Spring 2013: Back to Normal

By Spider Rybaak

Walleyes in the ripples at Scriba Creek.

Ice finally broke up on Oneida Lake on April 1. A heavy northwesterly wind on March’s last night grabbed the tattered corners of the cap on the north shore, ripping it open, piling it into a jagged ring along the south shore like the crust on a giant frozen pizza.

Within a week, the icy ridges clinging to the shoreline melted into sandy beaches punctuated by rocky points poking into the lake on all sides. The water stayed cold; the fishing slow.

Fortunately, heavy rains soaked Central New York recently, swelling creeks beyond their banks, shooting their currents into the lake like chocolatey fingers. They stirred the downpour into the inshore waters, warming the lake‘s edge and raising it to normal levels, spurring the natural cycles anglers expect each spring.

And the fish are responding. Walleyes stormed into Scriba Creek so thick they looked like a throbbing carpet. Every step I took along the streamside path from the Oswego County Recreation Trail to the hatchery dam sent walleyes sprinting for cover in the deep rapids in the middle of the creek. Their backs exposed, they ran upstream creating a surrealistic scene in which the whitewater crashed into their wakes, creating a Maytag effect of clashing currents. What’s more, they bumped the mass of walleyes in the whitewater, causing them to erupt through the surface like miniature autumn cohos in the fish ladder at the Salmon River hatchery.

At the New York State Toad Harbor Fishing Access Site, a colorful ring of anglers lined the bank. The water is still a little too cold for massive schools of crappies to pack in, but a few hardy ones are there. In addition, some yellow perch averaging 8 inches and bullheads around the same size are present.

But hey, the one thing fish and anglers have in common is: the early bird gets the worm. The water’s warming as you read this, so get out there when you’re done and maybe you’ll hit a major run.

If you go by the old saw: spring makes the rest of New York’s weather bearable, you understand that there’s more to fishing this time of year than just catching fish. Coming back from the THFAS last week, I decided to take a right on McCloud Road to see if wild flowers were blooming along the forested shoulder. A couple daffodils were up but that’s it…for now.

On the way to Phillips Point, an old guy was bottom fishing for bullheads in Toad Harbor, off to the right. Mergansers were about 100 yards in front of him, diving and water dancing, feeding and courting at the same time. I disturbed a large blue heron; it cackled as it took off in fright off to his right, startling him and me. The guy’d been there half the day, hadn’t caught anything, but he wasn’t complaining.

At Phillips Point, I watched Allen Handy of North Syracuse launch his kayak. He’d been there a couple times already this month and hadn’t caught anything…but he was optimistic.

Oneida Lake is alive after winter’s deep sleep; and the natural world is celebrating with a visual feast steeped in a cacophony of sound. But you better hurry, and get there before brush and trees shield nature’s miracles behind curtains of leaves–and before walleye season opens May 4, making you too busy to look for anything else.

Walleyes in the pockets.
Allan Handy, North Syracuse, kayak-fishing in Three Mile Bay.
Dave, a resident of Central Square, with a crappie taken at the THFAS.