The Oswego River is one of the bigger fly fishing destinations for salmon and steelhead in Central New York state, offering plenty of options for access for those looking for a great time. Fly fishing is a fun hobby, and it’s one that can be enjoyed by anyone. If you’re considering a fly fishing trip, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t even have to hire a guide.Thanks to this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about fly fishing the Oswego River, including some travel tips and insights. Whether you’ve been fishing for a while or you’re just getting into fly fishing, this can be an exciting trip to add to your list.
Steelhead fishing on the Oswego River in New York
The Oswego River is unique in that it runs through a downtown fishing area, making it a great choice for those who want a quick visit to the water. You can also fish directly in the river or in drift boats, although it’s recommended that if you aren’t experienced with the river, you hire a charter or boat guide.
In the fall, you’ll find Chinook salmon by the hundreds, making their way to the Varick Street Dam, which is where some of the easiest angling can be found. You’ll find a lot of luck fishing with egg imitations, streamers and nymphs. This river is stocked with 160,000 fish each year, most of which come from pen stocking.
That allows easier acclimation and a reduced risk of predator attacks during the early days of stocking. There are some zones on the river where personal floatation devices (PFDs) are mandatory, and the highest-risk area of the river now has warning lights and littered markers to ensure people are aware of water flow changes and to help emergency workers in their response.
There are also plenty of rescue rings and bags stowed throughout the river, with ladders added in various areas to assist with exiting the water, making it safer for those who want to enjoy fishing on these sometimes-unpredictable currents. The popular section of the stream below the dam only runs about a mile long.
However, that mile stretch is also 400-500 feet wide, with huge runs of trout, salmon, and steelhead. It’s actually known to have more fish at a single time than any other Great Lakes tributary including the nearby Salmon River. You’ll find brown and rainbow trout, steelhead, and Coho and Chinook salmon, all available by the dozens if you travel during the best seasons for each.
Oswego River Map and Fishing Access Sites
Best Places to Fish the Oswego River
This river can be accessed from a few different places, but wading could prove to be difficult right below the dam for the first quarter mile or so. There are deep pockets of pools with runs in between, along with a shale bottom that requires cleats. Sudden water level rises are also common.
The upper part of the river is typically fished by those who have spinning and casting gear because it’s made of large walls and a concrete channel, and is best fished from the shoreline. If you go down past the walls, you’ll find a great fly fishing area.
This is located right at the Route 104 bridge, where you’ll find a large area that slows down as it confluences with Lake Ontario. It shouldn’t be waded when the flows are high, but the bottom is cobbled or consists of large rocks, so it’s great for fly fishing.
There is also a good spot on the north side, below the locks for the Varick Dam. However, this is a popular area that may be crowded with shoreline anglers, sometimes side-by-side.
You’ll find boat access in Fulton, Linear Park in Oswego, and Wrights Landing. Some require fees and there are no official state launches on this river.
Best Time to Fish the Oswego River
The best time to visit the Oswego River pends on which fish species you are after.
The salmon season starts in the fall, with Chinook salmon staging at the mouth of the river and then making their way upstream for a mile to the impassable Varik Street dam.
Shortly after that, the brown trout and steelhead will arrive, making fall and winter the absolute best times for fishing the Oswego River in New York. Of course, this is the case with most salmon and steelhead fly fishing destinations in the state.
You’ll find smallmouth and largemouth bass aplenty during the summer months which are a blast to catch on a fly rod.
Stream Flow and Current Conditions
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Oswego River. The USGS stream gauge in Oswego, NY provide a good indication of current conditions.
The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.
OSWEGO RIVER AT LOCK 7, OSWEGO NY
- Water Temp: 59.9 ° F
- Flow: 12100 ft³/s
- Water Level: 6.93 ft
Best Flies for Oswego River
In this area, you’ll find that long leaders and floating lines are most effective, although a shorter leader with a sink tip may also be handy to keep in your box. Dry flies, streamers, and nymphs are all good choices, although the latter seems to be more effective for trout and salmon.
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Oswego River:
- Glo Bug (#8 - 16)
- Sucker Spawn (#8 - 12)
- Nuclear Roe (#10 - 16)
- Black Stonefly (#12 -18)
- Brown Stonefly (#12 -14)
- Hare's Ear (#10 - 12)
- Woolly Bugger (#6 - 10)
- Muddler Minnow (#6 - 10)
- Pink Panther (#6 - 10)
- White Bunny Spey (#6 - 10)
- Pot Bellied Pig
- M.C. Hammer (#4)
- Spawntruder (#4)
If you like to swing flies, RiverBum offers a great selection of classic steelhead flies that will catch fish anywhere. Set includes 30 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and durable fly box.
If you prefer to dead drift flies, BASSDASH offers a great selection of some of the most effective egg flies and attractor patterns. Set includes 57 flies (see list below) and high-grade double-sided fly box.
A single-hand 10-foot, 6- or 7-wt fly rod with a weight-forward floating line is perfect for fishing nymphs and small streamers on Oswego River.
Similar weight switch rods 10 and 11.5 feet in length are also popular. If you like to swing flies, a 12-foot-6, 6- or 7-weight rod is all you need for steelhead and lake-run brown trout.
If your after Chinook salmon you'll need to size up your gear to an 8- or 9-wt setup.
A 9- to 14-foot leader, tapered down to 10- or 8-pound-test is pretty standard. In super clear water conditions you may need to taper down to 6-pound-test.
A standard leader configuration for use with a floating or intermediate line is:
- 2 feet, 25-lb monofilament (mono)
- 2 feet, 20-lb mono
- 2 feet, 15-lb mono
- 2 feet, 12-lb fluorocarbon (fluoro)
- 2 feet, 10-lb fluoro
- 2 feet, 8-lb fluoro
A standard heavy sink-tip leader is:
- 2- to 5-feet straight 15-pound Maxima
- 2-feet straight 12-pound Maxima
Heading out to do some steelhead or salmon fishing and need an affordable fly rod, reel and line to get started?
Look no further than the Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit. An 8 Wt. setup that is perfect as a first big-game outfit or backup travel rod.
Oswego River Fishing Report
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Oswego River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:
The state of New York requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.
You can purchase a New York State fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Trip Planning Tips
Since the Oswego River runs right through Oswego, New York, you’ll be pleased to find plenty of dining, lodging, and other creature comforts just minutes from the river. This river is in the north-central part of the state, with the easiest access from Syracuse Airport for those flying in.
This river runs along Routes 481 and 48, and anglers will find plenty of fishing destinations along the river. Just make sure that you follow all regulations and beware of dangerous water conditions, no matter where you choose to cast a line.
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in New York
Feature image CC by Dirk Ingo Franke