September 8, 2008
Look for Phenomenal Fishing in Oswego County
CATCH OF A LIFETIME-- Kristy St. Louis of Syracuse landed this 34-lb., 8-oz. Chinook on her first fishing trip ever, Aug. 31. It took more than 35 minutes for Kristy to reel in the fish. She and her husband, Mike, fished with Capt. Bob Lee aboard “Just Another Perfect Day” out of Mexico, NY. (Photo by Dave Turner, Oswego County Tourism Office.)
By Spider Rybaak
OSWEGO COUNTY, NY -- With summer's unusual weather behind us, history's most unusual presidential elections ahead of us, and an uncertain economy around us, folks are finding life getting harder to call. Fortunately, Oswego County has a pleasant remedy for these times of uncertainty: salmon and trout runs and walleye bite. Boasting the Salmon and Oswego Rivers, Lake Ontario's most important fish nurseries, and Oneida Lake, the greatest walleye hot spot in the Northeast, Oswego County offers the most productive fall fishing in the Lower 48 states.
Salmonids: The Returns
Introduced into Lake Ontario almost 40 years ago to jump-start the recreational fishery, Pacific salmon and steelhead prospered beyond anyone's expectations. Giddy with success, the state sweetened the pot by tossing in some brown trout.
Fish grow huge in Lake Ontario, way beyond trophy-size. Indeed, the world record coho salmon, a species indigenous to the Pacific Ocean, no less, was taken in Oswego County's piece of the lake about 10 years ago. Ironically, two new record contenders were caught during Labor Day weekend. They were examined by biologists to determine if they were new records, and according to the biological criteria used by New York State, one was a 34-lb., 6-oz. Chinook and the other a 34-lb.,10-oz. Coho/Chinook hybrid.
In addition, the county claims the state record Chinook (47 lb. 13 oz.) and brown trout (33 lb. 2 oz.). The state record steelhead (31 lb. 3 oz.) also came from the big lake.
These species run the Oswego and Salmon rivers in unbelievable numbers each fall--the salmon and browns to spawn, the steelhead to feast on their eggs--offering anglers shots at fishy glory, all within casting distance of shore.
One of the best beats is right in downtown Oswego, within earshot of city traffic and music pouring out of riverside taverns. (World class fishing just doesn't come any easier or convenient than this.)
On the other hand, if you're into wading, or floating over raging rapids slicing through a pristine gorge crowned in blazing autumn foliage, where encounters with bald eagles dining on salmon carcasses are fairly common, you'll find the Salmon River more up your alley.
Generally Chinooks, and sometimes a coho or two, start trickling into the Salmon River in late August, especially during water releases from the Salmon River Reservoir for kayaking and tubing. Jason Edwards, river keeper at the Douglaston Salmon Run, claims "pods of salmon entered Douglaston over the Labor Day weekend and most of our clients reported having hits."
Mid-September sees the returns jacked up a couple notches, and the last week of the month sees full blown runs. Hundreds of salmon--sometimes thousands--averaging 20 pounds can enter the stream on any given day, especially after a stiff rain.
Brown trout averaging six pounds start running toward the end of September, and steelhead ranging from five to 20 pounds are fast on their tailfins.
Draining the Finger Lakes and Oneida Lake, the Oswego River runs uncomfortably warm by salmonid standards until around the first of October. After that, all the species run at once. Since the stream's rapids are less than a mile long, the fish are concentrated, and so are the anglers. Suffice it to say it's a sight to behold--and, surprisingly, most anglers go home with fish, their dreams fulfilled.
By mid-November, most of the salmon have performed their final act and exited life's stage, and the brown trout beat fins back for the safety of the open lake. However, steelhead continue running all winter long to take advantage of the rivers' slightly warmer waters, and all the eggs the ever-fluctuating water levels loosen from between the rocks.
Surfing for Oneida Lake's Walleyes
Early autumn's cooling temperatures spur walleyes to feed voraciously. On Oneida Lake, their hunger brings them in close enough for surf and shore anglers to reach with crankbaits like Rebels, Smithwick Rogues, Bombers and Rapalas.
Daytime bank angling can be productive in relatively deep areas like off the canal walls lining the north shore in Brewerton, and the public fishing access site under the I-81 bridge.
Still, the best action takes place from the surf around dusk and dawn. Just about anywhere you can enter the lake will do. But shore access on this highly popular body of water can be iffy.
Fortunately, one of the best fall walleye bites happens at Toad Harbor, in the Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area.
Get there from I-81 by taking Central Square exit 32 and heading east on NY 49 for about two miles and hooking a right onto Toad Harbor Road. Continue for about another two miles, bear left onto McCloud Road and travel about a mile to its end.
"Eyes" in the Fast Lane
If you like the bubbly, walleyes return to the rapids in Oswego County's rivers. The plunge pool below the dam at Caughdenoy (Oneida River), and the Oswego River's rapids at Phoenix, Fulton, Minetto and, to a lesser degree, the City of Oswego, draw walleyes from mid-September through November. The crankbaits listed above work well, and so do bucktail jigs, or jigheads tipped with worms, minnows or YUM grubs.
For more information about all of Oswego County's fishing hotspots, current conditions and visitor information, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call the Oswego County Tourism Office at 1-800-248-4FUN (4386).
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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