Want hot action for fish in the 10-pound class? These top walleye waters are up to the task. (May 2010)
Haddock is the favorite fare of many fish lovers, but nothing tickles my piscatorial palate more than a perfectly prepared walleye. Enough alliteration already -- please pass the tartar sauce!
Walleyes may not be the hardest fighting of our fresh water game fish -- although they're not the creampuffs some detractors claim -- but they are wary, challenging to catch and unsurpassed on the dinner table. That's why thousands of New York anglers circle the opening day of walleye season on their calendars and look forward to that extravaganza more than any other sporting event of the year.
New Yorkers are fortunate to have dozens of top-notch walleye fisheries scattered across the state. Starting the first Saturday in May, we can reel in the ingredients of a fish fry and be back home in time for dinner no matter what part of the state we call home.
The following waters are among our best walleye holes, and they are especially productive in the early part of the season:
If you want to eyeball some humongous walleyes, save a late-April morning for a walk along the banks of Conesus Inlet. You'll see egg-swollen hens that weigh 10 pounds or more. If you'd prefer to catch such fish instead of merely gawking at them, troll around the south shore of Conesus Lake on the opening day of the season. Use an alewife-imitating stick bait or spoon and make sure your rod is securely locked in its holder or something huge just may yank it overboard!
Conesus Lake has earned a reputation for whopper walleyes, but those big fish aren't easily captured. They have so much forage that are often full, bloated and unable to hold even one more bite -- not unlike us anglers after a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Anglers here can expect to earn the Finger Lakes-limit catch of three walleyes which measure 18 inches or longer.
Although Conesus walleyes also chow down on perch fry and even their own young, their dietary staple is the alewife. The best-bet lure for spring walleyes is a silvery spoon or a black and silver or blue and silver stick bait that is four or five inches long.
Conesus is a mid-sized body of water covering 3,420 surface acres to a maximum depth of about 70 feet in central Livingston County about a one-hour drive from downtown Rochester. A glittering link in the Finger Lakes chain, it produces above average northern pike, tiger muskies and largemouth bass as well as super-sized walleyes.
To get there, take U.S. Route 20 east from Avon or west from Livonia to the intersection of county Route 15. Travel south on Route 15 to Lakeville at the north end of the lake.
From there, take East Lake Road or West Lake Road. There are two state launch ramps, one on the south shore near the mouth of the inlet and the other at Pebble Beach in Lakeville.
A contour map of Conesus Lake is available at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Web site (www.dec.ny.gov).
When downloading the map, note the shallows off the inlet and the gentle sloping bottom north of McPherson Point on the east shore -- both are productive spring walleye spots.
The Livingston County Chamber of Commerce at (716) 243-4160 will supply readers with brochures on lodging alternatives in the Conesus Lake neighborhood.
At first blush, Oneida Lake fans seem to prefer quantity to quality, as their lake mostly is noted for eating-sized walleyes rather than wall-hangers. Then again, any body of water that houses 500,000 adult walleyes in an average year and that offers anglers a decent crack at a three-fish limit any day of the season might be the very definition of "quality."
A keeper walleye in Oneida Lake is 15 inches, and an experienced walleye angler can expect to catch a limit of three fish that are at least that long in an average outing. The lake holds plenty of fat 3-pounders, too, but any walleye weighing 4 pounds or better is cause for congratulations back at the boat dock.
The only time of the year when a 4-pound Oneida Lake walleye won't draw a whistle is during the first weekend of the season, when the Cicero Lions Club holds its annual derby. Cash prizes are handed out for the tournament's top 20 walleyes, and the winner usually measures upwards of 26 inches. The big walleyes registered in the derby are partly a matter of biology -- the heftiest entries are close to shore and easier than usual to corner following their spring spawning run -- and partly due to the crowd on hand. With more than 1,000 contestants putting lines in the water, the odds are that at least a few lunkers will be hooked.
To enter the derby, pick up an entry form at one of the local tackle shops or the Gander Mountain store in nearby Cicero.
Oneida Lake covers 51,000 surface acres and has a maximum depth of about 45 feet, but is generally on the shallow side.
Early-season anglers can get a detailed map from any of dozens of Syracuse-area tackle shops, but fish are usually easy to locate in May. Just start trolling with slender stick baits or drift with spinner-and-worm rigs off major creek mouths or near-shore weed beds. After-dark casting can be very productive off the Brewerton Bridge fishing access areas at the west end of the lake and from the shore at Sylvan Beach on the east end.
To reach Oneida Lake, head north on Interstate Route 81 from Syracuse or south from Watertown to exits 30 (Cicero), 31 (Brewerton) or 49 (Central Square).
State boat launches are available at Godfrey Point via Route 49 on the north shore and the Oneida South Shore access off Route 31 near Bridgeport.
The Oswego County Tourism office at (800) 349-8322 is a good source of information on overnight lodging and other amenities near Oneida Lake.
Nighttime is the right time to be on the lower Oswego River in May as waves of big walleyes enter the city of Oswego harbor to and spawn. Anglers frequently connect with walleyes weighing 10 pounds or better by trolling downstream of the Utica Street bridge or casting from the sidewalks that overlook the water flowing past the city's Linear Park.
Unfortunately, when the run is on the mid-river currents are so crowded with boats and tempers wear so thin that some veterans grumble something about "combat fishing."
While the occasional crossed lines are inevitable, New York Game & Fish readers can improve the ambiance by being cheerful and generous toward the other walleye fanatics they meet on the Oswego.
Newcomers can best sample the river scene by casting plugs or spoons from the Linear Park, meanwhile observing the cramped but effective trolling runs traversed by boaters in the mid-section of the 300- to 400-foot-wide river. During daylight periods, walleyes can be caught as far as a mile upstream from the harbor mouth below the Varick hydroelectric dam, but anglers will enjoy more consistent action after dark and below the two bridges within city limits.
The daily creel limit in the Oswego is three fish per day, 18 inches or better.
The lower Oswego is north of Syracuse in Oswego County. To get there from Syracuse, take Route 481 north through Fulton and continue to the city of Oswego. At Route 104, turn left and cross the river. Parking is available along side streets and in designated lots adjacent to the Linear Park. Trailered boats may be launched at the city-operated Wright's Landing marina off Lake Street.
For travel and lodging tips, contact the Oswego County Tourism office at (315) 349-8322. Weekly updates on the river's walleye action are available via the Department of Environmental Conservation's Region 7 fishing hotline at (607) 753-1551.
A couple of years ago, a group of Syracuse city police officers managed to record a combined catch of more than 140 Otisco Lake walleyes in the logs they kept for the DEC's Finger Lakes Angler Diary research program. Those fish ranged up to 28 inches and averaged approximately 23 inches long, said Lt. John Corbett, the crew's official log-keeper. The vast majority of the 'eyes were caught between the start of the statewide season and late June.
"That was our best year to date," said Corbett. "We've done okay since then, but not nearly as good as that."
In 2009, the walleye fishing slowed down considerably, in Corbett's opinion, because Otisco teemed with extra-fat baitfish.
"The alewives we snagged as we reeled in our stick baits were 7 or 8 inches long," he marveled. "If a 5-pound walleye swallows just one or two of those babies, it's done for the night."
DEC electro-shocking forays back up Corbett's impression that Otisco, the easternmost of the lakes in the Finger Lakes chain, is a thriving walleye fishery, with plenty of immature "pin pike" on the way to replace the big boys taken home by anglers.
The Syracuse police officers do most of their fishing along the lake's west shore and on private property at night. However, the general public enjoys good spring fishing at two other locations. One is the water near the dam at the north end of the lake, where anglers can pull over on the Otisco Valley road shoulder to cast from the riprap-covered east shore.
The other accessible spot is at the west end of the causeway, an abandoned roadbed that nearly divides the lake in two about three miles south of the dam.
To get to the causeway, take the Otisco Valley Road to Saw Mill Road, which is about a mile south of the lake, turn right and then right again. Continue about a mile to a small parking area adjacent to the causeway.
Daytime walleye fishing is also good at Otisco Lake. Anglers may launch small boats at either of two privately owned marinas for a modest fee. Both are off Otisco Valley Road.
Ryfun's is south of the causeway's east end while the Otisco Lake Marina is north of the causeway.
From the causeway, troll north along the east shore or cut across the lake to fish the several gravel-bottomed points on the west side. The DEC's Web site has a map of Otisco Lake that will help anglers become properly oriented.
Otisco Lake is south of the U.S. Route 20-state Route 174 intersection in southern Onondaga County. From that juncture, take Route 174 south to Otisco Valley Road, which bears left and follows the lake's east shore.
ST. LAWRENCE RIVER
The entire St. Lawrence River offers fine walleye fishing, and the shoals and dropoffs in the Thousand Islands section are justly famous for producing 8- to 12-pound monster 'eyes. However, for sheer numbers of medium-sized, mouth-watering specimens, it's hard to beat the lesser-known St. Lawrence County stretch from Ogedensburg to Massena.
While attending a recent May writer's conference in the area, two friends and I got a cook's tour of that particular pantry with writer-guide Mike Seymour of Canton, who may be reached at (315) 379-0235. Fishing not far from the town of Lisbon Beach, we boated more than 40 walleyes and kept several 20- to 22-inchers for a fish fry.
At the upstream end of the river, good spring fishing is available at Carleton Island (and it's even better in August). Many May walleyes are also caught straight out from the hospital in the village of Alexandria Bay. Both of these spots, as well as the Lisbon beach area, are on the American side of the river and do not require a Canadian license to fish.
Owing to its large size and many look-alike islands, first-timers on the upper St. Lawrence should consider hiring a guide for their initial visit. The money expended will be paid back many times over if you listen and observe between hook-ups and remember it all for next time.
The 1000 Islands Bait Store off Route 12 at Alexandria Bay is a good place to pick up tackle, get a list of regional guides or check on recent fishing reports.
For lodging information, contact the 1000 Islands Clayton Chamber of Commerce, (800) 252-9806; or the St. Lawrence County chamber office at (315) 386-4000.