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June 8, 2012

Wilber Lake's a good place to start fishing

I decided to go to Wilber Lake (the Oneonta Reservoir) and fish a couple of weeks ago.

I heard the bluegills and crappies were biting quite well. A pile of filets from those panfish is certainly hard to beat.

There are basically two parking areas at the reservoir _ one on Upper East Street and one on Wilber Lake Road _ where the old road once crossed the lake. I parked on the airport side of the lake and walked down the path to an area just before the old bridge. That morning, I decided to begin fishing with a worm and bobber.

Several minutes went by before the red-and-white, plastic bobber disappeared beneath the surface. I reeled in a small bluegill that was five- or six-inches long. That certainly wasn't what I wanted. There are some big, slab-sided fish in the lake that easily weigh more than a pound.

I had caught and released several fish about the same size when I heard some talking and yelling. A family with three kids had come down the path to the lake shore and set up on a small point where a little, spring-fed creek flows in.

The kids couldn't throw their bait out very far, but it didn't make a difference. They started catching fish almost immediately. Their excited yelling and squealing continued as they reeled in their fish.

I soon switched to a small, weighted bobber with a white hair jig suspended about four feet below the surface. I knew there was a drop off where I was fishing and the bigger fish were probably in the deeper water. I'd cast out, let it set for a minute and then give the pole a little twitch.

Bang! I had a hit.

I pulled in another fish before long, but it still wasn't what I wanted. I caught a dozen or so fish that morning, but the big ones eluded me that day. The kids just below me didn't care what size they caught. They were just having a good time.

It would be different if I had been fishing at the other end of the day.

Fishermen start to arrive in the evening, just before dark. They take the game more seriously and come prepared for the duration. They head to their favorite spots with Coleman lanterns and buckets and plan to fish well into the night.

The bait of choice is a fluorescent jig. By holding it in the light of the lantern for a minute or so, the jig glows underwater. They also use weighted bobbers and work the lure with a little twitching motion to catch the crappies that live out in the channel. Many of those fishermen are there night after night, catching their limit of 25 fish each day.

Crappies have to be a minimum of 9 inches long to keep, but there's no size limit on bluegills.

Wilber Lake was built back in the mid-1800s but still remains a great fishery.

If you haven't fished it, you should give it a try.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is having a free fishing weekend June 23-24. No one needs a license, so that would be a good time to take the family out and have some fun.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at

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