Oswego Salmon – Sept 2011

By Chris Shaffer | 10/14/2011
When you travel 2,704 miles to salmon fish the last thing you want to hear is “Things aren’t looking good, man.” That was the call I got from Pautzke pro staffer Kevin Davis while watching the Weather Channel sitting in a Springhill Suites in Syracuse, NY and eagerly following radar.

“I’ll you what. One of two things are going to happen,” Davis told me. “It’s either going to be incredible or you’ll be able to sleep in because we won’t be able to fish.”

This was supposed to be prime time. Nevertheless, a congregation of thunderstorms had whacked Upstate NY. The runoff was pushing the Oswego to flows Davis wasn’t sure he could fish. Fortunately, unlike many guides across the US – Davis was determined to find a way to catch fish under adverse conditions.

“How about this? I’m going to get up at 4:30 a.m and see if I can motor the boat up the river. Put your phone next to your pillow. I’ll call you at 5 a.m. if I make it,” Davis said.

“Wait,” I said. “Why don’t I just go with you?”

Davis, chuckled. For those of you who don’t know Kevin Davis of Catch The Drift Guide Service, he doesn’t venture far from home. With world-class salmon fishing 10 miles away on the Salmon River, Davis is the only guide that works the Oswego River full time. He knows the system better than the salmon and steelhead. The Oswego has some of the highest concentrations of salmon and steelhead in the US and normally Davis has the middle of the river to himself.

On the other hand, Davis’ expertise meant nothing if we couldn’t get on the water. The salmon fishing portion of the Oswego River is a mere mile long. And, unfortunately, many of the primitive launch ramps that Davis utilized were off limits. Therefore, he had to launch downriver where the Oswego dumps into the harbor and then motor his 16-foot Hyde drift boat upriver past Class III rapids. During salmon season the river tends to be around 5,500 cfs. It was at 11,500 – and rising. Davis wasn’t sure the 15 horsepower Yamaha kicker had the power to surmount the current.

“I put a new motor on my drift boat, so I might be able to make it. I’m sure some water will come in the boat going through those rapids, but you shouldn’t go,” Davis told me. “It’ll be pitch dark and I need the least amount of weight in that boat as possible. Just keep the cell on. I’ll call you if I make it. If not, we’ll meet for breakfast.”

My cell rang at 5:07 a.m. Davis made it. I could hear rapids in the background. Sounded like he was sitting next to Niagara Falls, rather than the Oswego River. The trip was on.

Anchored below the dam. Salmon can’t surmount this dam on the Oswego River in Upstate NY

For those of you who haven’t been to the Oswego it’s an urban fishery, like few others. Situated in downtown Oswego, roughly 30 minutes north of Syracuse, September and October is a snagger and poacher’s paradise. I pulled up at 6 a.m. and watched several anglers put limits of salmon in their truck and head back to the river for a second limit. When I left – they brought the second limit to the truck and drove away. Snaggers rule here. In fact, over a 1/4 mile stretch there were close to 100 guys snagging salmon almost continuously. There’s that many fish in the system. Every seen a single salmon egg on a treble hook the size of a strawberry? Here, they need to have some “bait” on the hook to be able to heave big, sharp, pointy hooks into the river. Three anglers in a row I talked to had interesting bait: a piece of sponge, hot dog and one bead above the treble.

Meanwhile, we were one of two drift boats positioned in the middle of the river that were actually going to try and catch a salmon – in the mouth. However, the massive flows had altered our routine. Davis planned to anchor in the channel and drift bait as he’d been doing for weeks. Consequently, the massive influx of water drew nearly every king salmon that had been in the river upstream to the dam. We had to motor up, too.

Davis got quiet. He had two huge Ziploc bags of Fire Cured roe. And, didn’t think we’d be able to use them. The culprit was shallow water and a swift current. Our drift boat was anchored 10 feet below the dam in a strong current. And, the water next to us was two-to-four feet deep.

The hot ticket: a glob of Fire Cured roe. This is the normal size Davis’ heaves into the water

“I know you are a bait guy, but we are going to have to run plugs here, dude,” Davis said. “We might be able to drift bait, but man it’s shallow.”

We tried running three plugs simultaneously. Unfortunately, debris was being flushed over the dam. We caught more leaves and branches than salmon. Minutes later, Davis jimmied a few floats and leaders to roam free in shallow water. We began to heave bait. The salmon responded.

One of dozens of salmon caught and released

“Most people don’t believe these kings will bite in the river, but they probably haven’t used Fire Cure,” Davis noted. “Watch this, I’ll hook one on my first cast.”

And, he did.

Davis and I fished for roughly four hours that day – and caught and released dozens of salmon – literally. Consider that the river was 69 degrees and the feat becomes even more impressive.

Pautzke Pro Staffer Kevin Davis of Catch The Drift Guide Service

“Most people don’t believe these salmon will bite in such warm water, but with these Fire Cured eggs, I’ve been getting them to bite for weeks now. And, it was warmer before,” Davis explained. “I catch hundreds of salmon on the Oswego on this stuff, yet some people still use Jell-O and plain borax cures and barely get bit.”

Fortunately, we didn’t have that problem.

To learn more about Kevin Davis or inquire about his guide service please visit www.catchthedrift.com or call (315) 591-0151