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Oswego Drainage Cats


The author with a nice five-pounder taken in the city of Oswego.

Catfish, the Rodney Dangerfield of the aquatic world, is finally getting some respect; of all places, from  the State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC launched these handsome bottom feeders into the spotlight by placing a gorgeous specimen on the cover of its “New York Freshwater Fishing: 2011-12 Official Regulations Guide.” And while other species are included in the guide’s main theme, “Those Other Fish,” none is quite as popular as the catfish.

In fact—depending on who you talk to, of course–catfish are considered America’s most sought after fish. Available in all the Lower 49 States, they’re relatively easy to catch, grow huge, fight well when hooked and make pretty decent table fare to boot.

And while Oneida Lake is listed in Jim Everard’s piece: “Fishing for New York’s Big Cats,” as one of the state’s top seven spots for trophies, he could have just as easily included the Oneida and Oswego Rivers, too.

I know it, and so does a select group of locals who places cats right up there with the more glamorous tackle busters in their lists of favorites, alongside the likes of bass, walleye, pike…

Since they’re one of my favorite species, especially in autumn when they’re at their biggest and hungriest, I figured I’d spend a few days fishing for catfish pictures so I could do a blog on ‘em. My idea turned out to be loaded with thrills I’ll never forget.

You see, I went to a few spots from my youth, when cats were always readily available to boys whose only transportation was a bike. What I found was that the fishing is better, the catfish bigger, than existed in my fondest memories.

Oswego River Drainage

This fabulous watershed is loaded with cats…big ones. Some of the largest come right out of the river in downtown Oswego. Right now, salmon cadavers literally carpet the floor in food, so you have a lot of bait competing with you. Still, the wait can be worth it:  I’ve seen cats in the 15-lb range taken off the park walls lining both sides of the river in the heart of the city.

What’s more, catfish thrive in the entire river. Access is plentiful in Fulton and all the villages along the way.

Further upstream, specifically the Oneida River, also boasts good populations of these horny critters. Caughdenoy is famous–by locals, anyway– for its trophies, both above the dam and in the plunge pool below. The canal in Brewerton is also a big cat hot spot.

Then there’s Oneida Lake. Channel cats, NY’s native breed, like deep, moving water. And that’s mostly found in the channel running the length of the lake, out of bounds for bank anglers. However, Oswego County provides a solution: Cleveland Docks. Located in the village of Cleveland, this spot has deep water right below its sagging concrete walls, and the lake’s cats find it a comfortable place to hang out while picking off individual minnows straying from the massive baitballs that swim in and out of the harbor constantly.

Notorious scavengers, catfish will hit just about anything, including lures. Still, a minnow, cut bait, shrimp or commercially produced offering like Berkley Gulp Catfish Dough and Berkley Powerbait Catfish Bait (they don’t feed, bleed or need refrigeration—perfect for keeping in the trunk or glove compartment), fished on bottom, work well.
Worms are good, too, but you might have to put up with everything in the drink stealing lots of your bait before a fat cat gets to it.

For everything you need to know–plus a whole lot more–to catch NY’s largest whiskered fish, read DEC Fish Biologist Jim Everard’s article “Fishing for New York’s Big Cats, ” in the current fishing regulations guide, available for free wherever fishing licenses are sold.


Mark Davis of Westmoreland holding a nice, 13-lb cat taken at Cleveland Docks.
Utica Native, Poelash Anm, showing a six-lb catfish he took on a minnow at Cleveland Docks.