By Spider Rybaak
OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – Late spring sends the aquatic world into a frenzy of activity. All its residents are highly aggressive and hungrier than ever. Itâ€™s the perfect time to gather up the kids and spouse and take them to your favorite body of water for some fishinâ€™–and memory weaving.
You see, for most of the year fish occupy certain habitats and temperature ranges. Right now, on the other hand, many species have just spawned, and others are getting ready to. Since they generally propagate in shallow, inshore areas like swamps and tributaries, places where they donâ€™t live year-round, theyâ€™re on the move, easily accessible to anglers fishing near shore, or where thereâ€™s current.
Oswego County is loaded with both habitats. Whatâ€™s more, the county is the stateâ€™s most fisherman-friendly, and boasts a slew of public fishing access sites to prove it. But donâ€™t take my word for it. Check out one of these spots:
Famed worldwide for walleyes and bass, this huge body of water can be a tough bite to figure out, especially if youâ€™ve got a bunch of amateurs with you. So, instead of packing the family into a boat and struggling to keep the kids in and the water out, avoid anxiety by hiring a charter or fishing from the bank.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation offers two public access sites with loads of parking and shore fishing access: Cleveland Dock and Toad Harbor. Part of the Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area, Toad Harbor can be reached by heading East on NY 49 from I-81 exit 32 (Central Square), turning right about three miles later onto Toad Harbor Road, following it for about four miles, turning right onto Shaw Drive and traveling to the end. Cleveland Dock is about 10 miles further east on NY 49, in its namesake village.
The nicest thing about the Oneida River is its variety of stream habitats: canal, primitive river, and surging rapids.
The riverfront village of Brewerton boasts public access on two highly productive fishing spots: on County Route 37, right below the north side of the I-81 bridge; and the public dock on East River Road (traveling north on US 11, take a right after crossing the bridge).
It also pours right through the village of Caughdenoy. One of the best spots in the state for fast water walleyes, bass, catfish, sheepshead (freshwater drum) and panfish is the pool and rapids below the floodgates. In addition, the slow water above the barrier is a dynamite trophy catfish spot and a favorite haunt of monster largemouth and smallmouth bass. Informal parking and access is available off County Route 12, at the north end of the floodgates.
Lake Ontarioâ€™s second largest tributary, the Oswego River packs an awful lot of great fishing into its 23-something-mile length. And all of its hotspots are conveniently located in populated areas.
Phoenix offers walleyes and all the usual suspects in the fast water below its dams. The tail of the pool below the gates on the east bank is an especially productive panfish spot, and the rapids beyond are loaded with catfish. Northern pike roam the edges of the weeds lining the slow water near the boat ramp. Parking and access are off the northwestern corner of the bridge.
Fulton offers loads of easy fishing access, too. Thereâ€™s good bank fishing, a small craft launch and parking off CR 57, just south of the village. The heart of town offers deep water fishing in the canal and limited access to fast water at both locks. And the formal access site on NY 481, on the north side of town offers parking, bank fishing and a hard surface launch.
Minetto offers a small craft launch on the west bank, and shore fishing access.
And then thereâ€™s the city of Oswegoâ€¦aka fishing nirvana. The upper pool between the two dams is notorious for huge catfish, feisty smallmouths and loads of panfish. You can get to the water on the east bank from the upper and lower locks (both offer parking), and the west bank is accessible at the shoulder of NY 48.
Below the riverâ€™s final dam, the city of Oswego has made fishing as easy as itâ€™s ever going to get. Fisherman-friendly parks run along both banks of the stream; and the western park goes all the way to the dam. Leto Island offers access to the rapids and dam on the east shore. Wrightâ€™s Landing has a couple areas open to bank anglers looking to nab some of the marinaâ€™s delicious crappies, perch, rock bass and sunfish. (Fishing is prohibited in most of the marina so ask the attendant at the entrance for details)
Spilling into Fultonâ€™s eastern city limits, Lake Neahtahwanta is a crappie and panfish hot spot. Problem is they can be really finicky. Savvy locals claim thatâ€™s because the lakeâ€™s a night bite. Still, some panfish and a few largemouth bass always hang out in the waters below the pavilion in the park off NY 3, and every now and then a northern pike comes around.
Best known for its majestic sand dunes, Sandy Pond is plagued with an extreme shortage of public fishing access. However, some informal access is available off the shoulder of CR 15, on the banks of Little Sandy Creek.
One of the worldâ€™s most famous salmon and trout streams, the Salmon River has coughed up more trophies than all of New Yorkâ€™s other streams combined. It holds the world record for coho salmon, a species indigenous to the Pacific Ocean, and the state record chinook salmon.
One of the most exciting fisheries in the world is its summer runs of Skamania (steelhead) and landlocked Atlantic salmon. In fact, the last natural holdouts of Atlantic salmon are endangered and protected, and the Salmon River offers the only meaningful trophy fishing for the species in the country.
Its banks are open to public fishing from Pulaski all the way to Altmar, a distance of over 10 miles. Below the village, Douglaston Salmon Run offers a private fishing preserve. Although DEC offers numerous public access sites with parking off NY 13, CR 2A, Sheepskin Road and Centerville Road, the fish seem most cooperative in the upper, fly-fishing, catch-and-release only section, accessible from CR 22, about Â½ mile east of Altmar.
If you donâ€™t have a license, and want to try your luck before committing to buying one, the state offers a free fishing weekend: June 26 and 27.
Without a doubt, Oswego County is your best bet in the state for fishing satisfaction this summerâ€¦fallâ€¦winterâ€¦next springâ€¦you get the picture. Whatâ€™s more, a family fishing trip in this neck of the woods is the stuff of memories thatâ€™ll last a lifetime.