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Oswego River’s Monster Bottom Feeders

McGrath helping his associate Darryl Storie hold a 30-pounder.

Autumn swells the world in plenty. Forest, field, lake or stream…it doesn’t matter; they’re all brimming with nature’s bounty, and best of all, everything’s at its biggest and healthiest.

But all locations aren’t created equal; and Oswego County’s greatest claim to fame is its aquatic resources. Salmon, brown trout, steelhead, walleyes, bass, panfish, catfish, you name it, we’re loaded with ’em…big ones.

That’s no idle boast. One wide-eyed local, speaking on condition of anonymity, claims,“There’s so many fish around here this time of year, they’ve been known to overflow the waters.”

“You don’t believe me?” he continues, “check out the Salmon River or creeks like Grindstone and Little Sandy. Walk along the shore. Before long, you’ll run into salmon that beached themselves during the spawning run.”

And it ain’t just salmon and trout. Cousin Staash claims: “from mid-September through mid-November, I celebrate the year’s end by hitting quiet stretches of the Oswego River to take in the last warm rays, watch colors floating in the wind and water, and meditate, all while fishing for monstrous bottom feeders.”

Now, I like to do battle with a powerful catfish or carp as much as the next guy. Unfortunately, Staash likes to fish alone. Still, I figured being related carried some weight.  So I asked him if I could tag along next time he went.

“NO!”

His response was so brutally clear, it almost dragged me down to the bowels of despair. But it wasn’t to be, I guess, because right when I felt I was slipping under, I looked up at my answering machine and saw it blinking. The message was from Mike, owner of McGrath & Assoc. Carp Angling Services (315-469-5039; [email protected]).

“Spider,” it said, “We’re going to the Oswego River on Sunday, for the biggest carp of the season. You’re welcome to come along.”

Cool, I thought. This guy’s even better at nabbing bottom suckers then my cousin.

So last Sunday at 9 a.m., I find myself all alone on the lawn below Lock 06 on the Oswego Canal. The plan called for everyone to be there at 11 a.m., but I’m always looking for an advantage and arrived a couple hours early hoping to claim the best spot.

All in vain, though. I was rigged for big catfish but the cold front that dropped the water temperature a couple degrees during the night shut ‘em down. I figured it would probably take the sun till noon to warm things up enough to spark a bite.

Around 11 a.m., I’m biteless – but happy. Overhead, chevrons of migrating waterfowl pierced the sky like noisy arrowheads. In the water off to my right a pair of muskrats was arguing about something, taking turns chasing one another. A couple spent salmon milled around at the base of the wall below my feet. It was like I was in the front row of the balcony over autumn’s stage, and time, its curtain, started new scenes with each passing minute.

Fortunately, the carp master, his son Mike, McGrath associate Darryl Storie and James Daher, owner of Mickey’s Bait and Tackle in North Syracuse, show up and break the spell.And they’re packing a tarp load of goodies: grains, powders, juices and other ingredients Mike uses for chum.

He starts mixing the goodies right away. Grits, dried milk, corn, unidentifiable stuff with names I couldn’t pronounce went into the bowl. Packing the mash into wads the size of hardballs, Mike launches them into the drink with a slingshot.

Baiting a couple lines, he casts out and places the rods in holders.

A minute later, the first carp hits; then another, followed by another, and another… You’d land a fish, re-bait, cast out again and a minute later, sometimes less, you’re into another fish.

According to McGrath, we landed about 1,000 pounds of carp in about four hours. We would have caught a lot more but photos, high-fiving, manly stuff like that takes time.

One was a 30-something-pounder, a carp the likes of which I’ve never seen caught before. My eyes have feasted on larger specimens in aquariums, magazines and on TV, but they’ve never seen a bigger one up close and personal.

Another would have gone 25 pounds. The rest ranged from 10 to 20 pounds.

“The Oswego River’s carp fishery is under-fished,” claims McGrath, the Pied Piper of carp, adding, “Autumn is the best time of year to get a really big one.”

Mcgrath mixing the chum.
James Daher, owner of Mickey’s Bait and Tackle and McGrath holding Jim’s 25+-pounder.
Mike McGrath holding Mike Jr’s. trophy as the boy looks on.