Browns in Oswego for the Holidays

Spider Rybaak

Oswego native and professional fly tier David Gagnon ([email protected]) with a couple nice browns he took on a custom jig he designed and tied.

A couple days before Christmas–work squared away, Holiday gift giving on my mind–I set out to go shopping at Great Northern Mall in Clay, about 20 miles away. In the wrong lane at NY 31’s eastern entrance to the place, I look over my shoulder to see if I can slip into the right lane. The center-pin rod stretched out on the floor in the center of my van catches my eye…

And I’m hooked. The next thing you know, I’m past the mall’s entrance, turning onto I-481 north on a heading for Oswego–to check out the stores, I suppose?

Never happened.

When the river finally came into view on the south end of the city, its flow was perfect, more than I could resist. Run-off from the heavy rains that soaked the Finger Lakes Region a few days earlier still swelled the stream but all the sediments had dropped to the bottom by now, leaving the water high and clean, ideal for sight feeders. Intuition played with my imagination, creating thoughts of massive runs of steelies down there; and the store of human weakness in my heart drew me to the rapids like the sight of ripe road-kill draws a crow to the curb.

Crossing the river on the Utica Street Bridge, I turned left at the light, parked in the fishing access site next to the Post Office, hiked down to the river and headed upstream to fish the north corner of the west dam.

I never made it that far. As I walked the fenced-in concrete retaining wall stretching from the powerhouse to the falls, I see a guy fighting a fish in the rapids below the first gate (two gated staircases allow easy access to the river).

A minute later he lands a gold-bellied male brown of about eight pounds and tosses it on shore, in the direction of another, slightly smaller brown already wedged between the rocks.

One huge male brown decked out in autumn splendor has a way of stopping me in my tracks. A pair is enough to sweep away my inhibitions, provoking me to beg, politely and sternly: “You mind if I fish that seam between the fast water and the emergency platform upstream of you?”

“Go ahead,” the guy replies. “That’s where I got these two. Right now I’m gonna fish above the spillway, to see if there’s a steelie in there.

My first eight to 10 attempts are complete failures. Center-pinning equipment takes some getting used to. I hadn’t used it since early spring and lost my touch.

Eventually my cast hits the targeted seam. I watched the float bob downstream in perfect time with the current, carrying my bubblegum colored Berkley Power Floating Trout Worm through the strike zone. A couple seconds later it disappears. I set the hook solidly into a feisty fish.

Before long, I’m leading a six-pound female brown to shore. Dave Gagnon, the guy who gave me his spot, works his way slowly upstream, offering to help me land my trophy. By the time he reaches me, I’ve already photographed the girl, and was preparing to release her.

“Want me to photograph you holding her?” he offered.

“Sure do. Thanks man.”

A couple high-fives later, and some serious whooping and hollering by me, Dave slowly heads back downstream; and I resume fishing.

A couple casts later, I’m into a steelie. The thing was right out’a SU mens basketball’s playbook; jumping and fast-breaking like Fab Melo in the paint. Gently coaxing the 18-inch female to shore, I remove her from the water long enough to take her picture, and release her.

Before I could wade out the five or so steps to my casting position, Dave’s into a fish. I head down to offer him assistance but he doesn’t need it. The brown is only about 14 inches, relatively easy to handle.

Releasing it, he casts out again and immediately gets another one, much bigger. After landing it, he calls it quits and heads for the fishing access site, three beautiful browns in tow; all caught on tiny jigs he designed and tied.

Another angler shows up as the sun touches the horizon and catches a brown on his third cast. He catches another in the half hour left to fish.

Rain and snow in Central New York over the Holidays continues feeding the Oswego River and its growing fat with browns and steelhead. These conditions should remain into the second week of the New Year.

Me and my brown.

A small steelie for the Holidays.

Dave’s last brown for the day.