Blogs > Oneida Outdoors

An online space for outdoorsmen from CNY and beyond. Tell us about the one you caught or the one that got away.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Outdoor writers explore 1000 Islands’ many attractions

In the predawn darkness a dozen camouflaged men and women carrying weapons and packs marched down the streets of Clayton to the village docks. Shortly after 4 a.m. they boarded a large boat and headed off through the black night across the St. Lawrence River. This was not some counter-terrorist group on a training mission nor a detachment of homeland security forces out to thwart a penetration of our northern border. Instead it was a group of serious turkey hunters heading off to Grindstone Island to hunt turkey on that big mysterious island of legend and folklore.
The occasion was the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Association annual conference in the 1000 Islands from May 7 – 10, and a group of us took advantage of a generous offer by Harry Slate of Grindstone Island Hunting Service. Grindstone is a big island with no bridge or public access. It once had many farms, a village, etc. but today has nine year-round residents, a few farms and summer homes along the shoreline. The hunt was interesting but turkeys there are as wary as anywhere and only Dan Ladd bagged one.
Headquarters for the conference was the new 1000 Islands harbor Hotel on the riverfront in Clayton. This four story beautiful hotel evokes memories of the gilded age when guests travelled by train and steamboat to spend time in the glorious 1000 Island region. Modern luxury combined with fantastic service and attention to detail makes this a premier destination for a get-away weekend or a longer stay. All the amenities and attractions of this new four diamond class hotel deserve a separate article that will be forthcoming soon. Check out the hotel at
Writers and guests got to enjoy many of the attractions of the area. For me and some of the other writers many of the attractions were familiar but the fact that we never get tired of them speaks volumes for the quality of the experiences. Some people enjoyed the beautiful weather and had an exciting experience while white water rafting on the Black River with Whitewater Challengers Rafting Company. Most enjoyed a pleasant afternoon boat tour around Wellesley Island on the area’s newest boat tour company, Clayton Island Tours.
Fishing is naturally a big attraction of this area and many of us spent a morning or two aboard fishing charters such as Myrle Bauer’s Net Results Charters, Rich Clarke’s Signman Charters and Keith Dasno’s Gotta Have It Charters. Now you might think that with such a formidable array of anglers, the pike would not stand a chance. But nature has a way of evening the odds and the unusually cold water temperatures had delayed spawning. The pike were difficult to locate and reluctant to bite when we did find them. The few that were caught reminded us that better days lay not too far ahead.
Thanks to Doreen and Jody Garrett, owners of Lucky Star Ranch licensed hunting preserve, some hunters were able to hunt turkey on the 2,000 acre estate while others fished there. After hosting all the writers for lunch, Doreen and Jody who own Otis Technology explained their quality deer management program and their involvement in the Wounded Warrior program.
Other prominent attractions included the tour of Boldt Castle, a traditional guide’s shore dinner and tours of the Antique Boat Museum and tours and tastings at the areas two excellent wineries – Coyote Moon and Thousand Islands Winery. A stroll along the picturesque streets of Clayton reveals the well-kept and unique stores. My personal favorites that I visit every time include the River Rat Cheese store and Michael Ringer’s St. Lawrence Gallery art store.
If you haven’t spent much time in the 1000 Islands-Clayton area you are missing out on a lot. Even if you have, the old and new attractions beckon you to return. Whether it is a time for relaxation amidst the splendor of the islands or an action-filled trip, you can find all of these and more in the islands. For complete information check the Clayton Chamber of Commerce at or 800-252-9806 and the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council at or 800-847-5263.
Second Shift Gobblers: As the spring turkey season enters its final week many hunters are frustrated in not hearing many birds gobble on the roost or are weary of getting up in the middle of the night. One tactic that is often effective in late season is “hunting the second shift.” At this time many hens are nesting and lonesome toms are on the prowl looking for hens, especially by mid morning.
You might consider taking advantage of the situation by sleeping a little longer and going out in mid morning. Give a variety of soft clucks or yelps every half hour and maybe one of those lonesome toms will come to your call. Just be warned that they will often sneak in silently so stay alert.
New Hartford Kids Fishing Derby: The DEC and Mohawk Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited combine to offer the annual New Hartford Kids fishing Derby on June 6. It will be held at New Hartford Athletic Park in Washington Mills. Hours are 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. and there will be prizes, fly tying and casting. Refreshments will be provided by the Saquoit Fish & Game Club.
DEC Alerts Hikers of Muddy Trail Conditions in the High Peaks: Memorial Day Weekend usually sees lots of people hiking in the Adirondacks but hikers should temporarily avoid high elevation trails in the Adirondacks. NYS DEC is urging hikers to be cautious and postpone hikes on trails above 3,000 feet until mid-June.
DEC is asking hikers to avoid high elevation trails in the Dix, Giant and High Peaks Wilderness Areas in the northern Adirondacks because of muddy conditions and the potential damage hiking can cause to vegetation and soft ground.
Hikers are advised to only use trails at lower elevations during the spring mud season to avoid damaging natural resources and to promote safety. Lower trails usually dry soon after snowmelt and are on less erosive soils than the higher peaks. DEC asks hikers to avoid the following trails:
High Peaks Wilderness Area - all trails above 3,000 feet where wet, muddy, snow conditions still prevail, specifically: Algonquin, Colden, Feldspar, Gothics, Indian Pass, Lake Arnold Cross-Over, Marcy, Marcy Dam - Avalanche - Lake Colden which is extremely wet, Phelps Trail above John Brook Lodge, Range Trail, Skylight, Wright and all “trail-less” peaks.
Dix Mountain Wilderness Area - all trails above Elk Lake and Round Pond. Giant Mountain Wilderness Area - all trails above Giant’s Washbowl, “the Cobbles,” and Owls Head. DEC suggests alternative trails for hiking, subject to weather conditions. DEC’s website contains additional information on trail conditions in the Adirondacks at or contact the Forest Rangers at (518) 897-1300.
BoatUS Safety Reminders: With the Memorial Day weekend kicking off he unofficial start to summer, there will be an increasing amount of boating activity. The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water has four reminders for boating safety:
Keep your life jackets handy. This means readily accessible within arms reach, not still in it’s plastic bag or behind compartment doors buried under junk. Better yet, wear it.
Instruct your passengers on where to sit and how to move about the boat safely. This applies to all boats, but the smallest ones can have biggest problems: swamping, large wakes and overloading can turn your day into one you’d rather forget.
See that all passengers are briefed on where emergency equipment is kept and how to use it. Don’t forget to show how to use the VHF radio, and what everyone needs to do in case someone falls overboard (designate a spotter).
Share your float plan with someone ashore to let them know where you’re headed and expected to return. The simple act of telling someone has been demonstrated to greatly reduce a rescuer’s response time. For more information on boating safety or to take a no cost online boating safety course, go to

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mid-season turkey tips

The Spring Turkey Season is approximately half over and after a slow start for many hunters, the action has picked up a bit. A lot more hunters have gotten birds, although many of the ones that have talked to me have said that they have bagged jakes or two year old birds. Most of the mature toms have flocks of hens with them now.
This can present an extra challenge. Some of the veteran hunters have resorted to making some sharp cackling or cutting calls to raise the curiosity or the ire of some territorial hens and draw the flock closer. Knowing where the flock likes to travel to their strutting ground can be helpful. If the hunter gets close to their route it is easier to call the tom a little ways from the flock to within gun range.
With the emergence of leaves on the trees last weekend, most areas are now in full foliage. Remember that with all the foliage on the trees, the sounds of the gobbles may be muffled. That big tom that sounds like he did a couple weeks ago will actually be much closer. This can present an extra challenge since he can often spot you from the treetops and remain on the roost instead of flying down. Or if he can look down and not see a decoy in the area that the calling sounds are coming from, he will be suspicious and not come to that area.
It also gets light earlier than it did a two weeks ago so allow extra time or pick a sheltered route to your destination so the wary tom will not make out your shadowy figure in the pre-dawn light. If he does, you can bet that he will not be coming down in that area or responding to your call.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to hunt on Grindstone Island on the St. Lawrence River and that was a unique experience. Only my friend Dan Ladd bagged a turkey but it was interesting and saw birds.
Monday morning Dan called me to tell me the good news that he had gotten his second tom. Dan was using a new, innovative set of decoys from Bass Pro Shops called the Crazy Jake and Mating Hen. Not only are they realistic looking but they are animated and operated by remote control. The idea is that they will provoke a jealous tom into action when he sees the younger jake with the hen.
I had seen them previously and was impressed with the looks and action. Dan proved to me that they really work. Early in the morning he was calling and a big tom responded. However it came to the top of a ridge and hung up there. It fanned, strutted and called while it expected the hen to come to him. Since the tom would not come any closer, Dan then activated the jake decoy and pivoted it so that it faced the big tom up on the ridge. Then the turned the jake away from the tom and towards the hen.
That was all it took to infuriate the big tom and it started down the ridge towards the decoys. Dan bagged it at a distance of 30 yards. The bird weighed 21 pounds and had a 9 ½ inch beard.
Youth Turkey Hunt: The Federated Sportsmen Club’s of Oneida County, Region 6 ECOs, National Wild Turkey Federation, Oneida County Sherriff’s Department and New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame teamed up to hold its fifth annual youth turkey hunt. A total of 25 youth participated in the hunt.
Safety day was held April 11 at the Cassety Hollow Rod and Gun Club where youth and their parents attended. A safety and regulations presentation was given by ECO Ric Grisolini. Tim Furner from Gander Mountain and the NWTF demonstrated the setup of turkey decoys and calling techniques. The youngsters patterned their shotguns under the instruction of ECO Mike Dangler, a certified Firearms instructor.
Seven turkeys were harvested on April 25, the first morning of the hunt. Sam and Logan Campbell were teamed up for that hunt. As luck would have it two nice toms came into their decoys. Once both birds were in range they scored a double. Both birds weighted over 24 pounds and had beard lengths of 9 ½ and 8 ½ inches with ¾ inch spurs. This hunt was videotaped so the two brothers will always have that memory of hunting together. All the youth saw turkeys that morning but most hung just outside their range. The largest turkey harvested that day was 25 pounds with double beards of 9 ¼ inches and 5 ¾ inches and 1 5/8 inch spurs
On the second morning of the youth hunt ECO’s and mentors took out thirteen youngsters. They harvested three birds and there were a couple misses. The largest bird that day was 21 pounds with an 8 ½” inch beard and spurs of 1” inches long. The youth all had a great time and received lunch after the hunt.
A big thank you goes to the following groups or organizations for their donations for this year’s hunt: New York Conservation Officer Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, Gander Mountain, Mountain Hollow Game Calls and Mr. Steve Heerkens. Another big thank you goes to the Environmental Conservation Officers, Oneida County Sherriff’s and local sportsmen and women mentors who took the time to take a youth hunting. Thanks also go to the cooks for the event, Brian Day and Larry Chandler, and to the Cassety Hollow Club for the use of their club and to all their members that brought food for the two days of hunting.
Vernon Rod and Gun Club Chicken Barbeque: The Vernon Rod and Gun club will hold a chicken barbeque on Saturday, May 16, rain or shine. The event will be from noon until all are meals are gone. You can eat in or take out service is available. Menu includes half a roast barbequed chicken, coleslaw, salt potatoes, roll and dessert. Support youth and community activities and enjoy a delicious meal.
Paddlefest: This year’s Paddlefest will be held in Old Forge the weekend of May 15 – 17, beginning at noon on Friday, May 15. A change from previous events is that all the sales and booths will be at the Paddlefest store complex just south of Old Forge. Kayaks, canoes and Stand Up Paddleboards will be at the Old Forge Waterfront for test paddling. A shuttle service will be provided. There will be free seminars and clinics and classes in kayaking for a modest fee. There is also a catch and release pike fishing contest with a fishing kayak as the top prize. Details and online registration are available at the website
Friends of NRA Banquet: The Madison County Friends of NRA Banquet will be held Saturday, May 16 at the Rusty Rail in Canastota. In addition to dinner, there will be games, silent auctions, raffles and live auctions. Funds raised go to support local programs such as shooting ranges, women and youth programs.
BPS Go Outdoors Event: Bass Pro Shops Go Outdoors Event will be held weekends of May 16 - 17 and May 23 - 24 at the store in north Utica. The weekend of May 16 and 17 will feature free kids’ activities including kids crafts, free fun photo downloads, Boy Scout demonstrations and Adventure Scavenger Hunt. The weekend of May 23 and 24 will have free family activities including cooking demos and sampling, and how to lessons on capable kayaking, where to go for local family outings, campfire cooking and planning for camping with kids. Check the website for dates and times of each event.
St. Lawrence Pike Fishing: Pike fishing was very slow last weekend on the St. Lawerence River. Earlier I had reported that water temperature there was approaching 47 degrees. However last weekend the temperature was lower, instead of higher, than the week before. We found pike in depths just off the spawning areas but most of them just ignored our variety of lures. It will take warmer water to increase the activity and signal the start of spawning.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Deer harvest numbers down slightly

The NYS DEC recently released its report on the deer harvest for the 2014 season. According to the figure, the total number of deer killed was 238,672 a decrease of 2 percent from the previous year’s total of 243,567. However it was a little bit above the five year average of 233,556.
The number of bucks taken was 108,604 which showed a drop of 5.3 percent from the 2014 total of 114,716. The five year average of bucks killed is 110,546. This is probably a more accurate reflection of the season since the total number includes does and young male and female deer taken on Deer Management Permits. The total number of permits issued in 2014 was up 3.3 percent from the previous year.
A lot of people were curious or waiting for the report on deer killed since so many hunters had complained about seeing much less deer. This is a legitimate concern but we must remember that there can be several factors influencing this. Seeing less deer does not necessarily mean that there are less deer in an area.
Secondly these totals may not reflect a trend or situation in our area or any specific area. These are totals for the state and that can take in a lot of highs and lows. Even within some of the Wildlife Management Units or individual townships there can be a big discrepancy in numbers. Whether we are talking about deer numbers, climate change or personal incomes, remember the old adage – “many a person has drowned in a stream that averaged two feet deep.”
For some of the more popular areas for areas hunters, these are the totals. WMU 6K north of Oneida Lake had 2,671 bucks taken and a total number of 5,232 deer killed. WMU 7M, the large area of Madison County surrounding Route 20, had 4,532 bucks taken and a total of 9,199 deer killed. WMU 7J, which runs west from Oneida along northern Madison County, had 3,197 bucks taken out of a total deer harvest of 8,381.
Even in Madison County the totals showed significant variation. The town of Brookfield had 315 bucks killed while Hamilton had 176 bucks killed and Georgetown had 148. The town of Lincoln harvested 80 bucks in contrast to Eaton’s 237. There are lots of factors influencing these totals including size of the county, the amount of public access, habitat, etc. in addition to deer populations or densities.
It is no surprise that Southern Zone totals far surpassed the northern zone totals. A bigger area with better habitat for deer that supports greater deer densities combined with easier hunting conditions yields the majority of deer harvest every year. Last season there was a total of 206,106 deer taken in the Southern Zone compared to 29,075 deer in the Northern Zone.
What did come as a surprise to me was the large percentage of bucks taken by bowhunters and muzzleloader hunters in each zone. In the Northern Zone there was a total of 16,727 bucks harvested. Approximately 22 percent of these were killed by either bow (893) or muzzleloader (2,961). In the Southern Zone there was a total of 90,702 bucks killed and of that number 22,584 were killed by bowhunters and 3,050 taken by muzzleloader in the post season hunt.
Statewide statistics show that 158,954 deer were taken by gun, 47,842 by bow, 24,420 by muzzleloader and 5,535 by crossbow. Statistics show that taking a doe on a DMP is far from a certain thing. In WMU 7M only 19 percent of DMP holders successfully took a doe. Other units showed similar results.
At some time in the future we will try to glean through the 25 pages of the reports for comparison of local units and areas harvest figures in 2014 to past years. We will try to add some local sportsmen’s observations and opinions on reasons for any changes.
Walleye Opener: Good weather marked the opening of the walleye and pike season on Oneida Lake last weekend. Eager anglers were out in force and some nice fish were taken. Fishing in the creeks and canals was slower than expected causing some discussion and varying opinions among anglers. But fishing in the shallow areas of the lake was very good and those anglers who moved and found the active fish were rewarded with some nice fish on their stringers.
Vernon Rod and Gun Club Chicken Barbeque: The Vernon Rod and Gun club will hold a chicken barbeque on Saturday, May 16, rain or shine. The event will be from noon until all are meals are gone. You can eat in or take out service is available. Menu includes half a roast barbequed chicken, coleslaw, salt potatoes, roll and dessert. Support youth and community activities and enjoy a delicious meal.
Turkey season opens: Turkey season opened last weekend to great weather and high expectations. But a lot of hunters ended up frustrated when they saw few birds and heard even fewer gobbling. The woods were fairly silent and there was not a lot of action among the hunters that I talked to.
Most hunters had trouble finding mature gobblers and of course bringing them into gun range is even more difficult. Some hunters did take jakes which were fairly sizable for year old birds. From a personal viewpoint my seasons started off with excitement as I worked a gobbler along a ridgetop at sunrise. However he ended up flying down over the ridge to join some hens on posted property so the rest of my morning was spent watching deer or a few hens that came into check out my decoys.
Preliminary reports from the Oneida County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs Youth Hunt from April 25 - 26 indicate that it was a great success. A lot of the youngsters got birds, and some of them were trophy size. All had a great time and learned a lot from the ECOs and other mentors who spent time taking the youngsters out on their special hunts. We will have the complete report soon. In the meantime, congratulations and thanks to all who were involved in this worthwhile cause.
Billy Alexander’s Jigs: Many area residents are aware that Bill Alexander of Sylvan Beach is a very successful fisherman. He is also a very successful fisherman in competitive bass tournaments. Sine 1981 when he started fishing competitively he has either won or finished in the top three in several Bassmaster tournaments.
But what many do not realize is that part of the secret to Bill’s success is the fact that he designs and makes his own jigs. Bill understands bass habitat, their feeding habits and other behavior and fine-tunes his lures to take advantage of this. He also believes in using quality components, whether there is money on the line, or just fishing for fun.
Bill also sells his successful line of jigs with a variety of styles. Check his web site The web site gives background, illustration and even tips for using the various types. Of course the name comes from “Made To Order” since all of the lures are individually poured, painted and tied with hair or other material. He has a lot of them, especially the more popular ones, in stock. But otherwise you may have to wait a little bit for customized jigs during the bass fishing season!
Check out the site for useful information and to see the amazing variety available. Support a local person. And at the same time your fishing success may increase.
St. Lawrence River Pike Season Opens: Earlier this week I was in touch with some of my friends who are guides up on the St. Lawrence River. Up there they are excited about the opening of pike season. Opening weekend was nothing special because the water was still cold. However this week the water temperature is 47 degrees and should be getting warmer.
This is approaching the temperature where pike start to spawn so they should be moving into the shallow water and staging off the mouths of bays and shallow creeks. They are looking forward to this weekend and the next two weeks when the action should be good. The suggestions for those who want the excitement of northern pike fishing include using artificial lures such as stickbaits, crankbaits, jigs or spinnerbaits.