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Syracuse is a city in New York State and Onondaga County that’s considered as the gateway to New York City, Toronto, and the nearby Finger Lakes region. Centrally located, it’s best known for its sweeping scenery, outdoor parks, eclectic cuisine, and festivals. However, it’s also notorious for its high average snowfall with about 115.6 inches of precipitation annually, spread out to around 1-3 inches per day. The high snowfall is a result of the effects of Lake Ontario nearby and storms originating from the Atlantic Ocean.
Historically, Syracuse went unrecognized for a long time because of a lack of a post office and was generally considered as a settlement of towns and villages grouped together. In 1820, John Wilkinson, a lawyer, and Syracuse’s first postmaster, proposed the city’s current name today after reading a poem about Siracusa in Sicily that seemed similar in its geography.
Today, Syracuse ranks as the fifth of New York State’s most populated cities. This bustling city is known as an educational and economic oasis where Syracuse University, State University of New York, Upstate Medical University, SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, and Le Moyne College are located.
The Greater Syracuse area (the towns and region surrounding the city) has some of the best fishing for salmon, steelhead, and brown trout and calls anglers from all over to fish in its waters. Ironically, people often interchange the larger census area with the city itself, and often confuse fishing in angling honey holes as Oneida Lake and Nine Mile Creek as part of Syracuse. Despite being overshadowed by its neighbors, the city does have some decent angling spots located within the city limits as well.
Syracuse is best known for Onondaga Lake, a large body of water that covers an area of around 2,944 acres with a shoreline that’s 12 miles long. It has an average depth of 35 feet and can easily reach up to 60 feet deep. Teeming with rooted aquatic plants that can be spotted all around the lake, you can sight fish here until 10 feet deep. It’s fed primarily from a 285-square mile watershed in Onondaga County.
Although it has a history of being known as one of the most polluted lakes in the United States, restoration efforts in Onondaga Lake have slowly changed this perception as the local wildlife is once again thriving. Often called Syracuse’s hidden gem, it now has around 66 various fish species. It’s known primarily as an angling hotspot for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and common carp. However, anglers can also find tiger muskellunge, Northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, bluegill, white perch, channel catfish, brown bullhead, bowfin, freshwater drum, and round goby, just to name a few.
Largemouth bass has been known to reach on average about 17 to 19-inches here and tend to prefer the shallower portions of the lake. Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, tend to go to the deeper sections, feeding on gizzard shad near the mouth of Nine Mile and Onondaga Creeks in July and August. However, for larger specimens, anglers often head near the lake’s outlets in September. If you’re not a fan of bass, common carp are also found in abundant numbers and can grow quite large here as well.
Bringing along a medium-action rod around 6-8 feet spooled around a spin casting reel with 120 yards of drag and an 8-12 pound test of line is a good start to fish here. For smallmouth and largemouth bass, anglers usually go with jigs, spinnerbaits and live golden shiners. When it comes to carp, you’ll want to use a hefty line because they can get tricky in parts of the water that’s thick with vegetation. Partner up this rig with some small split shots, slip sinkers, and egg sinkers, and you’ll have yourself carp for dinner.
Interestingly enough, bow fishing for carp, and only carp, is legal in Syracuse under the Environmental Conservation Law. Those who wish to do so must still acquire a small game or fishing license which will allow them to bow-fish during the special allotted season between May 15 through September 30. There is no size or catch limit and bow-fishers must still observe any state and environmental laws.
Nevertheless, while Onondaga Lake may not be a regularly stocked fishery, it has benefited from surplus tiger muskellunge stockings in previous years. Due to its history of pollution, the lake is a focus of academic research and study, so if you’re angling here, you may catch a fish that’s tagged. If so, you’ll need to take note of the tag number, species, length, and location, and contact the phone number listed on the tag.
Onondaga Lake has surprised many anglers with how much diversity there is as they’ll never know what's going to snag their hooks next. Known for its spring fishing from March to June, the warmer waters call out trout, brown bullhead, walleye, Northern pike, and channel catfish to show themselves in the waters. Corn, dough balls, and worms have been known to be effective around the lake if you’re not targeting a specific species.
Moreover, in 2015 and 2018, students from SUNY performing research on the lake were surprised to net several lake sturgeon, the largest of which measured 62 inches long. Researchers believe that the fish came from the Seneca River that was stocked by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in nearby Oneida Lake in the early 1990s.
Strangely enough, goldfish have also been fished out of the Lake, such as a 14.5-inch goldfish in 2021. However, since goldfish are not native to the area, these are more likely to be from an aquarium dump with researchers saying there’s little indication that any spawning is occurring.
If you decide to head out to Onondaga Lake, there are several access points namely Kenneth P. Lynch Launch, Seneca River Hayes Road, and anywhere along the shores of Onondaga Lake Park.
It's always best to hire guides to take you to the best locations.
Erie Canal Museum contains exhibits and the history of the construction of the Erie Canal, which was one of the first major undertakings in the country. A portion of the museum is built over what remains of the original canal and also has a building from the era that’s been preserved.
If you’d prefer to see science-related exhibits, the Museum of Science and Technology is well worth a visit with engaging presentations that both children and adults will enjoy. You’ll also want to check Toothpick World upstairs for displays that feature world records for the tallest toothpick structure.
This 43-acre facility has exhibits both indoors and outdoors, making it a great place to visit even if the weather isn’t in your favor. This is a wonderful place to bring the family as you’ll see a variety of animals such as lions, penguins, camels, and giant Steller’s Sea Eagles. It also features a petting zoo which kids will love.
This theatre is an architectural marvel that represents the glitz and glamor of entertainment during the 1920s. It’s still in use today and has seen many celebrities and personalities perform on its classic stage.