Oneida Lake is the largest lake entirely within the state of New York. Located northeast of Syracuse, Oneida is about 21 miles long and about 5 miles wide, comprising approx 51,000 acres and 55 miles of shoreline.
The average depth is 22 feet and it feeds the Oneida River, ultimately flowing into the Oswego River and on to Lake Ontario. While not considered to be one of the Finger Lakes, Oneida, named for one of the Iroquois tribes, is sometimes referred to as their “thumb”. Because it is shallow, it is warmer than the deeper Finger Lakes and is known as one of the most popular stops for bass tournaments including Elite Bassmaster and FLW events.
Oneida Lake affords the tournament angler healthy populations of both largemouth and
smallmouth bass leaving it to the angler to decide which will win. The main forage in Oneida are yellow perch, gizzard shad and crayfish. Smallmouth bass are plentiful in numbers ranging from 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 pounds. Zebra mussels were introduced in the early 1990’s and as a result water clarity has greatly improved. Oneida aquatic vegetation consists of milfoil, coontail and curly cabbage. Typically grass grows along the shorelines and in the larger bays. In summer, the baitfish start to grow and some of the fishing techniques change. Largemouth bass can be caught in the shallow weedy areas using top water baits, plastic worm rigs, and spinnerbaits. Smallmouth inhabit deeper, less weedy waters. They are often caught with tube jigs and deep diving crank baits cast around rocky shoals. On calm days you can sometimes see the smallmouth chasing baitfish as they boil up to the surface. Casting stick baits or small spoons, like Kastmasters, into and around these bait pods can work well.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries Oneida Lake and its tributary Wood Creek were part of the Albany-Oswego waterway from the Atlantic seaboard westward via the Hudson River and through the Appalachian Mountains via the Mohawk River; travel westward then was by portage over the Oneida Carry to the Wood Creek-Oneida Lake system. The navigable waterway exited
Following the American Revolutionary War, the United States forced the Iroquois nations to cede most of their lands in that region, as most of them had allied with the British, who were defeated. In addition, demand from settlers created pressure for such cessions. White settlers improved the natural waterway by constructing a canal with locks within Wood Creek to Oneida Lake. This system was significantly improved—from 1792 to 1803—by cutting a canal across the Oneida Carry, after which commercial shipping across Oneida Lake increased substantially.  Even more significant was the completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal, which bypassed the Oneida Lake system and enhanced travel through the entire Mohawk Valley. This caused the population around the lake to lose their navigable waterway eastward.
In 1835 Oneida Lake was connected to the Erie Canal system by construction of the (old) Oneida Canal, which ran about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) from Higginsville on the Erie Canal northward to Wood Creek, about 2 miles (3.2 km) upstream of Oneida Lake. Built poorly with wooden locks, the Oneida Canal was closed in 1863.
When the Erie Canal was redesigned and reconstructed to form the New York State Barge Canal in the early 20th century, the engineers made use of natural rivers and lakes where possible. The new barges were powered internally (by diesel or steam engines), so they could travel open water and against a current; the system no longer needed infrastructure for drawing vessels externally — i.e., drawpaths and draft animals. After it straightened Fish Creek on the east, the new canaway entered Oneida Lake at Sylvan Beach and exited west with the Oneida River at Brewerton. New terminal walls at Sylvan Beach, Cleveland, and Brewerton allowed barges to load and unload cargo and to stay overnight. A new break wall was installed, preventing lake waves from entering the canal and protecting against shores. These improvements provided towns along the shoreline of Oneida Lake with access again to navigable waterways east and west.
For those wanting to explore Oneida, iBass360 affiliate Bill Lortz’s NY NORTHCOUNTRY BASSIN’ runs an excellent guideservice.
You can also check out the following for accomodations:
Oneida Shores 9400 Bartell Road Brewerton, NY 13029 Park Office: Tel: (315) 676-7366 Fax: (315) 668-6585 Camping Office: Tel: (315) 676-4943 Oneida Shores
Comfort Suites 5875 Carmenica Dr (I-81 Exit 30) Cicero, NY 13039 Tel:(315) 752-0150
Days Inn 5552 Bartel Rd Brewerton, NY 13029 Tel:(315) 676-3222