Oswego County: NY’s Trophy Fishing Mill

By Spider Rybaak
OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – Ever since fishing crossed the line from subsistence to sport, New York has been the most fisherman-friendly state in the union. And like a good friend, it keeps getting better and better. In 1991, for instance, the authorities designated the last weekend in June as free fishing time, allowing everyone, everywhere, the opportunity to fish these two days without a license. This year’s Free Fishing Weekend falls on June 23-24.

The New York State and Great Lakes record Chinook salmon weighed in at nearly 48 pounds in 1991. The record still holds. It was caught by Kurtis Killian in the Salmon River. Pictured are Pulaski guide Troy Creasy (left) and Killian in 1991.
The New York State and Great Lakes record Chinook salmon weighed in at nearly 48 pounds in 1991. The record still holds. It was caught by Kurtis Killian in the Salmon River. Pictured are Pulaski guide Troy Creasy (left) and Killian in 1991.

So how do you decide where to go? New York offers a lot of options. American fly-fishing was hatched in Catskill Mountain streams; Seth Green built the country’s first hatchery in the Finger Lakes community of Caledonia in 1864, spawning aquaculture in this hemisphere; and Oswego County developed the most productive waters in the country, even better than the Pacific Ocean.

That’s right, Oswego County’s territorial waters beat the world’s largest ocean when it comes to raising some salmon species. But don’t take Oswego County Tourism’s (the source of this press release) word for it; check the record. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world record coho salmon, a species native to the Pacific Ocean, is a 33-lb 4-ozer caught in the Salmon River in 1989 by Jerry Lifton.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), on the other hand, recognizes a slightly larger fish, a 33-lb. 7 oz. critter caught in Lake Ontario by Stephen Sheets Jr. on August 13, 1998.

Regardless of whose fish you accept as the largest, the fact remains both are bigger than anything the Pacific Ocean has been able to produce.

The New York State and Great Lakes Chinook salmon record was caught by Kurtis Killian in the Salmon River on Sept. 7, 1991. The fish weighed in just shy of 48 pounds at 47 lbs.13 oz.!

What’s more, the world record Chinook-coho, a hybrid recognized by the IGFA but not the NYSDEC, is a 35-lb. 8-oz. fish taken in the Salmon River in October, 2001 by Brooks Gerli. Since the Chinook salmon is also indigenous to the Pacific, you can bet your fly rod a lot of hybrids are taken out West, too, it’s just that none is anywhere near as big as ours.

Trout also come big in these parts. NY’s record brown trout, a 33-lb 2 oz. bruiser was taken on June 10, 1997 by Tony Brown (no relation) in Oswego County territorial waters.

Funny thing, Jerry Bresadola, the charter captain who led Brown to his brown, admits “I spent the next day searching for an angler named Chinook. Couldn’t find one.”

Less glamorous species also get big around here. The NYS record shorthead redhorse, a member of the sucker family, is an 11-lb. 11-oz. specimen caught in the Salmon River by Joe Williams on May 26, 1996.

And the Salmon River isn’t the only stream in Oswego County that spits out trophies regularly. The Oswego River, Lake Ontario’s second largest tributary, has been granting anglers monster walleyes for as long as anyone can remember. Jerry Wanitsy, a native of Rochester who frequently fishes from the bank in the city of Oswego says “I wouldn’t be surprised if a state record walleye was already caught out of here. The locals are so used to big fish, they never weigh ‘em; just take ‘em home, clean ‘em and eat ‘em. To tell the truth, you never see small walleyes caught here. They’re all huge!”

What’s more, the fishing is easy. Both banks in the city of Oswego are paved in concrete and topped with fishermen-friendly fences. And while there’s always the chance you might latch onto a record walleye, salmon or even sturgeon, and chances are you’ll catch loads of smaller fish first, and that’s a plus to beginners or families with small children.

And the tiniest Great Lake and its tributaries aren’t all the county has to offer. Oneida Lake, for instance, the greatest walleye and bass fishery in the state, washes our southeastern shore. It’s loaded with safe, public fishing venues like the DEC sites at the foot of the northeastern end of the I-81 bridge (off County route 37 in Brewerton), at Toad Harbor (take NY 49 to West Monroe, turn south on Toad Harbor Road and follow it to the end) and Cleveland Docks (NY 49 in Cleveland). The first two have handicap platforms, the third is accessible to the disabled.

Or try your luck for panfish, bass and monster carp at Lake Neahtahwanta, NY 3, on the west side of Fulton. Just park your car, head for the shore and cast out.

All the species that are found in the fresh waters of the state are available in Oswego County. You can go somewhere else and put up with catching a bunch of little guys while trying for a big one. Or come to Oswego County where the fish come big and the favorite local pastime is to break records.

For current fishing conditions all year-round, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call 1-800-248-4FUN.