By Spider Rybaak
Oswego County, NY — One of the best investments NY State has ever made is its Pacific salmon program. Like the economy, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had its ups and downs. Unlike the stock market, however, which has a habit of diving in October, salmon offer autumnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s biggest returns for your fishing dollar. And the best banks from which to withdraw these profits are in Oswego County on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario.
The Oswego River, Lake OntarioÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second largest tributary, and the Salmon River, the best salmon stream in the Lower 40 States, run through it. You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to be a statistician to see that a combination like that amounts to a fishing nirvana come true.
And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all going on right now. Schools of salmon have been gathering off the mouths of Lake OntarioÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tributaries for the past couple of weeks, waiting for the biological signal that will send them storming upstream to deposit the next generation. A smattering has already gone up. But the vast majority are still revving their fins out in the lake, preparing to cross the starting line.
According to Jim Everard, an aquatic biologist with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Salmon River has more and more fish come in every week of September. Their numbers slowly build up until October, when the bulk runs the first couple weeks of the month.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Oswego River is a little different. Draining a vast watershed, including Oneida Lake and the Finger Lakes, its flow is generally warm and low in late summer. Early autumn rains raise water levels and lower temperatures enough to spur runs.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They start running up the Oswego River later in September,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Everard. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And, like the Salmon River, the runs peak in early October and start winding down by mid-month.Ã¢â‚¬Â
This yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s crop is better than last. Currently, Ã¢â‚¬Å“thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a fair number of decent fish out in the lake, including some 30-pounders,Ã¢â‚¬Â continues Everard.
New YorkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Pacific Salmon
Introduced into Lake Ontario almost 40 years ago to jump-start the recreational fishery, coho and Chinook salmon prospered beyond anyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s expectations.
These fish grow huge in Lake Ontario, way beyond trophy-size. Indeed, the world record coho is a 33 lb. 7 oz. bruiser taken in Oswego County on Aug. 13, 1998. In addition, the state record Chinook (47 lb. 13 oz.) was taken in the countyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s territorial waters.
They run the Oswego and Salmon Rivers in unbelievable numbers. One of the best bets is right in downtown Oswego, within easy walking distance of convenient lodging, abundant food and beverages, and eclectic shopping opportunities. World-class fishing just doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come any easier or more convenient than this.
If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re into wading, or floating over raging rapids slicing through a pristine gorge crowned in blazing autumn foliage, where encounters with bald eagles dining on salmon carcasses are a possibility, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll find the Salmon River more up your alley.
As great as the salmon fishing is, autumnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pot is sweetened with trophy steelhead and brown trout. Browns in the six to 20-pound range start their spawning run right around the same time the salmon do. On the other hand, Steelhead, an anadromous strain of rainbow trout, which spawn in spring, enter the rapids in force around mid-October strictly to feast on all that caviar.
By mid-November, most of the salmon have performed their final act and exited lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stage, and the brown trout beat fins back for the safety of the open lake. However, knowing a good thing when they see it, steelhead continue running all winter long to take advantage of the riversÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ slightly warmer waters, and all the eggs the ever fluctuating water levels continually loosen from between the rocks.
For current fishing conditions and visitor information, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call the Oswego County Tourism Office at 800-248-4386.
Spider Rybaak is an award-winning outdoor writer who has been published in more than 20 periodicals. He is the author of Ã¢â‚¬Å“Fishing Eastern New YorkÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“Fishing Western New YorkÃ¢â‚¬Â guide books that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him at [email protected] or check out his blog at http://fishingandhuntinginoswego.blogspot.com/