Oswego Officials Hope To Revitalize River Fishing

OSWEGO, NY – Some Oswego businessmen and city officials are looking for ways to reinvigorate the local fishing industry – specifically along the Oswego River.

Some changes have been made along the river that are impacting everyone, Council President Ron Kaplewicz pointed out at Tuesday’s Administrative Services Committee meeting.

“We are not fish friendly; we may be a lake friendly city for fishing, but I’m not sure we’re river friendly,” he said. “In our heyday on this river, literally from September through November, you could find folks on both sides of the river … standing shoulder to shoulder fishing on that Oswego River. You don’t see that anymore. That’s not the case anymore. And, that concerns me. There are tourism dollars being lost. And, certainly, businesses are suffering.”

Phil Reitz, owner of the Reitz Dinner, told the councilors that the city’s promotion of river fishing has been “lackluster.”

“I’ve seen the decline (in fishing) probably from about 1992 to today. When I was about 11 years old, I ran a hot dog stand behind the restaurant (along the river) and it was just how you said – shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “We had people who had been coming for like 30 years. Those people aren’t here anymore.”

He took over the dinner in 2006. His fall sales have declined “somewhere around 60 percent” because of the lack of (river) fishing tourism, he told the committee.

“That’s pretty alarming,” he added.

The decline can be blamed, in part, on the recent poor economy, he said. It’s also due to “DEC harassment,” he continued.

Other factors include over-regulation on where fishing is allowed, lifejacket requirements and siren warnings forcing people out of the water.

“I also think it’s because we don’t properly promote our resource,” Reitz said. “It’s a tremendous resource that we have, the lake and the river. I think the whole thing could be promoted better. Promotion is lackluster at best. At worst it is non-existent.”

Aside from being the Port City, Oswego should be the Fishing City as well, Reitz said.

The river is a strength in a declining economy, he added. Buying some worms and paying a couple dollars in gas to drive here to fish along the river is cheaper than a charter on the lake, he pointed out.

He told the committee how fishermen would come up to him and complain about how undercover DEC officers and slap them with a $150 ticket for something trivial.

He also talked about the restrictions placed along the river in response to the drowning deaths of some fishermen.

Larry Muroski of the Oswego Salmon Shop told councilors that fishermen need to be allowed access again to Letto Island, a popular fishing spot along the river.

Councilor Mike Todd noted the city has been in discussions with state representatives for months trying to get access to the site.

“It’s basically, the state wants that land, and they figure if they can freeze people out, they’re going to get it. They’re basically trying to make a land grab,” he said. “We’re not happy about it. We have pretty much demanded that they at least open it up to foot traffic because it’s costing us money. Nobody’s getting very far dealing with the DEC. The Canal Corp. wants it. It’s an uphill battle.”

When he was a kid, everybody fished, he said, adding that today they play video games instead.

The decline in river fishing is the combination of several things, Kaplewicz said.

They have to get the word out that “we are open for business,” Mayor Tom Gillen said. “I don’t think that message is getting out as well as it should.”

“Nobody should have to listen to that,” Todd said of the rising water sirens. “You should know enough to get out of the water and we shouldn’t have to regulate everybody else because you don’t.”

They have to meet with the proper authorities and come to mutually beneficial agreements, Reitz said.

Todd urged people to contact their state representatives regarding the Letto Island situation.

“We’re very aware of what’s going on,” Kaplewicz agreed. “I would suggest that, through the Mayor’s Office, we can have a sit-down with Brookfield (Renewable Energy Group, operators of the hydroelectric station in the Oswego River) again (along with others including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). We have asked for petitions from the neighbors (near the river) that can re-enforce what we’ve been trying to say about the speakers, sirens and what-not.”

No firm date has been set for the meeting.


  1. The high water alarm going off every twenty minutes at all hours of the day and night, regardless of the water level is rediculous. Not allowing fisherman to fish is the reason the aren’t coming here.

  2. It seems to me that Oswego has been regulated out of business, either by private interests or because of the actions of a few stupid people.
    I’m 80 now and have so many fond memories of fishing the Oswego River for Silver and Blue Pike. In the 40’s we stood shoulder to shoulder on the river bank and the only problem was when lines would tangle and someone would holler, “First Cuts!”
    The only place that was off limits was the Naval Militia Dock.
    Crawlers were a penny apiece and Shiners were two cents at Shorty’s Bait Shop under Markson’s Dept Store. I got my Crawlers at Battle Island Golf Course and seined for Shiners in the shallows at the foot of West Eighth Street where my Uncle, Fritz Converse, had a Boathouse. Yellow Pike were caught between the two lights, and the coal trestle was a great place to go for Perch and Sunnies, in March the Smelt were caught by the washtub full behind the Steam Plant. There were no Salmon then to draw tourists, but folks would come to cane pole for Bullheads at Three Mile Creek. Every now and then where the old barges were grounded, someone would hook into a Sturgeon and get the thrill of a lifetime. I had a Huck Finn-like life growing up in Oswego and feel a sadness when I read about what has happened to my old haunts.

  3. I used to come to Letto Island every year and spend a week at a time fishing on the river. I would shop at the local grocery stores, tackle shops etc. However now I come spend the night in my car & go home the next day. I can’t afford to stay at a hotel. My business is lost to your area. It’s a loss of future revenue of my children. It would be a vacation spot, but again recourses don’t allow a long stay. Sadly it’s all our LOSS.

  4. It is not just the city of Oswego. Fishing in Oswego County has fallen off the last 5-8 years. Stocking off fish in the lake has seemed to been reduced. I live on the water have seen a drastic fall off of fisherman. Off course the cost of hotels/motel rooms has risen to the likes bigger cities. I had visitors from Michigan this summer and the lowest price they could find was at a motel in Scriba. It seems the hotels in Oswego were either filled or were near the $200 a night range. People, this is Oswego, not New York City or Skaneateles. My visitors cancelled there stay at May’s Motel for $100. a night and stayed at my neighbors place.

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