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Oneida Lake: Hawgmouth Capital of Central New York

Pat Miura holding a fat, five-pounder. 

Perceptions have a life of their own.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I would have argued that when it comes to bass, Oneida Lake is bronzeback territory. Today I’d have to say it’s a hawgmouth hotspot.

That’s what I said,  hawgmouth. The largemouths in the lake are so big, you might as well put hawg right in their name!

I learned that the most pleasant way possible. Pat Miura, the only Salmon River guide I know of who specializes exclusively in fly-fishing, (315-777-3570; [email protected]), showed me while proving he knew how to catch bass, too, on Redfield Reservoir earlier this summer (click here to read that blog).

“Oneida Lake’s my favorite largemouth bass spot in the state,” claimed Miura, matter-of-factly, while removing the hook from his 10th bass of the day.

“Really?” I responded.

“The place is loaded with daggone largemouths. You wanna go sometime?”

“You’re on,” I replied; “how about the end of July?”

We went in the middle of the third week, the hottest day of the year—so far. Temperatures hovered just below 100. The sun’s rays made us sweat so profusely you could boil eggs on our foreheads.

Still, the fish were active. Right when we launched, we saw what appeared to be bass attacking minnows on the surface over deep weeds.

Pat starts out tossing a hard jerkbait. Before his 10th jerk, he reports “Fish on” and immediately lands a 20-inch walleye.

Next cast he’s got another…then another…and so on.

By his fifth walleye, I figure I better switch to a jerkbait. Before I could tighten the knot on my Bomber, Pat lands his sixth, the last one to cooperate in that spot.

Stubborn cuss that I am, I cast a couple dozen times anyway. Fortunately, I got a northern, one of my favorite fish.

Next we hit the weeds around the big islands. Once again, Pat shows me how good he is by landing about six largemouths averaging 1 ½ pounds and a bronzeback of about three pounds—in less than an hour.

All I got was a pickerel. It’s hard fishing behind a guy like him, I thought, jealousy welling in my heart.

“Now we’re gonna get serious,” Pat announces. We take off for the northwestern corner.

Big Bay, Three Mile Bay, bays with no name, even no bays (we fished the open lake, too) it didn’t matter, the guy hooks largemouths. All the while, I’m casting my heart out coming up with nothing but weeds.

So I switch to a 4-inch Berkley Power Worm rigged Texas Style. I drop the offering at the edge of a clump of weeds and get the slightest series of taps imaginable. Setting the hook gently (thinking it was a small rock bass, I didn’t want to rip too big a hole in its jaw), I wasn’t prepared for the intensity and duration of the struggle that ensued.

Pat knew it was a big bucketmouth and warned me to be cautious.

“This can’t be a largemouth,” I shot back. “I never caught one that fought this hard.” It’s gotta be a 20 pound sheepshead, or carp, maybe even a sturgeon…

My Abu Garcia Vendetta Rod and Revo SX reel combo proved their mettle and a few minutes later, the fish shows: a bucketmouth so big, it barely fit into my field of vision..

“Now that’s a hawgmouth,” I squealed like a Cub Scout holding his first sunny. “You see the size of this thing?”

And that was my last of the day.

But Pat kept right at it. He even caught one as big as mine, plus a couple only a few ounces smaller. In fact, he caught and released about 20 largemouths whose total weight would have been at least 50 pounds; on the hottest day of the year, no less.

We didn’t keep anything. Pat never does. Just fishes…and releases…and fishes some more.

“The fish will remain active all of August,” says Miura.

And as summer’s greens bleed into the reds and golds of autumn, the bite will only get better, he adds.

Pat and a chunky smallmouth he took on the east end of Dunham Island. 

My five-pounder; taken in Big Bay. 

Pat releasing two of his six walleyes.