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April 9, 2010

Fishing Oswego County's Territorial Waters

CATCH OF A LIFETIME- Kristy St. Louis of Syracuse landed this 34-lb., 8-oz. Chinook in 2008 on her very first fishing trip. 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.)

Largest Salmon in the Great Lakes -
By Spider Rybaak

Jana Lantry, one of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Lake Ontario experts, claims, "Lake Ontario has proven to be a world class trout and salmon fishery, and continues to produce the largest salmon in the Great Lakes."

This trend has been going on for almost 40 years. Best of all, Dan Bishop, a DEC fisheries biologist intimately familiar with the lake, predicts "I expect it to be as good as usual this year."

With all this going for it, the only problem facing most anglers is where to go.

Oswego County: Trophy Mill

Watered by the Oswego River, Lake Ontario's second largest tributary, the Salmon River, the most famous trophy coldwater fishery this side of the Rockies, and lesser feeders like the Little Salmon River, Grindstone and Little Sandy Creeks, it's a no-brainer that Oswego County's territorial waters boast the most productive fishery on the tiniest Great Lake.

Granted, many pieces of the big pond can claim the hottest action for some of the species some of the time; but Oswego County has the greatest number of trophies swimming around the neighborhood all the time.

Don't take my word for it. Just check out the list of current freshwater fishing records on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Web site and you'll find the champion brown trout, coho and chinook salmon came from Oswego County's corner of the lake. The county also holds world records for hybrid chinook/coho and rainbow trout.

Bread and Butter

Local habitat is so brown trout-friendly, the species is considered the "bread and butter fish" by a majority of area guides. They start trolling for them with stickbaits and spoons off planer boards, often in water only a few feet deep, as soon as ice-out. As daylight grows and water temperatures heat up, the trout move into deeper water but they're still close enough to shore for landlubbers to feel comfortable targeting them.

The best spots to troll? You guessed it; near the mouths of the tributaries.

Salmon City

Without a doubt, Oswego's biggest drawing cards are Pacific salmon. Introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1970s, partly to control exploding populations of smelt and alewives, chinook and coho salmon do their job well, growing to humongous proportions in the process (in fact, Lake Ontario produced the world record coho, a fish native to the Pacific Ocean).

Ranking high among nature's list of perfect predators, salmon feast for about three and a half years. In the final year of their lives, the summer solstice hooks their hormones, drawing them back to their natal streams, where they'll spawn in the fall and die.

The Salmon and Oswego Rivers get the lion's share of the returns. While some salmon are always present off Oswego, their numbers start growing tremendously around July. The largest populations of the biggest salmon stage off the river mouths...and feed, growing big and fat in preparation for their final act.

Locals target them by trolling over deep water with a variety of baits. Some of the most popular are the locally manufactured flies by A-Tom-Mik, Siggs Rigs and others. Other favorites include J-Plugs, Northern King, Savant, Dreamweaver or any one of the other popular spoons, and cutbait.


A lot of guys aiming for brown trout in May and June catch another of the county's most popular species: walleye. Captain Gerry Bresadola, the guy who led Tony Brown to the state record brown trout (no relation) in June, 1997, says he often gets "oops walleyes," typically ranging from eight to 12 pounds, while trolling for trout around the city of Oswego's harbor area.

Others target steelhead, the anadromous form of rainbow trout, by adding a cheater or slider onto the main line, allowing them to fish another lure above the one dragged deep for salmon.

Finally, landlocked Atlantic salmon, the only salmon indigenous to Lake Ontario, prowl beyond the Oswego Lighthouse and the piers (called "sticks" by locals) at the mouth of the Salmon River. Now all but extirpated from the tiniest Great Lake, a token presence of this native son is maintained through stocking by the authorities. Their numbers aren't great, so they're a real treat when you get one.

Oswego County is famed worldwide for its fantastic fishing. It's your best bet on the Great Lakes for catching a trophy to hang on your wall and in your memories.

For current fishing conditions, or to download an Oswego County Fishing and Hunting Guide, go to visitoswegocounty.com or call 1-800-248-4FUN.

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 at . Check out his blog at http://fishingandhuntinginoswego.blogspot.com/.

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