The Oswego River: Down… for Now

A friend helps Richard Hyde Jr. land his steelie as another friend looks on.

The Oswego River is finally down to size. Two factors – the sky clamming up and the Artic temperatures sweeping over the Northeast around Christmas – slowed the run-off pouring over the 5,000-something square miles of countryside that the stream drains.

Come Christmas, I was itching to wet a line in the rapids running through the Port City. I called a couple buddies and asked what they thought about the possibilities. They were enthusiastic and we agreed to meet on the water in the morning.

At 4:45 a.m., the temperature gage outside my window read 14 degrees. I was ready to cancel but figured I’d check the water level first. measured it at 8636 cfs; very manageable for a guy with strong legs, average balance, a wading staff and Korkers. Figuring the fish would be cooperative because high water kept anglers at bay recently, I decided to give it a shot, come sub-zero weather or ice water

Two cups of coffee later, I bundled up in layers of Gore-Tex, polyester, silk and Morino wool and hit the road heading north. I got to the river at 7:30 a.m. Buddy-one, Frank Squadrito, a native of Pennelville, was already in the public lot at Lock 7, raring to go. By the time I worked into my Simms waders and Korkers, Buddy-two, Scott VanDerWater of Baldwinsville, pulled into the lot.

Everyone rigged up centerpins (I was dying to try out my new JW Young rod and reel combo) and we set out. Frank mentioned “temperature’s up a couple degrees, to a balmy 18.”

When we got to the river where the canal’s retaining wall ended, several guys were already stretched out in the spots we wanted to fish. One was even battling a steelie. Frank and Scott went upstream about 100 feet; I stayed to watch the guy land the fish.

It got off.

“Too, bad; that was a nice fish,” I remarked.

That’s the fourth one I’ve lost this morning,” he claimed.

The sun ain’t been up an hour and he’s already lost four; it promises to be a good day, I thought.

Before I could join my friends, another guy in the group, Richard Hyde, hooks a chromer. Before he can land it, his buddy Joseph Tullo nails one. Hailing from Oswego County, both these guys knew something I didn’t because they caught the last two fish I saw that day.

The Oswego River is huge and the fish move around. They swam in and out of our range before me and my buddies had a chance to get serious.

None of us was really disappointed because we knew the severe cold limited our chances of scoring. What drew us there on such a cold morning was the knowledge that if we were lucky and the sun came out, it could raise temperatures enough to trigger some furious action.

Never happened.

This weekend the bite promises to be a good one. The water will remain at fishable levels, and the weather forecast calls for temperatures reaching into the mid-40s. And if construction on the power plant’s intake channel is completed, and the stream is diverted to generate power, the water flowing over the entire ancient riverbed – from the dam to the canal wall – will be down a notch, creating an ideal steelie habitat, possibly igniting one of the most frenzied feeding binges of 2011.

Joseph Tullo gently unhooking a steelie he released.

Scott VanDerWater fishing against the Oswego River’s icy backdrop.

Comparison: My JW Young centerpin combo, an example of human craftsmanship at its finest, surrounded by an icy waterscape, an example of nature at her finest.