Indian Summer on the Oswego River

Syracusan Dave Bentley with a six-lb. brown.

Frosty nights riding the cold snap that blew through the Northeast the first week on November knocked most of the leaves off Oswego County’s trees. The majority floated gently to the ground, carpeting the woods in crackling bursts of brilliant autumn colors. Massive quantities, however, ended up in run-off, turning the Oswego River’s rapids into a raging kaleidoscope, creating headaches for anglers trying to keep the fallen foliage off their lines while fishing the high waters.

Fortunately, fall has many moods. Along with the smirk of biting rains and cold snaps comes a smiley face: Indian summer. Wednesday morning, November 9, saw one of these happy moments.

Beaming brightly when I got up, hanging in a bright blue sky washed in 50-something degrees, the sun convinced me to head up to Oswego to check out the fishing. To my delight, the river was down to summer levels. Varick Dam, which spewed a frightening torrent of foam and froth just a couple weeks ago, looked like a teenager squirting water between his front teeth. Indeed, the flow below was so low, I crossed the river in hip boots.

Not in a straight path, mind you. The ancient river bed is pretty flat, punctuated with crevices and pools. I started out at the first set of stairs just south of the power plant and zigzagged my way across, ending up at the foot of the falls on the east side.

Still, there was enough water to accommodate a steady flow of spawn heavy brown trout, late running kings—which were in pretty decent shape for this late—and caviar-minded steelhead. Just about every seam, pocket and slick in the rapids had fish.

Downstream of the powerhouse, guys were casting into the channel right at the end of the no fishing zone and walking their baits down, past the stairs to the small group that was still-fishing on bottom at the end of the wall.

Fish were evenly distributed throughout the rapids stretching from the dam to the Utica Street Bridge.

This month can be iffy but we can reasonably expect a couple more unseasonably pleasant days. It all adds up to being your best time of year to get close and personal with a whitewater, trophy brown trout; your last chance to get a spawning king juiced-up with raging hormones; and your first shot at a fall-run steelhead. And if it’s in your cards, you can even have a banner day and get all three.

While a bunch of fish are available from the safety of the fenced wall lining the river downstream of the powerhouse, wading the rapids offers a more personal sense of excitement and adventure. If you’re gonna walk the fast lane, wear traction devices on your boots, carry a wading staff to help keep your balance, wear polaroid sunglasses so you can see bottom through the water’s glare and a personal flotation device just in case the unthinkable happens and you get swept off your feet. Always pay attention to the falls and if more water is coming over than when you started, or if you hear the siren go off followed by announcements directing you to exit the river, head for shore immediately.

After all, there’s a lot of trout and salmon in the river in autumn and we want you back to help us catch ‘em again next week, next year…

Bob Sedorovitz of Scranton, PA, with a 13-lb brown.
Fishing at the northwestern corner of the Varick Dam
View of the dam: like a teen-ager squirting water between his teeth.
Larry Paccione, owner of Extinction’s Custom Rods (607-588-7077), Conesville, NY, holding a late-run king.
Clay Winter, Conesville, NY, with a nice steelie he took below the dam.
A happy angler, who posed on condition of anonymity, holding a nice steelie and brown he took from the rapids below Varick Dam.
Gerorge White and Jackie Stocum, Corning, NY, with the four monster kings they took below Varick Dam on November 9, 2011.