Oneida Lake’s Mixed Bags of May

By Spider Rybaak

Mark Yarema with the day’s first pike.

Mike Yarema loves to fish for walleyes. He especially likes targeting them with jigs in relatively deep water. For the longest time, his biggest gripe was finding jigs that could stand up to the pressure.

His search for high quality bucktails that could survive a hard day in his hands on Oneida Lake, his favorite spot, led him nowhere. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he lost a few every now and then and had to replace them.

“You don’t lose jigs too often on Oneida,” he complains. “So at day’s end, a typical jig ends up with paint chipped off its head, even losing its hair.”

So what does he do? He starts making his own.

I met Mike last January while working on the last pages of my next book “Fishing Oneida Lake,” (Burford Press), due for publication early next year. I still had a couple sections that needed tweaking, and the man’s knowledge of Oneida Lake pike and their habits proved extremely helpful. I took a couple of his jigs and planned on using them this spring.

Well, I forgot about them and fished the currents at the mouths of my favorite Oneida Lake tributaries on opening day with my usual curly-tail grubs and crankbaits. I did pretty good, catching my limit in the first couple of hours.

Surfing the web on the following Monday, I came across Dave Figura’s article on the results of the 36th Annual Cicero-Mattydale Lions Club Walleye Tournament on Oneida Lake on opening weekend. I read the results and learned 13-year-old Hunter Garrimone won the day with a 26 3/8 inch, 6 pound 7 ounce “eye” he nailed on an i1 Bait jig.

That’s Mike Yarema’s brand, I thought

Sure was. Mike calls me a little while later to tell me the story, ending the conversation by inviting me to go fishing with him.

At 5:30 Thursday morning, May 15, we headed out of Oneida Shores and hit the flats west of Frenchman Island. The wind was blowing us steadily west as we began our drift. Me, Mike and his budy Mark Shea start throwing i1 Bait 5/8 ounce jigs in black and purple, working them slowly on bottom in 17 feet of water.

Mike nails a 20 incher on his third cast. Mark lands one a few casts later. About 15 minutes later it’s my turn to put one in the boat. Five minutes after that, I catch another.

Then the pike shut down.

We switched to blade baits and everyone started catching small perch. A couple hours of runt perch later, the pike turn on again and we all catch our limits.

We decide to try our luck on crappies and move to Big Bay. Everyone ties on a tiny jig. Mike and Mark tip theirs with spikes; I tip my Berkley Atomic Teaser with a red Honey worm.

Mike and Mark start the ball rolling with monster sunfish. I finally catch a big bluegill, followed by a bucketmouth. Some crappies came around and we caught 8.

By 10:30 a.m, live well teaming with fish, we decide to head for home.

On the way back, I look at the i1 Bait jig Mike gave me and it’s as good as new. No chips on the finish, not a hair out of place. Even the steel leader attaching the stinger to the jighead are still in line.

i1 Bait jigs are made in Phoenix, NY specifically for Oneida Lake walleye, and are built tough to withstand the lake’s two biggest jig mutilators: rocks and pike teeth. They cost a little more but they’re worth the added expense.

Check them out at

Mark with a crappie
Mike unhooking another one
Mark Shea’s first walleye of the day