Downtown Oswego’s Winter Wildlife

by Spider Rybaak

Nice brown taken behind Motel Row.

To average folks, fishing in winter is the realm of hardy types who sit around on the ice all day staring into holes at their feet and wishing for a fish to pop out…or something like that. Truth is, there’s another form of winter fishing: casting from ice into open water. And Oswego County offers the best opportunities in the East.

By best we mean the most productive and, since some are right in downtown Oswego, the safest and most convenient casting platforms imaginable.

You see, the Oswego River runs through the heart of the Port City. Linear parks paved in concrete and lined with wrought iron fences skirt both banks. Each winter, nature plants snow on the walkways and pedestrians pound an icy path through it. And although you might slip and slide a little, particularly while trying to maintain control during a trophy trout’s sizzling runs, the fencing is solid enough to prevent you from falling into the drink.

The water below each park has its own personality.

The western bank borders fast water. Spurred into agitation by tumbling over the dam and pouring out of the powerhouse’s turbines, it’s squeezed into a raging bottleneck by the Oswego Canal on the opposite shore, and by a couple of stone walls in the center of the river.

The east side is much slower. The locks jutting into the river below Bridge Street, and the abutment a little beyond, further divert the flow west, braking what’s left of the flow to a crawl that gently caresses the east bank.

This time of year sees water temperatures at their lowest. And while trout are classified as cold water fish, they slow right down when the water temperature drops into the low 30s. This is especially true of brown trout, the most warmwater tolerant of the breed.

Numbed by the cold, they’re lethargic, not into fighting rapids or chasing food, making the gently flowing east bank just what they’re looking for.

I went out behind Hotel Row last week to see if that formula still applied.

Sure did. Of the dozen or so anglers I ran into during the course of two days, four had big browns to show for their efforts.

A couple guys took one apiece on Berkley Twitchtail minnows jigged slowly– at a crawl, actually—on bottom.

A guy from Westchester County had three in a bag, including a ten-pounder. He caught them all on egg sacs still-fished on bottom.

The fourth guy tried hiding a nice brown but its tail poked out of the back of his jacket. I didn’t ask him too much…He just seemed like the type of guy who wasn’t into disclosing secrets.

The heat wave of the past couple days will raise the river’s level greatly, drawing massive quantities of browns and steelhead from the open lake. And the place they’ll focus on will be the relatively calm waters behind Hotel Row.

Still, a few of the steelies are sure to run the rapids on the west bank.

Ice row: Behind the power plant on the west bank.
Powerplant reminder to dummies: Rising wter can drown ya!