Normally, the month of May is the most productive time to fish from shore. Water temperatures are heating up, spurring everything in the drink to move. Trout and pike are feeding voraciously while bass and panfish cruise the shallows looking for spawning sites.
This year, on the other hand, is anything but normal. Here it is the end of May and this is being written to the beat of my sump pump still struggling to keep the basement dry. As recently as last weekend, lawns in the neighborhood were still spotted with pools of standing water. Oneida Lake has only recently gone down enough to reveal the boulders and rocky points that punctuate its shoreline, and the low lying islands that shorebirds of every feather use for rookeries.
What it all boils down to is this year’s spring panfish bite has been extended a couple weeks. For sure, good numbers of the tasty critters were taken in small lakes and streams a couple weeks ago; but the big waters like Lakes Ontario and Oneida, and the Oswego and Oneida Rivers, were so high for so long that they were all but inaccessible to average anglers.
The good news is that all the sunnies, bullheads, rock bass, and stuff that were out of range earlier are accessible now–and they’re a little bigger. What’s more, they’re joined near shore by great quantities of sheepshead, catfish and carp.
It promises to be the hottest late spring fishing in memory; a great time to teach a kid to do it. You see, children take to fishing like minnows to water…if the fish are hitting, that is.
Best of all, you don’t even have to be a great angler to score right now. Fish are hanging out in shallow spots along the edges of open water, and locating hot spots is easy. Just drive along a road that skirts a river or lake and check out all the bridges, culverts, tributary mouths and swamps you come to. Anywhere you find campfire circles and Y-shaped branches (Cousin Staash calls ‘em nature’s rod holders) sticking out of the ground, will likely have fish within casting distance waiting for a juicy bait.
If you prefer the relative comfort, convenience and safety of fishing canal structure in a village or city, try fishing below barriers like locks. Fish often stage below the massive doors while trying to figure out how to get upstream.
If you like the wild side, try the fast water in places like Caughdenoy, Phoenix, Fulton, Minetto or Oswego. Cast your bait into any spot where the water slows down a bit. For instance, along the edges of structures like old mills and concrete walls, in the pockets below boulders and bridge abutments, even the edges of rapids.
River bottoms are loaded with all kinds of debris, everything from sunken logs and discarded road materials to abandoned autos, tires, refrigerators, bath tubs and sunken barges. A good way to avoid losing the battle of the snags is to avoid them altogether, by fishing with a bobber. Set it so it keeps the bait an inch or two above the bottom.
Worms and small minnows are baits of choice for most anglers. However, a small tube jig like a Berkley PowerBait Atomic Teasers, tipped with a Berkley Powerbait Power Wiggler is equally deadly. In fact, if you or your student would rather not bother with messy live bait, you’ll find an Atomic Teaser dangled below a tiny bobber, and worked by being retrieved slowly, and jerked everycouple of feet, will fill your dreams like any squiggly, slimy bait.
Lastly, make the trip a safe one by making the child wear a personal flotation device. The water below a lock wall is generally at least 12 feet deep, and a PFD comes in handy if the kid can’t tread water too well. If you’re fishing a natural river bank, keep them out of the water, especially if there’s rapids, even if it looks shallow. Streams are notorious for having holes where you least expect them and the drop can be steep and deep.
Conditions like this year’s only come together every couple of decades, and June 2011 promises to go down as the most productive late spring bite of the century. So grab a kid and take ‘em fishin’: you’ll be passing on one of life’s most pleasant pastimes and achieve immortality by etching yourself into the kid’s fondest memories.