NYSOWA Spring Safari...

Thousand Islands offer plenty of fishing, hunting opportunities

By Ed Noonan, The Daily Gazette

Recently I was one of seventeen members of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association(NYSOWA) to attend their annual safari in the 1000 Islands Clayton area in St. Lawrence County. Each year the NYSOWA chooses a different area within the state where we get together to “play” in that area’s outdoors. And if you have ever been to the 1000 Islands you know that there are plenty of outdoor sporting activities to play. There is no business discussions, meetings, etc. just fishing, hunting, shooting and a lot of good eating.For me it has been about 4-5 years since I last visited the Islands area and that was when I was competing in a bass tournament. Fishing in this area is outstanding, especially in the spring time when everything is biting; especially the northern pike. This year’s safari was headquartered at Cal’s Cottages, where we stayed in comfortable cabins located right on the St. Lawrence River. Cal’s was started in 1939 by George Calhoun and now is being run by his great grand daughters Heidi and Lori Loy. And it is here that the good fishing really began.

Every day of our 3 day safari member I would fish from their boat docks and catch all the panfish we could eat. But from these same docks if you cast into the deeper water with a hair jig and minnow you also had a very good chance of hooking up with a big northern. I had caught several and lost one in the 30 inch class at the dock. And although, the season was not open, you could not help but find a 3-4 pound smallmouth who liked jigs and minnows also. But all of those were quickly released.

One of the many sponsored events coordinated by the area chamber of commerce was a guided northern pike trip on the St. Lawrence River. These trips were not fishing trips but rather catching trips because we were always on fish. The sizes varied from 22 inches on up to a 30 inches and I most of them were released. We all tried different lures but in the end the only thing that worked consistently was a black or white hair jig tipped with medium shiners that we hopped along or near the bottom of drop offs into 16 to 20 feet of water. It is a technique I think I am going to try this summer when the pike move into the deeper water; and I think my first try will be right out in front of Saratoga Lake’s Snake Hill where the water depth drops sharply into 40 to 50 feet. Who knows, could also attract a big walleye or bass.

Now if you are familiar with St. Lawrence pike guided trips you know that around noontime they will pull into an island, fillet their catches and cook over an open fire. What better way to end your fishing day than with a tasty fish dinner with all the trimmings.

It was May and for some of us that meant turkey hunting and I was one of the group who hunted both days for a shot at filling my second turkey tag with a St. Lawrence gobbler. The evening before our hunt, Dan Ladd, Ft. Ann, and I visited the 300 acre farm we would be hunting the next morning and when we glassed the fields we were excited about the next morning’s hunt. There were enough strutting toms out there that made sleeping that night a little difficult for the both of us.

The next morning, well before daylight, 5 of us entered the fields and spread out throughout the property. It wasn’t too long after sunup that I heard and saw two hens fly from their roost and land in a nearby field. I heard the tom but never really got to see him. I did see some very healthy deer. At about 7:30 a.m. Melody Tennity had a shot at a big tom but did not connect; and she knew that as the only lady writer/hunter on this safari she was in for a good verbal ribbing that evening about the one that got away.

As for me I did have a jake within range but chose not to shoot; and I believe others may have done the same.

That afternoon I spent some time on the docks helping catch panfish and then decided to join Wayne Brewer, my cabin mate and longtime friend, and do a little sight seeing in the river village of Clayton before dinner. This village is just full of local culture everywhere with all types of arts and crafts on display in the various shops along the river front. And my favorite, the Antique Boat Museum. This is truly a fisherman and boaters place to be with over 200 boats on display; one of which is the 106 foot long Gilded-Age houseboat, “La Duchesse.”

That evening we were hosted by another famous and historic site, the Thousand Island Inn, established in 1897, where we all enjoyed an evening of good eating that included both fish and turkey tales. We all had to gain a few pounds on this safari; but we enjoyed every calorie of it.

The next morning the threat of rain thinned out our turkey hunting crew and only Dan and I headed out into the fields. We could feel the rain in the air but hoped that it would hold off until at least mid-morning. The birds did gobble that morning but despite our calling they just would not come in. I did have several hens visit me but no toms were following.

I did however see a number of whitetail deer, both bucks and doe. From what I saw in these two mornings the St. Lawrence County deer population is still quite healthy and will probably still remain in the top 5 counties on this years NYSDEC deer take reports. I have deer hunted this county on a number of occasions and have harvested several very nice bucks and doe.

It was about 9 a.m. when I heard the distant thunder clap and when I heard it the second time I picked up my decoy and started my mile plus walk out to the truck. I hadn’t gone too far when I saw Dan leaving his field also. We were about 50 yards from our vehicles when the rains came followed by the thunder and lightning.

I didn’t get a turkey but I did have a very enjoyable and relaxing time in the Thousand Island and got to visit with old friends that I don’t get to see too often. There is a very good chance that before summer ends the Noonans and their boat will be re-visiting the 1000 Islands for a few days.