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The Oswego River, located in New York State, is a tributary to Lake Ontario with tremendous runs of steelhead, brown and rainbow trout, as well as salmon. The river averages 400-500 feet across in most areas and is approximately one mile long from the dam to Lake Ontario. Even though the area of river you are able to fish is short, it holds more fish in that one mile at one time, then any other Great Lake tributary. Besides huge runs of salmon, brown trout and steelhead each year, the river harbors numbers of smallmouth and largemouth bass, walleye, pike, lake trout, and rainbow trout as well as a multitude of other fish.

Steelhead (4-20 pounds) usually start entering the river in early October and run throughout the winter and early spring. The best steelhead fishing is generally from mid October till Late April. Steelhead will get lethargic during mid winter when water temperatures get very cold. Sometimes they will be there but will not eat until a warm spell arrives or you bounce your fly off their nose. Chinook salmon (10-40 pounds) begin migrating into the Oswego River generally in late August and run till mid October. The best runs occur from early September to mid October. Coho salmon (6-20 pounds) are also in the mix. Brown trout (4-18 pounds) generally begin migrating into the river in mid September and will run through the early winter. The best brown trout fishing is found from mid October till late November. As in all fisheries, please check all the Special Regulations before you fish.

Fly Fishing Map Icon


Just below the Varick Dam for approximately a quarter mile is a run of water littered with pockets, small pools, and runs. The river bed here is lined mostly with shale and wading can be difficult. A pair of cleats should be worn on the bottom of your waders to ensure your footing. This is one of the better areas for fly fishing since the water is shallower and easier to manage with a fly rod. Fish the seams in the runs and pools where fish will lay. Be careful in this area since water levels can raise at a surprising rate. A siren will sound when they release water from the dam. Be sure to heed the warning.
Hatch Chart
Just below the upper fishing area is "The Wall." This area is a large cement wall banking the river, that is fairly high off of the water level. Long nets are used to get the catch to the top of the wall. This area is used primarily by spin fishermen and also gets the most fishing pressure as well. The channel in which the river flows here is cement. There are two walls between where the river flows; the high wall that is the bank of the river and one approximately 100 feet out from the river bank's wall which is approximately a quarter of the way across the river. The middle wall can only be reached during times of low to average flow. At the head of the wall section is a few turbines that pump water. Often, the fish will stack up behind the turbines. Unfortunately this is not the best area for fly fishing.

Below "The Wall" section is another area that is good for fly fishing. This area is characteristic of runs and a few pools before flowing underneath the Route 104 bridge. Below the bridge, the river widens and slows as in nears Lake Ontario (estuary). The river bottom in this section is made up of medium to large stones. Wading here should only be done when the water level is low to average. When water levels are high fishing from the bank is the easiest and safest way to fish here. No matter what the water level might be, cleats are highly suggested. In the area of West Utica Street bridge is a good spot where fish hold well.

The North side of the Oswego has a few area's that are good for fly fishing. These are located almost directly across from "The Wall," and just below the locks at the dam.

Fishing the Oswego is done in the same fashion as all of the great lakes fisheries. The best method when the river is high is to use lead sacks ("slinkies" on a snap swivel) and a running line. The most popular method is probably the floating line, long leader, and split shot. Same technique is used here as in nymph fishing for trout. One more way is the use of a heavy sink tip line and a short leader (approximately 5-7 feet). This method can be productive when using spey flies, woolly buggers, and egg sucking leeches during periods of warmer water when the fish are more active. In this method the fly is swung. The colder the water the slower the swing. Mending upstream properly will help you accomplish this.

Coming to the Oswego River during the salmon run should not be done without a sense of humor. Although the river is wide and large in size, it is limited with areas to fish. During the early fall when the salmon run is strong, it is very crowded with anglers. It is not uncommon to see anglers shoulder-to-shoulder for a hundred yards "lobbin" large amounts of lead needed to get into the "zone" where anglers can "hook-up." To hopefully deter anglers from casting over your line after "hooking-up" the most common sound heard is "FISH ON!"

The Oswego River is a huge diverse waterway. Enormous numbers of fish traverse up this river each year. It is very wide and fish can either be spread out or stacked up. A trip to the river and finding these fish, can be an exciting experience. When the runs are good it is not uncommon to hook 10-15 steelhead and brown trout that weigh between 5-15 pounds on the fly rod in one day. Browns and steelhead can reach weights of 18 pounds and occasionally above that mark! This is the reason why anglers come from all over to try their luck in this outstanding fishery.