Salmon Everywhere: Oneida Lake, too.

Spider Rybaak

Gene Carey, founding member of the Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club, walking towards the FCASC’s hatchery at the Harden Furniture Dam on the West Branch of Fish Creek, McConnellsville, NY.

Fishing on foot might not sound as glamorous as doing it from a souped-up Lund, but it has its benefits. For instance, it’s good exercise while moving around looking for hits; and a great way of gathering valuable intelligence. That’s how I heard the story of a guy who allegedly caught an Atlantic salmon below the dam in Caughdenoy last week.

Now, I remember seeing one caught in Phoenix back in the 1960s. And just about anyone who’s been fishing the Seneca and Oswego Rivers for any length of time can tell you a story or two about landlocks caught in the whitewater in Oswego, Minetto, Fulton, even Baldwinsville. Experts surmise these fish were stocked by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in Lakes Ontario or Cayuga.

But how do you explain an Atlantic salmon in the Oneida River?

The Fish Creek Atlantic Salmon Club, that’s how. Formed in 1997, the group has been working to restore the species to its native waters ever since.

While Fish Creek was never the primary residence of great numbers of Atlantic salmon, it served as an important nursery. In the old days, Lake Ontario claimed the greatest population of landlocked salmon in the world until dams and Industrialization’s rampant pollution all but wiped them out in the beginning of the 19th Century. When it came time to spawn, they ascended its tributaries, including its second biggest, the Oswego River. Formed by the confluence of the Oneida and Seneca Rivers, the Oswego offered them access into Oneida Lake and the ideal spawning habitat of its largest tributary, Fish Creek.

The club’s program is funded through dues, raffles, the sweat of its members and donations. Its fry are raised at a hatchery club members built on the creek’s west branch, at the spillway to Harden Furniture’s mill dam in McConnellsville. The company donated the site, as well as a $5,000 grant to build the thing. Spey Nation has been chipping in over the past three years with an annual $1,500 grant.

According to Eugene Carey, a founding member of the club (he’s on the cover of my first book “Fishing Eastern New York”), the facility is working out very well. The equipment is run by solar power so electrical outages aren’t a concern. The creek’s fluctuating temperature prepares the fry for the conditions they’ll encounter in the wild, and the water’s natural nutrients, easily identifiable by the young, spur their appetite so they don’t have to be coaxed into feeding by club members.

Incoming reports bear him out. Oneida Lake’s ice fishermen have been treated to a smattering of landlocks each year this century. In the fall of 2011, three beauties ranging from 25 to 27 inches were caught in the canal at Sylvan beach. This summer, two were taken by open water anglers on the lake.

The dream collectively envisioned by this small, dedicated group of romantic anglers in 1997 is materializing. If the trend continues, Oneida Lake tributaries will soon be giving Lake Ontario’s feeders stiff competition for NY’s native salmon.

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Water works: Inside the fish hatchery.