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, August 26, 2015

Fishing by the light of the moon

Fishing is always a mystery as to what lurks in the watery depths and how you are going to catch it. The element of darkness adds another level of mystery, anticipation and excitement. Frequently that excitement is punctuated by a lunker fish that makes this extra effort worthwhile.
Muskellunge are always a fish of mystery and challenge. Their huge size, the relativity scarcity of these fish and their unpredictable nature make them a prized challenge for anglers. Although most people put their hopes of catching one on trolling the icy days of late autumn, some anglers like my friend Mike Seymour regularly catch bragging-sized muskies all summer long.
Mike generally fishes the area of the St. Lawrence River near Ogdensburg where he guides for various species. Even when he is not guiding, Mike and his son Luke regularly fish for muskies and catch 10 to 15 each summer. The key is that he fishes for these behemoths after dark by trolling the areas that he knows hold muskies.
Naturally this calls for an intimate knowledge of the river and its structure as well as the techniques of fishing for muskies. If you want the excitement of catching a muskie without fishing during the icy gales of November, then fishing at night is your best bet. For more information contact Mike Seymour at (315) 379-0235.
Many bass fishermen target bass after dark because the cool summer night air is a welcome relief from the day’s heat. During the daylight hours their favorite spot is often buzzing with boaters. Any bass in the area were hiding in deep water or in dense cover with no thought of feeding.
Fishing after dark means there is less boating activity to disturb bass. The water temperatures cools a few degrees and they no longer have to stay in deep water or heavy cover to avoid the bright sunlight. The bass not only feel more secure after dark but the items on their menu like frogs, crayfish and small bullheads are also more active.
My friend Gary Lee is an Adirondack angler who loves to fish at night for bass with top-water lures. Many of his best fishing adventures are at night during the summer season. Bill Batdorf and Blaine Cook are two local anglers who are adept at night fishing for bass. Although they may have their own preferences for different methods or favorite spots, they all agree that night fishing for bass is a magical time and some of the biggest fish are taken at night.
Shallow areas adjoining deep water or those that have heavy cover are the best bet for night fishing. Areas of clear water and weeds are usually better than areas of dark or murky water for fishing at night. A key factor is that bass won’t have to move far from their daytime hideouts to their feeding areas.
Fishing after dark calls for being familiar with the water and knowing that the area is free of stumps, shoals or other hazards. You should also know the depths, structure and other areas where the bass are likely to be so you can quietly approach them using landmarks as guides. It is a good idea to be out on the water in prime areas before sunset to orient yourself and get your gear ready.
Often the fishing will be good in the last hour or two before sunset. You will probably find that the period right after sunset is slow fishing. It usually takes an hour for the fish to acclimate their eyes to the darkness before they are ready to feed again.
Fishing after dark calls for extra caution. In addition to PFDs and lights, you should be sure to include a jacket and insect repellent. Make sure you have long-nosed pliers because trying to lip-lock a bass in the dark is an invitation to disaster. Check the shoreline or other landmarks and carry a compass because even familiar waters will appear strange after dark.
Bill Batdorf favors top water lures like Jitterbugs. He suggests darker colors for darkest nights, since bass see the lure on the surface as a silhouette. Other top water lures include Chug Bugs or various poppers. Bill usually employs a steady retrieve because that gives bass a chance to zero in on the movement. If that doesn’t work, you can vary the speed of your retrieve.
Although most bass anglers like lures that create noise such as top water chuggers, lures with “propellers” or spinner baits, other bass lures will also catch fish at night. Some anglers who are skillful with plastic worms use these at night as well. Remember that key considerations are getting the lure through and out of the weeds and cover, and the ease of unhooking bass afterwards.
There are countless ponds or lakes, large and small, that are suitable for night bass fishing. You are actually better off trying some of the smaller ponds since it is easier to familiarize yourself with the cover, etc.
Brown trout are another species that lends itself to night fishing. Browns are warier than brook or rainbow trout and often spend the daylight hours in deep water or heavy cover during the summer days. Night anglers often catch some lunker browns that most people would not believe inhabited those streams.
Again it is imperative to know the stream you are fishing. Be familiar with the depths, the current and the bottom structure. Know the area so you can almost cast to the areas from memory since you will not be able to see much in the dark. Although the big browns are often cruising the pools, you may still find them close to their normal hideouts.
Have a light handy, but be careful not to shine it on the water or you will put down the big browns who should be out feeding. Typically these monsters will be cruising the pools or feeding in the riffles at the head of pools.
Nightcrawlers, salted minnows or big streamer flies and Wooly Buggers are my baits or lures of choice. Some other anglers, however, are successful using smaller streamers or flies, as well as Phoebes, Mepps spinners or small spoons.
In the next few weeks the water temperatures will remain warmer and days will still be bright and sunny. Thus it is still a good time to be fishing at night. Give it a try and you may be surprised at what goes slurp in the dark of the night.                       
Larry Chandler: Sportsmen and the Central New York community lost a good friend last week when Larry Chandler passed away. Most people knew Larry as a pleasant and warm personality who practically always had a smile on his face. His easy going nature belied his hard work, dedication and sense of responsibility to his community and sportsmen’s issues.
One of Larry’s greatest loves was the Boy Scouts of America and he spent countless hours serving and leading in many capacities. He was also a long time instructor for Hunter Safety and put in many days teaching youngsters the safe and ethical practices of hunting. He also served as Hunting Safety Coordinator for the Oneida County area.
Larry aided the causes of many sporting organizations and projects including the Vernon Rod & Gun Club, Oneida County Federation of Sportsmen, youth turkey and goose hunts and the New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame. Larry was an inductee of the New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame as befitting someone who contributed so much to the preservation of outdoor sports and conservation.
Our organizations and area are much richer because of his efforts. Larry Chandler will be missed as a sportsman, a member of the community and a friend.
BPS Women’s Workshop: Bass Pro Shops in North Utica will continue its Fall Classic education series this weekend with a women’s workshop. The Women’s Hunting Workshop will be held on August 29 at 3 p.m. The workshop is free and first 25 women to attend will receive a free tumbler.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Catch and release: Use care and common sense

The famous fly fisherman and star of the TV show “American Sportsman” Lee Wulff popularized the saying that a great game fish was too valuable to only catch once. Lee Wulff’s fishing adventures often stressed catch and release and demonstrated how to properly do it. But Wulff was not rigid or dogmatic about the idea. He would say that it was also proper to keep a few fish to eat. Moderation and common sense should be the angler’s guidelines.
In a recent column we discussed the idea that catch and release often a good thing, especially in areas of high fishing pressure or for species that are naturally propagated instead of raised in a hatchery. That column focused more on the methods of safe handling and care for fish so they can be released successfully.
One thing worth repeating is that it is usually better to release the fish while it is still in the water whenever possible. This is especially true when dealing with large fish like northern pike. Mike Seymour is a guide on the St. Lawrence River who guides clients for muskies, bass and pike. Often his clients will hook a nice-sized pike and bring it alongside the boat. The angler smiles and asks Captain Mike Seymour how much he thinks it weighs. Mike nods and says “well right now it is a 10 pounder. But if we bring it into the boat it will weigh 7 pounds.” The angler grins and says OK, while Mike deftly uses his pliers to unhook the pike and watch it swim away.
As a guide and a sportsman, Mike Seymour quietly stresses the importance of the practice of catch and release. Throughout the season Mike or his son regularly catch big muskies and quickly photograph and release them. This has been an ethic stressed for many years by most muskie fisherman. These elusive and mysterious fish have increased in both size and number in the St. Lawrence in recent years due to this common practice.
Two things, however, must be kept in mind when fishing: It does not do any good to release the fish if you are careless and do not handle the fish carefully. Secondly, this is a guideline and should not be a dogmatic, black and white issue either way.
It is more important to practice this where the fish population is pressured, numbers are limited and much of the population comes from natural propagation. Save the River, a conservation-based organization on the St. Lawrence River, is stressing limiting the number of smallmouth bass that you keep while fishing. Numbers of smallmouth bass have declined sharply in recent years due to several factors, mainly the presence of the predatory round gobies which raid the nests.
But if there are large numbers, or many of that species come from hatchery stock, that is a different situation. You should not feel guilty or be ostracized if you keep some fish for the frying pan. As long as you do it – like most things – in moderation the resource will not be harmed.
Very few people believe in catch and release for walleye. One factor is that walleye are good tasting and that is the reason people fish for them. It certainly is not the excitement of fighting them. Walleye are also stocked by the DEC so the majority of the population comes from this stock.
Of course king and Coho salmon are going to die after spawning so there is no reason to feel guilty. Some people release them so they can continue fishing and others may have the chance to catch the same fish. But the great taste of salmon and the numbers of stocked fish means most will naturally end up on the grill.
When releasing fish with care you should minimize the time out of the water. Using barbless hooks and using pliers makes it easier to release a fish. Wet your hands to minimize removing protective slime when you have to handle fish. Take some quick photos and carefully put it back in the water, or put it in the live well to be photographed later.
If you do have to net a large fish like a muskie to unhook it, place a wet towel over its eyes to keep it from thrashing about the boat. Do not lift it vertically since this unnatural position can put great stress on its organs.
Grabbing a bass by the lower lip can immobilize it, but do not try to force it into a horizontal position using this grip. If you need to take a horizontal photo, use your other hand to support the fish underneath. Pike can be immobilized by firmly gripping the fish over the gill plates or using a “spreader.” Never grab any fish through the gills.
Lifting a trout up under its belly seems to temporarily relax or immobilize them. Again a quick photo, or even one in the shallow water will provide memories or proof of your catch to your friends.
When I was a youngster I practiced a lot of catch and release even before it was popular. Part of the reason was that I wanted to insure lots of fish to catch later and part of the reason was that I was too lazy to clean many fish. We always had a rule to keep any big brown trout. Part of it was the desire to show off a trophy, and part of it was the fact that big browns are cannibals and clean out a pool by eating all the small trout. Today some fishing clubs or leases have similar rules.
Keep in mind that you are fishing to enjoy the experience and if you catch some fish the experience is even more rewarding. If you are going to keep some fish for the grill, just consider the circumstances and do it in moderation.
Shorter Fall Turkey Hunting Seasons: The NYS DEC has adopted new regulations to shorten fall turkey hunting seasons in New York State due to a declining turkey population across the state. The new fall seasons are two weeks long with a statewide season bag limit of one bird of either sex. Season dates vary regionally with the season in the Northern Zone running October 1–14 and the Southern Zone running October 17–30.
The new fall hunting season structure is based on the results of research conducted by DEC. Based on those studies, DEC concluded that the best way to enhance turkey populations while maintaining some fall hunting opportunity was to offer a two-week season in all areas of the state.
Youth Goose Hunt: The Oneida County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and ECOs are again teaming up to offer a special youth goose hunt to youngsters who may not otherwise have the opportunity to go goose hunting. Youngsters must have completed their hunter safety course beforehand.
There will be a meeting with parents, ECOs and hunter mentors; target practice and other preparation for the next day’s hunt. This year’s hunt will take place on the weekend of Sept. 19 and 20. Youngsters will have the opportunity to learn the skills necessary for goose hunting and then actually experience it with the guidance of an ECO or hunter mentor in the field.
The program is open to youths ages 12–17. A small game license and an HIP number are necessary for all youngsters. Youths ages 16-17 will also need a federal wildfowl stamp. Interested participants should contact Scott Faulkner (225-0192), ECO Steve Lakeman (734-0648) or ECO Ric Grisolini (240-6966) for an application for this program. Space in the program is limited so be sure to register immediately.
Special Opportunity To Visit Restricted Refuges: The public will have a special opportunity to visit restricted portions of three Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties starting Saturday, Aug. 15 and continuing through Sunday, Aug. 30. Opening these refuge wetland areas to the public for a limited period gives visitors a chance to connect with nature through hiking, canoeing and bird watching, with minimal impacts on wildlife.”
During the 16-day period, Perch River WMA in Jefferson County and Upper and Lower Lakes and Wilson Hill WMAs in St. Lawrence County, including their wetland restricted areas, will be open to visitors each day from sunrise to sunset, except for Perch Lake, which opens at noon. For most of the year, these wetlands are off limits to the public to provide feeding and resting areas for migratory waterfowl.
The restricted wetland areas are also used by a number of New York State’s endangered, threatened and rare species including bald eagles, black terns and northern harriers (marsh hawks), among others. By late August, the nesting and brooding season is mostly complete and the fall migration period has not yet begun, enabling DEC to allow public access.
For additional information, bird lists and maps, contact DECs Regional Wildlife Office at 315-785-2263 or visit the DEC web page at
DEC Seeks Participants For Summer Turkey Survey: The DEC has encouraged New Yorkers to participate in a survey for wild turkeys throughout the month of August. Participants can record observations of turkeys while exploring the forests and fields around their home or driving.
Weather, predation and habitat conditions during the breeding and brood-rearing seasons can all significantly impact nest success, hen survival and poult survival. This index allows DEC to gauge reproductive success and predict fall harvest potential.
During the month of August, survey participants record the sex and age composition of all flocks of wild turkeys observed during normal travel. Those that would like to participate can download a Summer Wild Turkey Sighting Survey form from the DEC website: Detailed instructions can be found with the data sheet. Survey cards can also be obtained by contacting your regional DEC office, by calling (518) 402-8886, or by e-mailing (type “Turkey Survey” in the subject line).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Coyotes are here to stay

In Aztec lore, the coyote was known as “God’s Dog” because of its mysterious ways and intelligence. The Navajo believed that the coyote would be the last creature on earth because of its cleverness and ability to adapt to changing conditions.
Some people have other names or labels for the coyote, many of which cannot be printed in a family publication. Coyotes do create a lot of strong feelings and many people despise them while others like them. Of course we know that some people like to stick their hands into snake infested waters and blindly “noodle” for catfish, some like to hunt wild boar and kill them by stabbing them with a big knife and some other people even like to drink warm beer.
Personally I hate coyotes. There, I’ve said it and gotten that out of the way. My personal reasons will be evident later.
Coyotes are often referred to as “coy-dogs” or “brush wolves.” The coy-dog label came about when they first appeared in the 1960s in significant numbers and people attributed their larger size to the possibility of interbreeding with dogs. Although they can, and have sometimes in the past, that is very rare today. They usually have different breeding cycles and coyotes certainly have no problem finding mates these days. They are much more likely to kill the dogs rather than mate with them.
The term brush wolf comes from their larger size than the western coyotes. This is actually due to interbreeding with wolves as they migrated east. Scientists have determined that the genetic makeup of the eastern coyote contains genetic similarity with the red wolf and this has created a distinct subspecies with larger size and some distinct behavior patterns.
Eastern coyotes usually weigh about 30–40 pounds but many larger males have been taken. Their big bushy tail makes them seem even larger. When some people see this large member of the canid family in the fields or their backyard they often wonder if they are seeing a timber wolf. Timber wolves are considerably larger, usually weighing 90–100 pounds, have shorter rounded ears and a blunter muzzle.
Coyotes usually live in pairs rather than packs as wolves do. However, the young of the year and other unmated females may form packs for hunting in fall and winter. Coyotes make a variety of calls and their howls and other sounds can often be heard on a late summer or autumn night.
The female coyote gives birth to the pups in spring and typically has three to five pups, although they sometimes give birth to as many as 10 or 12. The young are raised in a den, hollow log or under a ledge and stay in that area for three or four months until they are old enough to travel and hunt with the adults.
Coyotes eat a wide variety of things ranging from fruits to large mammals. Because they are predatory in nature, most of their diet consists of mice, small rodents, woodchucks, rabbits, beaver, birds, turkey and deer. One farmer told me how coyotes in the area would hear his tractor mowing hay and after he had made about three or four passes around the field the female and the pups would appear and spend an hour pouncing on the now vulnerable field mice in the freshly mown hay.
Coyotes are also a major predator on turkey and wildlife biologists know that they take a toll on hen turkeys while they are nesting. I have had coyotes come in to the sound of my calling or the tom turkey gobbling and mess up several of my hunts.
Once I had a coyote sneak in towards my decoys while I was calling and when it saw my movement in the shadows, it turned and bounded straight for me. I grabbed my shotgun and yelled but before I could get off a shot, the coyote realized its mistake and spun and dodged behind some trees as it sped away.
Another time I was goose hunting and heard something on the opposite side of a stonewall. As I rose up to take a look I came face-to-face with a coyote at a distance of three feet. That time we both jumped back in total surprise. Some hunters have not been so lucky and have been pounced on from behind and bitten while turkey hunting. The coyotes usually got away when they realized their mistake but the hunters had to undergo the shots for rabies vaccine.
Coyotes take a fairly heavy toll of fawns. One ESF study confirmed this but their conclusion was that the effect was minimal “since most predation occurs in spring.” Duh! That is when fawns are born! That is like saying most injuries from snowball fights occur in winter.
In some areas coyotes kill a substantial number of adult deer in winter. This is usually in areas of deep snow like the Adirondacks. Deer cannot travel fast in the deep snow and the packs of coyotes travel on top of the snow and soon surround and pull down the deer.
Coyotes also make a habit of attacking beagles while they are hunting rabbits. The sound of a baying hound brings the coyotes in to attack and kill the beagle. Some dismiss this as the instinctive behavior of coyotes to not tolerate other canids during the period when they have young. However, this practice of coyotes is year-around, not just when they have young (which is after rabbit hunting season).
This year I have had three friends call me about coyotes in their backyard asking if it was a coyote or wolf and ask if it were dangerous. Yes, they are coyotes. No, they are not normally dangerous to humans (unless they mistake you for the game while you are hunting). Seeing them in broad daylight in your yard does not mean that they are rabid, although you should never take chances. It does mean that they have been accustomed to humans and are becoming bolder.
Since coyotes are well-entrenched in suburban, or even urban areas, they have quickly learned that cats and small dogs are easier prey than rabbits or woodchucks which can escape into their dens. In some areas where the coyotes are particularly bold, people have armed themselves with stout walking sticks or even cattle prods when out walking their small lap dogs.
Coyotes are definitely intelligent and adaptable. Most of the time we do not see them although we will see the signs in our neighborhoods if we are observant enough. The danger, especially to small pets or possibly small children, comes when coyotes become habituated to humans and become especially bold.
During the open season (usually October 1 through March 31) coyotes can be trapped or hunted. Hunting is usually done with hounds or by calling them in with calls of a dying rabbit or other prey.
It takes intensive hunting to significantly reduce coyote numbers in a given area. But you can reduce the actual number slightly and make the survivors more cautious and wary of humans. Coyotes are here to stay so the best we can do is to learn how to live with them and possibly take advantage of the sport they may offer.
Youth Goose Hunt
The Oneida County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and ECOs are again teaming up to offer a special youth goose hunt to youngsters who may not otherwise have the opportunity to go goose hunting. Youngsters must have completed their hunter safety course beforehand.
There will be a meeting with parents, ECOs and hunter mentors; target practice and other preparation for the next day’s hunt. This year’s hunt will take place on the weekend of September 19 and 20. Youngsters will have the opportunity to learn the skills necessary for goose hunting and then actually experience it with the guidance of an ECO or hunter mentor in the field.
The program is open to youths ages 12–17. A small game license and an HIP number is necessary for all youngsters. Youths ages 16-17 will also need a federal wildfowl stamp. Interested participants should contact Scott Faulkner (225-0192), ECO Steve Lakeman (734-0648) or ECO Ric Grisolini (240-6966) for an application for this program. Space in the program is limited so be sure to register early.