New York bass angler Kyle Metzger lives in the Syracuse area. This gives him access to some great bass fisheries without too long of a drive. But one of his favorites is right in town, Onondaga Lake. He shares with us why he considers Onondaga Lake a hidden gem in Syracuse.
How has the fishing been so far since the last time we talked?
Hey Chris, all I can say is fishing is fishing. The ups and downs of the sport are probably why I am so addicted. This season started on a high note with my partner and I taking top 5 in the Cashion Rods Bracket tournament on Oneida Lake. It was probably the roughest conditions I have ever fished in but the fishing was lights out that day. We caught nearly 70 fish before the day was done.
After that its been just an average season till this last week where I started off by winning the local Monday night tournament. Then Saturday we had an almost 19 poundbag of largemouth on Cayuga followed by my wife and I taking 4th place out on Lake Ontario catching almost 17 pounds of smallmouth on Sunday.
Its been a mixed year for me personally. Talking to a lot of local anglers who have fished here for many many more years than I have, the general consensus is that it seems to be a little off this year.
Describe Lake Onondaga from a bass fishing perspective. Why do you call it the hidden gem in Syracuse?
So when I first moved here two years ago, I moved to the town of Baldwinsville just about 10 minutes north of Onondaga Lake. Being consumed in bass fishing my whole life I had heard of the big players like Oneida, Cayuga, and of course St. Lawrence but had never heard of most of the other small lakes and rivers in the area.
After joining a local club it really exposed me to fishing some of the new waterways like Onondaga Lake. After now fishing Onondaga several times and really seeing how the lake sets up, its obvious to me now that its a great fishing lake that doesn’t get the attention it should.
So far this season I haven’t fished in or heard of many tournaments where it has taken over 17 pounds to win. The tournament my wife and I fished a few weeks back it took 19 pounds to win followed by five more bags over 17 pounds. Its a great lake for all experience levels also because you can catch fish tons of different ways fishing all the way from a foot of water to 20 feet down on the some of the edges.
The lake had been known for high Mercury levels and pollution. What is the current health of the fishery?
Well I’m no scientist and from what I know being an outsider I probably wouldn’t drink the water but from a fishing standpoint I think the lake is thriving. I would say out of all the fish I have caught or seen weighed in there has not been many fish that aren’t healthy looking fish. What I mean by that is no skinny sick looking fish, no markings or sores on them, just clean healthy looking bass.
That also goes for other species I’ve caught and seen in the lake. I landed a 20 plus inch walleye last year and it was very fat and clean looking.
How much pressure does this lake get between recreational fishing and boating as well as tournament fishing given how close it is to Syracuse?
That’s the great thing. It doesn’t get much pressure. The biggest tournament turn out I have heard of was our CNYBFA event a couple weekends back, and it had 24 boats. Even then there was another small club on the lake and never once was I pressured by boats or ever had to worry about someone cutting me off down a bank.
The lake fishes pretty even. I haven’t seen where one side or the other fishes better than the other. Basically there are fish to be caught all the way around it. Plus if you factor in the river system which some anglers like, it really decreases any crowding that might take place on the lake.
As for recreational boats, there are a few locals out in the middle once in a while. The river also gets some traffic. But again main lake is actually pretty peaceful for being right in the heart of the city.
What is the mix between largemouth and smallmouth bass on this lake?
So I would say by far the largemouth population outweighs the smallmouths there but t it does have a great smallmouth fishery as well. I have caught several 2 pound plus smallmouth on the lake and have heard of several other bigger ones being caught. I have seen a few tournaments where guys will weigh them in I myself have had them in the well but usually end up culling them out.
But the largemouth take the cake. An average 5 fish bag I would say this season has to be about 14 to 16 pounds on the lake. Like I said, there have been several more bags over that 17 pound mark than I have seen on some of the other local lakes like Oneida.
Big fish for most events has been right around that 5 pound mark but last year there was a an event that took 23 pounds to be the biggest bag of the day. So to say its fishing good is an understatement.
What are the primary structure/vegetation types on this lake?
That what is great about this lake, with several places to bank fish and launch canoes or kayaks just about anyone can get out there and start catching fish. Its a very bank oriented lake, by that I mean the fish related to structure near the bank or the cover growing around the edges.
Grass edges with sand or if you can find it rock bottom is the sweet spot. When you catch a smallmouth, you know your around the rock bottom. And when you find the combination of rock and grass you’ll catch both species.
It seemed like the water so far this year has been lower than years past due to lack of rain. From May on, the grass grows pretty solid with some places like the southeast end by the mall being thicker. Also if you know where to look there are a few old sunken barges around the lake that will hold fish around them too.
What do you consider your favorite baits for each of the seasons for largemouth on Onondaga?
So this spring when the water temps were still cool I did really well on a simple three inch swimbait in white pearl color on a Picasso Lures plain 3/16th oz tungsten swimbait head just swimming it around what ever cover I could find. Once the spawn kicked in I switched over to a stick bait wacky rigged and also used again a Picasso Lures tungsten football head jig around cover.
Now with the grass in full bloom a big top water or my Denali flipping stick with Viscous 65lb braid are about the only two rods I have on deck. Happiness is hearing 65lb braid screech when you set up on a fish in the grass!
The biggest key to flipping is to one, stick with it, and two, pick your shots. By this I mean when you catch one flipping note where it was. Was it on the outside of a grass patch or the middle? Was it isolated or just part of a long stretch of grass? Or was it in a mix of two types of grass or was the grass topped out and burnt looking on top? Just be observant and that goes for fishing anywhere. Fish usually aren’t in a place just randomly.
Also just stick with it. I see so many people get frustrated with flipping. Having grown up on Okeechobee, I had my fair share of LONG days going flipping for only a handful of bites. But when you get one on the line its usually a big one. That’s what make Onondaga fun for me. I love to flip and it sets up perfect for flipping and catching a bunch of fish doing it.
How important is color choice on the lake?
I keep it simple regardless of where I am at. All I am flipping is a real easy craw punch setup, usually in black and blue or okeechobee craw with a 5/0 Trokar TK130 with a 1/2oz Picasso Lures Gunmetal tungsten flipping weight on. That is my go to rig for flipping 99% of the time. With that I may throw some scent like JB’s Fish Sauce on to just to add that extra kick. I haven’t seen where color matters too much just the usual colors like green pumpkin for plastics or for topwater I keep it simple with solid colors like black, bone, or white.
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice you have for anyone bass fishing Lake Onondaga?
- First off don’t be afraid to fish the lake. Like I say I’m no scientist but I know the fishing there is great, and the fish all appear to be fat, clean, and healthy.
- Secondly try all over the lake. I have a few spots I like to fish but honestly I have caught fish all over the lake.
- Third for me is cover, in the spring it was all about wood and rock. Then once the grass started, it was key to fish the grass patches and rock around the grass.
- Fourth would be watch your water color. When the wind changes directions or we get a lot of rain the rivers that all run into the lake and it can get pretty stained. For me I’ve always done best in the clear water on the lake.
- Lastly just got for it! Moving here just two years ago now I didn’t know much about the lake. Rumors from a few people I had talked to said the lake was in recovery and that it was polluted so I never put much time into fishing it. After fishing a couple local events on the lake, I soon realized it was far from being in bad shape. Living just a few miles from the lake I go there a lot just to try new baits or just relax because usually fishing is pretty easy out there.
Who are your current sponsors?
So this season I am working with some of the greatest companies in the industry. I am proud to be back with Picasso Lures and Denali Rods. These two have been with me for a while now, and I am thrilled to keep working with them again this year.
Picasso Lures make the greatest baits on the market. They are at the forefront of innovation on making new baits and having new ideas in the lure industry. Picasso has helped me a ton this year just by them doing what they do best, making great baits. I had unbelievable days on the water with their new braided jig called the Tungsten Knocker and also up here for smallmouth. They make the best Ned head I have ever used.
I am fortunate again to be asked back with Denali Rods again for this season. Again they helped me this season by simply making such great products. All season traveling all across the state fishing in some very adverse conditions I never had a rod break or fail once. They have a number of rods in their line that fit every fishing style and price point. They are some of the lightest most comfortable rods out there, hands down. Oh and not to mention for the ice guys they have a new line of ice fishing rods coming out soon!
Also this year I made a jump over to Vicious Fishing Line. These are some great folks to work with whose mission is to make great line and they do just that. All year again no line problems, less wind knots, and super strong knots all add up to more fish in the boat at the end of the day.
Also this year I am back with RedTail Optix and the RedTail Republic. This is a great glasses company out of South Texas. They are an America proud company doing it right making high quality fishing optics in a tons of styles and varieties. From low light to the brightest of days, they have you covered.
Finally for this year I was fortunate enough to join the AFTCO Freshwater team. If you don’t know AFTCO stands for American Fishing Tackle Company. They have been around for 60 years now and have been revolutionizing and perfecting the highest quality fishing apparel on the market. AFTCO has been an amazing company to represent this year.
I really think its not an aspect of fishing that people think about when they are getting dressed in the morning. But for me being on the water as many days a year as I am, sun protection and being cool and comfortable is a huge advantage when you are out there grinding it out on the water. I really cant say enough good things about AFTCO or really any of the companies I represent. I am fortunate to be working with them and hope to continue with them for a long time to come.