Lake Ontario out of Oswego Harbor 10/14 PM


Had a fly-fishing guide trip postponement today due to the wind forecast so I decided to head up to Oswego for the day. I have a few waterways that I want to fish before the cold sets in, after which I’ll be sticking with Cayuga and Seneca Lakes.

First thing I noticed was that there’s some development going on around the harbor.  The city is building a stage for concerts on the short pier at Wright’s Landing.  To me, it’s a weird place to have concerts, but I guess the city only has so many options.   I just think the area will get congested in the summer more so than it already is.

The winds were kicking up good today.  On the lake I dealt with one to three-footers.  It wasn’t easy for boat control.  On top of that, Lake Ontario is around 2′ low, so some shoals/boulders are right under the surface and there was enough displacement to do serious damage to a lower unit if I happened to get into the wrong places, so I wasn’t able to fish as efficiently as I would have liked to, but I gave it a very good shot.  I did not have a single hit today apart from a couple tugs from what were most likely gobies.  I had my old boat out, so I had my old Lowrance Units with plenty of good waypoints.  I worked deep water right into the shallows.  I also fished extensively in and outside of the harbor with nothing to show.  Water temperatures were very good – 59 to 61 degrees.  I had good conditions in terms of light/sunshine.  Funny thing is that I didn’t even see one salmon or trout jump.  Twenty years ago, the lower river and harbor would be brimming with salmon in mid-October.  Things sure change.

Over the past couple of years around this time of year, I’ve had some good fishing here for smallmouths and even picked up a couple walleyes (back in 2020.)  I fished from 12:30 until around 5:30 pm.  Was today just an anomaly?  Or are we gradually seeing Lake Ontario turning into a much less productive fishery? Or perhaps both?  We’ve seen it with the trout/salmon here as nutrient levels have diminished in the lake.

The lake has not produced a good year class of smallmouth bass in well over 15 years now, despite favorable conditions for spawning and recruitment.

This excerpt is from the DEC 2020 Lake Ontario Unit Annual Report (they are talking about bass population improvements in the lake’s eastern basin after double-crested cormorant (DCC) controls were successfully enacted):

The index of abundance for Lake Ontario’s
eastern basin smallmouth bass population
improved from 2005-2013, compared to the
2000-2004 record lows; however, those levels
were lower than expected following achievement
of DCC population management objectives
(Lantry 2018). Smallmouth bass have not
produced strong year classes relative to those
produced in the 1980s (Figure 11; Lantry 2018).
Recently, year classes that appeared to have
improved compared to other recent year classes
did not persist


I figured it’d be due to the gobies, but there may be other factors as work.  Maybe it’s the lack of nutrients.   In addition, as bass grow faster, they live shorter lives. I realize that B.A.S.S. and MLF keep touting eastern Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Rivers as these “world class bass fisheries” but apart from SIZE, I don’t buy into it.  All they look at is how many big bags of fish come in.  If it takes 26lbs or more a day (for 5 fish) to win, then it’s world class.  That’s it. You could argue that the numbers of large fish are world class, but overall it’s not the fishery it is touted as.  Guys are basically cruising around for hours watching their fish-finder screens.  Without those sophisticated (i.e., what likely derived from some level of military-grade sonar) fish-finders, the vast majority of these guys would be completely lost and wouldn’t think there were many good bass around.

The south-shore bass fishery remains a shell of what it once was.  In the 1990s and 2000s, you could launch out of virtually any port on the lake’s south shore from Rochester to Oswego and catch dozens of smallmouths fairly easily and without sophisticated electronics or gear.  The south-shore fishery was almost as good as the eastern basin, due to the lack of cormorant predation of bass on the south shore.  Nearly any shoal, rock pile or point concentrated fish.  Catches of 50 to 100 fish per day were not unusual.  We rarely ran over 2 or 3 miles to fish in my friend’s 16-foot boat with 40 hp motor on it.  (I know this fishery was going in the 1980s as well, but I wasn’t fishing it much then.)

We’ll see what happens.  Fisheries are resilient but there’s no question in my mind that we haven’t seen the end of some big changes in Lake Ontario.