Summer Evenings on the Oswego River

Spider Rybaak

Off the wall walleye.
Everyone who knows walleyes knows the river running through downtown Oswego is one of your best bets in the state for nailing big ones in the spring. After that, according to common knowledge, the water supposedly warms up too much for their comfort and they beat fins for cooler temperatures deep in the lake.

Well, that sounds good in theory. But don’t let it discourage you in real life.

You see, uncommon guys like me who’ve fished for these delicious beasties a lot know that walleyes are a warm water fish that thrives in rivers and can take the heat a stream dishes out. That doesn’t mean they like it—indeed, most of us don’t like a steady diet of temperatures in the high 80s either—but they tolerate it until the next rain storm or string of cold nights cool things down again.

Even during the height of a heat spell, you can find hungry fish downtown. But not just anywhere. You gotta targetthe cool spots. In the morning that means fishing the shady east bank; the west bank towards evening. Then there’s always deep spots in the harbor and bridges;as long as it provides shade, it offers comfort.

I went out a few days ago around 6 p.m. to see if my uncommon wisdom still held true. Parking in the fishing access lot abutting the south side of the post office on West 1st Street (NY 48), I headed down the ramp toward the river and proceeded toward the Utica Street bridge. Buildings blocked the sun casting shade over most of the river.

A couple groups were already there. One included a couple boys who spent more time casting than fishing. Apparently they were competing to see who could reach the farthest. Still, during periods when one or the other hesitated a moment to get a soda, tie his shoe, feed the ducks…a white perch or round goby would hit.

It was almost too easy; and it might have spoiled them.

Fortunately, a guy fishing just below them hooked a walleye, luring everyone’s attention toward him. A good-sized fish, it gave him a decent run for his money. Upon landing it, the boys and some adults went over to admire the catch.

He held his good fortune like a wizard’s wand. One stroke later it was on the grass behind him…and the boys simmered down and concentrated on their rod tips, hoping to be next to land a fish big enough to shower them with adoring attention from passersby.

They never got it.

Their uncle did, however. Setting the hook on a bite that threatened to flip his rod into the drink (it was resting upright on the rail lining the linear park wall), he didn’t even have to say anything to draw attention. His rod was bent in half and everyone just knew it had to be something…worth waiting to, see.

It ran upstream…then downstream…turned and headed for the wall in the center of the river. When that didn’t remedy the feeling that it was being led by a stinging sensation in its mouth to go where it didn’t want to go, it charged for the abutment of the pedestrian bridge. That didn’t work either and it reluctantly came in, putting up resistance that a pit bull shaking a rag would have appreciated.

All for naught; it was quickly netted. After admiring it for a split second, the uncle released it. The boys cheered—and cast out to where they thought it went.

A little while later, another group showed up to fish for catfish. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if they were successful, but I know from personal experience there’s some monster cats in the river—sheepshead and carp, too– and summer’s the best time to catch them.

So, the next time you find yourself bored in the evening, and get the urge for some action in the fast lane, head for the river in downtown Oswego and bottom-fish a crayfish or worm, or work a jig or crankbaitin the current for some cheap thrills you won’t soon forget.

The river’sloaded with hard-hitting, pan-size white bass.

Downtown smallmouth.