December 5, 2008
Drilling for Fish in Oswego County
By Spider Rybaak
Anglers of all ages brave the elements to ice fish in Oswego County. Pictured holding a northern pike taken on North Sandy Pond is Madison Kennedy of Pulaski. (Photo by Jessica Trump Burt)
World famous for cold and snow, Oswego County boasts another claim to fame: world class fishing. Put them together and you create the ideal conditions for walking on water and drilling for the tastiest critters that swim for a living.
Fish on Ice
Ironically, before talk of global warming came into vogue, ice would cap Oneida Lake in early December, often growing to "safe ice" by the end of the month. But this year, hard water began appearing over shallow areas like Muskrat Bay a week before Thanksgiving. If the weather pattern continues, you'll see folks walking on the lake well before Christmas.
One fishing spot that everybody knows about, angler and non-angler alike, is Oneida Lake.
Sheer size makes it hard to miss. Stretching for roughly 21 miles, and 5 miles wide, it's the biggest body of water contained within New York State's borders. It's impossible to miss on the map, and anyone driving through the state on I-81 passes within spitting distance of its western shore.
Averaging 22 feet deep and diving to a maximum depth of 55 feet, it's one of the most productive bodies of water in the Northeast. Loaded with year-round habitat for a wide variety of warm water species, it's the best place in the state to catch a limit of frying pan-sized walleyes, one of the hottest spots around for huge yellow perch, and legendary for crappies, sunfish and rock bass the size of small skillets.
Still, the lake's fishery is changing. Northern pike, the top predator before the new Erie Canal was cut through the place, draining much of the wetlands along the southern shore, are reclaiming their old haunts with a vengeance, putting the place back on the map as one of the best bets in the Northeast for "pikeasaurus" (monsters that go10 pounds or better; also called logs).
Just about every gallon of Oneida Lake is productive: shallow spots covering sleeping weeds, deep water over sand and silt bottom, on and around numerous mid-lake shoals, and over "Oneida Lake pancakes", iron-manganese nodules which cover much of the bottom in the eastern half's deep middle.
Still, some places seem to outperform others. Big Bay and the drop-off at the northwestern tip of Frenchman Island are popular "secret" spots.
North Sandy Pond
"The Pond" has always been famed for northerns and yellow perch. Lately, walleyes have joined the smorgasbord
"In fact," according to Todd Frank, the state's top walleye pro, "When Cabela's MWC tournament out of Henderson Harbor ran into some rough water in (2006), forcing competitors to seek sheltered areas, the tournament was won on Sandy Pond."
While their numbers are down a little right now, anglers will still be taking walleyes the size of which haven't been seen in these parts in years through the ice this winter.
Sandy Pond is largely privately owned. Carnsies' Irish Wigwam and Marina, Wigwam Drive, off CR 15 offers parking and access for a fee.
Get bait, gear and info at Woody's Tackle at Port Ontario (315-298-2378), corner of state Routes 3 and 13.
Lake Neahtahwanta: Little Hot Spot Near the Big Hot Spot
According to local historians, Fulton's Lake Neahtahwanta is named after the Indian word for "little lake near the big lake"; prompting cousin Staash to remark: "Them Indians knew how to pack a lot of meaning into a little word, eh?"
Like the word, Lake Neahtahwanta packs a lot of fish into its 700 acres. Indeed, if the fishing had been mediocre, the Indians wouldn't have bothered with it; and some settler would have named it Ray or Sue … anything but Neahtahwanta.
Set into Fulton's west side, at the edge of NY 3, the lake boasts a manicured lawn on its east bank, farms to the west, and forest and marsh everywhere else.
"It has a lot of nutrients coming into it through run-off," says Scott Prindle, a state fisheries biologist. "And anytime you get nutrient rich run-off, you get good fishing."
Come winter, most drill the place for black crappies. The lake's population of these delicious beasties is well above average. The ratio between keepers and "shorties" is one of the most favorable in Central New York.
In addition, good populations of sunfish, white and yellow perch and northerns thrive in the lake. The best time to fish is an hour before and after sundown.
Set about five miles due north of Bernhards Bay on county Route17, Panther Lake only covers 119 acres. Gallon for gallon, however, it offers a greater variety of game fish than much larger bodies of water. In addition to being one of the few spots around where the Department of Environmental Conservation stocks tiger muskies, the lake supports indigenous walleyes and pickerel.
Basic Baits and Techniques
Crappies and panfish respond well to ice jigs tipped with mousies and spikes (insect larvae), small minnows, or imitations like Gulp Waxies/Asticots or Gulp Maggots/Asticots. Pickerel, walleyes, northerns and tiger muskies have bigger mouths and appetites. Go for them with large minnows below tip-ups, or by jigging heavy metal like Swedish Pimples and Rapala Jigging Raps tipped with a minnow, its head, or scented artificials like PowerBait Realstix Power Minnows or Gulp Minnows.
Humankind has been ice fishing since before the last global warming melted the ice age. It's really very simple with just two rules of thumb: make sure the ice is at least three inches thick, and dress warmly.
For expert advice on everything from apparel and transportation to baits and techniques, check out the feature "Ice Fishing Basics" on page 124 in the "New York Freshwater Fishing: 2008-2009 Official Regulations Guide", available free wherever fishing licenses are sold; or by logging onto the DEC website, www.dec.ny.gov and typing in ice fishing in the search bar.
For up-to-date fishing 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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