaski-based guide and the state's most successful touring walleye pro, says the lake's “trolling bite is generally good.” He does well on crankbaits like Smithwick Rogues, Bombers and Rapala Tail Dancers trolled between 1.5 and 2 miles per hour, off in-line planer boards (planer boards draw the lure off to the side of the boat, where motor-shy walleyes are most likely to hit it).
Smallmouth and largemouth bass are also well-represented. In fact, several televised national bass tournaments have been held on the lake in the past couple of years. Northern pike and pickerel are plentiful over weed beds and along weed edges.
Yellow perch (aka jack perch), white bass, sunfish, crappies, bullheads and channel catfish are also plentiful and popular.
Whether you're looking to tackle a trophy salmon the size of the one swimming around in your dreams, hankering for a walleye dinner, or simply looking to relive days of your youth when panfish were king, a trip to one of these Oswego County lakes will do the trick.
For more information go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call 800-248-4FUN (4386) and request an Oswego County Fishing and Hunting guide.
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” guide books that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him by
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