Oneida Lake is such a famous fishery. It is on my list for 2018.I love talking to people about this lake near Syracuse, New York. Cole Vanslyke knows Onedia Lake well. So I grilled Cole on how he fishes the Lake in different conditions. Here is what Cole had to say.
Obviously, you know how to catch bass on Oneida Lake. How long have you been fishing Oneida?
I grew up on the South shore of Oneida Lake where I was introduced to fishing at a very young age, targeting walleye and panfish. Around eight years old I caught my first smallmouth with my Mother on a topwater plug and have been hooked ever since. Not only is it my favorite place to fish because it’s my backyard, but it’s a favorite because it is such a diverse fishery where you can catch largemouth and smallmouth using a broad selection of baits.
So, it is late October and early November on Oneida. The lake is still open but the water and air temperatures are quite cold. You want to get a few last of the open water season smallies. What baits are you using?
Oneida Lake seems to show its true colors in October and November more than any time of the year. 20-25 pound bags of smallmouth are not hard to come by in the fall. They are targeting bait fish such as gizzard shad and perch so all eyes are up in the water column.
Swimbaits, crankbaits, flukes, and Alabama rigs seem to trump most smallmouth tactics in the fall. When fall weather moves in I search for grass lines in the main lake region around the 10-15 foot range. I believe the bait fish target the grass lines, and the smallmouth can use the cover for a great ambush point. I often find several offshore schools that can hold well over 100 fish in the 20 foot range when there is a large school of baitfish off a main lake point. I recommend if you’re going to visit Oneida Lake, it should be this time of the year.
Lets fast forward, it is spring pre-spawn. You are now looking for your first smallies of the year. How do your techniques compare and contrast to your late fall?
When springtime rolls around and the hard water opens, smallmouth turn their appetites back to the baitfish that are available. Juvenile perch seem to be the dominant bait come early spring pre-spawn. I tend to move shallow in the 2-8 foot range and find the healthiest cover possible. This time of the year healthy grass is sparse so when you do find it, take advantage of it. The outsides of large spawning flats seem to be the best holding spot for springtime smallies as they are getting ready to move up on the beds.
Its now early July and you want a day of focusing on largemouth. What are your favorite baits to target largemouth?
Even though Oneida is turning into a dominant smallmouth lake, the quantity of largemouth isn’t as dense but the quality is there. Most of the time I turn my interest in largemouth is when I run into them fishing for smallmouth.
As everyone knows largemouth relate to vegetation and sometimes hard structure. I always have a swim jig, compact flipping jig, and a Texas rigged creature bait when I know I am targeting largemouth.
As the summer moves on I throw a lot more early morning top water as they get more aggressive. I believe the best success for largemouth is not fishing a single fish pattern but a school. There are too many anglers focused on shallow single fish which leaves several offshore areas unlooked.
You get to the lake on a beautiful summer day. The main lake is loaded with recreational traffic. Does this affect how you fish?
I don’t believe recreational boats affect the bite at all. Oneida is a shallow bowl all around and the fish are used to the traffic. Some of my best days fishing have been on the busiest water days of the year.
After a series of beautiful stable weather days during the week while you are working, you finally have a day off. Of course, a cold front hits with a big temperature drop and blue bird skies. How much do cold fronts affect Oneida largemouth and smallmouth?
Of course where we are located we tend to deal with cold fronts very often. I think it affects the largemouth a lot more than the smallmouth. The largemouth seem to act more timid and not chase moving baits as well as the smallmouth during various temperatures.
I don’t change my tactics much when it comes to cold fronts much. I keep a eye on the water temp more than anything. A large drop such as 5 degrees seems to damper the bite more than just a day or two of low air temperatures.
Just a tough day on the Lake. Your first choice baits are not working. What are your last resort baits that you dig deep into your tackle box for on Oneida?
A drop shot, I believe anyone can agree its by far the best finesse bait up north. The Carolina rig can also dig you out of a slow day but I believe wind needs to be present. You can work a drop shot in a foot of water up to any desired depth and be deadly. Also a top water walking bait, the quantity of bites may not be there but the quality can be better than ever.
Last question not necessarily based on conditions. What are the 5 biggest mistakes that you see other anglers make when they approach Oneida?
1. They practice based on calm water.
2. They fish the time of year and not the day.
3. They aren’t diverse enough.
4. They don’t cover water.
5. They overlook the simple stuff.
Most anglers I see come to Oneida don’t realize what this little shallow 20 mile lake is capable of doing on a strong east or west wind. You have to have a game plan when the wind shows up.
Oneida fishes big for the size. Fish on one end of the lake can be 3 weeks ahead of the other end. Some tend to not believe it but from experience its hard not to share it.
This lake is one of the best to come to even if you are from Texas or maybe even Florida. It is so diverse that tournaments can be won on a frog or maybe even a shaky head. So, be diverse.
Covering water is a major key to success, many times areas only hold a handful of fish, and maybe a half mile down there’s the same structure or vegetation with even more fish holding. If you get on a pattern cover water and chase that pattern. Don’t hold to one area.
And by far the most important is the simple stuff. More and more every year I watch anglers look over the simple stuff and at the end of the day that simple shallow area or buoy line wins the derby. Don’t overlook it!
Awesome advice Cole! To keep up with the results of Cole’s fishing, check him out on Instagram @cslykee.