Withdrawing Walleyes from the Bank

Oneida Lake is on the edge.

Fishing the surf.
To the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, it’s the biggest geographic feature splitting the state into northern and southern tiers. For meteorologists, it marks the southernmost spot of the lake effect snow region. And come fall, walleye anglers see it as the best spot around for taking massive quantities of delicious walleyes from its edges: the surf and bank.

Late September’s cooling water temperature starts the fish moving inshore. But the major forays to the shallows don’t start until mid-October.

And they’re in right now…Boy, are they ever.

Normally, reasonably competent anglers expect to catch at least one walleye ranging from 15 to 18 inches every night they go out, doubles sometimes, and a limit at least once.

This year it’s different. The fish are larger. I’ve seen more 22-inchers already than I’ve seen any other autumn so far this century. In addition, I’ve seen a couple two-footers, and one that went 25 inches.

The hottest spot is Oswego County’s southeastern edge, particularly the area around Cleveland. On any given night, a line of anglers forms on the sagging concrete wall of the Cleveland Dock Fishing Access Site, working stickbaits in the shallow water parallel to the north shore.

Others walk out on the decaying breakwall on the southern end of the FAS and take walleyes from the surf by casting due west.

The “eyes” are there pigging out on massive schools of buckeyes and shad, in water so shallow, the whites of their bellies look like whitecaps as they take the minnows on the surface.

If you think that’s exciting…it gets better. In fact, the autumn bite provides the greatest sensual feast fishing has to offer. For example, on windless nights you stand a good chance of seeing a school of bait moving right for you. Appearing like a choppy spot on the glassy surface, the patch of ripples slides silently past ya, often erupting into a jumping rain as walleyes charge into the group for dinner.

Equally thrilling is when a walleye–or sheepshead, bass, whatever–takes the lure at your belly right when you’re getting ready to pull it out of the water. Sometimes the hit is so violent, it’ll send a small tsunami into your waders.

This fabulous bite will continue until mid-November, slowly petering out until ice seals the lake for winter.

Osceola’s Wayne Carew with a typical walleye taken at the Cleveland docks.
A good night’s catch.

The night fishing scene at the Cleveland docks.

This 22-incher shows 2010’s crop of walleyes are larger than normal.