Best Downtown Fishing Around

Spider Rybaak

City mallards and anglers: Varick Dam.

The city of Oswego’s miracle mile boasts the greatest trophy fishing in the country.

Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary runs through the middle of town. Draining Oneida Lake and the Finger Lakes, the Oswego River is a magnet for bank anglers targeting warmwater species like catfish, walleyes and smallmouth bass in summer. But when October nights stir autumn’s chill into the rapids, massive quantities of the lake’s biggest salmonids move into downtown’s caressing currents to find mates under the neon.

Currently, king salmon are the rage. They hang out anywhere there’s fast-water, from Bridge Street all the way to the pools below Varick Dam.

The main stage for anglers trying their luck at landing one is the Linear Park lining the west bank. Running from the power house to just south of the silos looming over the harbor near the river’s mouth, a distance of almost a mile, the fence-lined, concrete wall offers a safe platform for battling these brutes.

Action is fast and furious along the northern half of the park, particularly from the power house to the end of the middle wall channeling the deep tailrace, roughly behind, and a little north, of Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778). Larry offers advice, a full line of tackle and a fish cleaning station.

This year, the most productive bait is skein and eggs cured with Pautzke Fire Brine. Most guys float-fish the stuff; suspending it anywhere from 3 inches to a foot off bottom on a slip bobber, and ensure their bait stays at the proper depth by walking the wall at the same pace as the current.

Fly-fishermen targeting steelhead in the rapids between the dam and the north end of Leto Island (access from Leto Island is closed, so you’ll have to wade to get to the east bank), are getting more kings than chromers on estaz flies and streamers, but the number of ironheads promises to increase dramatically from now through November. Some browns are also in the fast water.

Walleyes are still in the river, too, mostly in the deeper water downstream of Utica Street. They’ll hit floating crankbaits like Bass Pros XPS Minnows and Thundersticks, and worms rigged on Dixie Spinners and dragged slowly on bottom. Be prepared to tangle with incidental steelies and brown trout.

Anglers must wear personal flotation devices to fish the river upstream of the power house.

Below the signs announcing the power company’s dress-code requiring personal flotation devises beyond this point.
Charter Captain Andy Bliss unhooking a nine-pound domestic rainbow taken below the power plant.
Mike Viggiano, Nanticoke, PA, carrying a steelie he took in the rapids a little downstream of the dam.
Father and son team from Long Island and their kings.
Josh Collette (left), president of the Oswego State Fishing Club, Phil Jenkins (center), interim treasurer, and club member Jordan Rabinowitz discussing fishy subjects at West Linear Park. Sanctioned by the Student Association, “the club is for recreational purposes and to further educate the student body on ethical and sustainable fisheries,” explains Collette.