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Low Water Salmon

By Spider Rybaak

The results of Captain Dick Stanton’s outing last Saturday morning.
Nestled in an incredibly beautiful and productive web of waterways, Oswego County ranks high on the short list of the world’s greatest freshwater fishing destinations. And this summer we’re proving it in spades. While all the other self-proclaimed capitols of the fishing world are crying because the drought has drastically reduced water levels–and creel counts–our charter captains are smiling, pulling into port with coolers loaded with trophy salmon.

Take Capt. Richard G. Stanton (315-246-4767), for instance. The last two times he’s gone out, he’s led his highly satisfied clients to 16 keepers (see photos).

“We got these off Oswego, 50 to 70 feet deep, over 90 to 120 feet of water,” reveals Capt. Dick. “The vast majority was taken on Echip flasher/A-Tom-Mik fly combinations, and Moonshine spoons,” he adds.

Anyone who knows anything about Great Lakes salmon knows this is nothing new. Indeed, blessed with the Oswego (Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary) and Salmon (the most famous cold water stream in the Great Lakes) rivers, our corner of Lake Ontario is notorious for drawing the biggest concentration of mature salmon in the lower 48 states.

Unfortunately, the rivers aren’t faring so well…yet. Rain has been so scarce lately, that streams everywhere are running at about half of normal capacity. At this writing, the Salmon River is barely at 185 cubic feet per second (cfs); normal September flow is 300 cfs.

Still, a few salmon are in. Not in any great numbers, but enough to reward patient anglers with some of the most exciting fishing imaginable. You see, the fish are already staged off the Salmon River’s mouth and more are arriving every day. They feed like pigs while waiting for the signal (a drop in the stream’s temperature, rising water, nature’s clock running out, whatever) to collectively enter the flow. And while most wait to storm upriver in mass, there’s always a few that run early, on their own or in small groups, usually after dark.

These precocious critters rule the night. In the morning, they’re caught unaware and become easy prey to early-rising anglers. Veterans that survive daylight’s ambush head for the safety of pools and mill around all day avoiding hooks. 

But they’ll re-enter the rapids in daylight if fishing pressure subsides; and it often does the first couple weeks of September.

The key is to find a spot that isn’t crowded with excited anglers. Then you gotta hunt the beasts stealthily: wear camouflage (on sunny days, blue or white will do) and walk slowly, quietly. Swinging streamers through the rapids, or working egg sacs, gobs of skein or imitations like pieces of sponge in pockets and channels, often produce strikes.

As far as the Oswego River goes, Larry Muroski, owner of Larry’s Oswego Salmon Shop (315-342-2778), says, “The water’s in the low 70s right now [September 9] and it’ll take at least a week, probably a little longer for it to cool down enough for fish to start coming in.”

But come they will; and early indications are this is gonna be a banner year for big ones. 

A word of caution: Wear a personal flotation device whenever wading one of Lake Ontario’s major tributaries. Although the rivers are low and easy to wade right now, you have to remember they drain wide areas. For instance, the Oswego drains the entire Finger Lakes region and Oneida Lake. A storm upriver can send a mini-tsunami barreling downstream, raising the water to dangerous levels without warning. In addition, pay attention to the water level by mentally marking its location on a rock, wall, tree, even your boots; and if you see or feel it rising, get out as quickly as you can.

New Dress Code for the Oswego River: Personal flotation devices required to fish upstream of the power plant–Coast Guard approved, no less.

Capt. Stanton’s results on Sunday morning.
Early birds on the Salmon River last Sunday.