Bullheads and Crappies: Bank Fishing’s Rites of Spring

By Spider Rybaak

Matt Nies and son Jackson with a couple typical Toad Harbor bluegills.

An old wives’ tale says that bullheads go on their spring bite when forsythias bloom; screwy weather notwithstanding. And while Lake Neahtahwanta saw some early, incredibly fast and furious crappie action the last couple days of March through the first week of April, bullheads are a little more patient and stayed true to their normal schedule.

And, you won’t find a more convenient place in which to catch these thorny delicacies than this lake on Fulton’s West Side. You see, not only is it located right at the shoulder of NY State Route 3, it boasts a pier and restaurant a stone’s throw from the highway and offers ample shoulder parking and fishing access on about a quarter of its shoreline.

What’s more, these normally nocturnal feeders are famished right after their winter-long snooze in the mud, and hit as eagerly in broad daylight right now as they do after dark. And that’s a good for school kids, working folks and others who don’t cotton to fishing half the night.

Equally exciting is that this year the rules have changed, allowing anglers to use three rigs instead of two, so you can still-fish worms or shrimp on bottom with a couple rods and dangle a minnow below a bobber on a third in case there’s a school of late blooming crappies snooping around the shoreline looking for love or food.

Another Oswego County hot-spot for these popular panfish is Oneida Lake’s Toad Harbor. This year everything’s swarming in at once. In fact, over the past week, you were as likely to catch a batch of bluegills as you were a limit of crappie or bushel of bullheads.

Toad Harbor is notorious for game fish species that are out of season this time of year, and you can’t avoid catching them, especially if you’re using minnows, jigs or other lures for crappies

One of the most common is the pickerel, an ancient critter that hails back to before the ice age. The smallest member of the pike family, these toothy game fish are important for maintaining a healthy prey/predator balance. Unfortunately, some guys treat pickerel with extreme prejudice, like they’re unaware the species is native to New York. Hate to tell ‘em, the reason there’s so many pickerel in the lake is because they’re filling in for the northern pike that are being slowly forced out by loss of habitat. You see, nature abhors a vacuum and is replacing the pike with their tinier cousins.

Remember, pickerel are a game fish that deserve their protected status and should be released without any further harm…until their opening day, the first Saturday of May. Then you can take them home and savor their incredibly delicate flavor.

Another species that finds “The Toad” to its liking in its off season is the largemouth bass. Last Monday, small schools of hawgs prowled the food-rich waters within easy eye-shot of anglers. One guy I was talking to about the crappie bite couldn’t keep his mind on our conversation, explaining “not while the biggest bass I’ve ever seen are swimming around me.” (Bass season opens the third Saturday in June.)

One of the two 13-something-inch Crappies I caught on April 12 at Toad Harbor on a Berkley Power Teaser tipped with a Berkley Honey Worm.
A couple ladies relaxing while fishing from the bank.
Fulton’s Brian Kirby, and daughter Kristie, admiring a juicy bullhead they caught bottom-fishing with worms in Lake Neahtahwanta on April 15.
Fulton resident Charles Pollack with a bullhead he took from Lake Neatahwantha over the weekend.