by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
I often get asked by people where there is a good, safe place to take kids fishing - where they'll catch fish, be safe and learn to fish without a boat. Those are good questions for sure, especially the last one. We have lots of places around here to do that.
Niagara County's Bond Lake Park is a 531-acre nature park located off Lower Mountain Road outside of Lewiston. The lake area itself was once a limestone quarry site back in the late 1800s spanning into the very early 1900s before it closed. Today it is a nature-themed park and open to the public. It offers fishing, hiking, canoeing, picnicking, skiing, sledding and so much more, and not more than 20 minutes away from any resident of Niagara County.
The girl wearing the great big smile in the picture is doing so because she is out fishing with her parents. Not fishing for exotics, just out fishing. Not fishing in a big lake, not fishing from a boat, but fishing off shore at Bond Lake.
This little "fisher girl" is Brandi Love Fischer, a 91/2-year-old (going on 25 years, her mom says) that I met at Bond Lake fishing with her parents. When I asked her name she promptly told me "Brandi." Then I asked "how old are you Brandi?" Gleefully, she said "10" while she was baiting her own hook for another cast. Her proud stepdad, Russ, told me she does everything by herself and sure loves fishing. In about five minutes her mother caught a fish and Brandi took it off the hook for her. Before she released it, she held it up like she was going to give it a big kiss. The fish wiggled unexpectedly while she was holding it, and Brandi let out a little scream like 10-year-olds do. It was an unexpected surprise. After her cute theatrics, she leaned over and put it back in the water for another day.
Just from that you can see mom and dad are good teachers. It's things like this little story that makes my day.
Quite often I'm asked about the real young ones, from 3 to 7 years old. Although any age is a good age to start fishing, I say that if they can stand up on their own, start then. Sometimes attention spans are narrow, so when you are out take them around and explore other things. Frogs, birds, salamanders, butterflies, trees, are all things that they will remember for the next trip. I realize all parents are not necessarily up on fishing and other things the great outdoors has to offer, but what better way to learn than by teaching your children, while you're discovering things for yourself at the same time.
I find a lot of parents, including single parents, would rather have their kids in organized sports where the teaching and coaching is done by someone else, sometimes even by strangers. Team sports are wonderful, but nothing compares to getting out on your own, learning on your own. As you grow up, there is just you and a fish and the outdoors. "Fisher people" when fishing are strictly one on one - just the person and the fish. The fisher tries to figure out how those fish think, while the fish is looking for a simple meal, and at the same time outsmarting the fisher. Like scoring a touchdown or a home run in Little League, the fisher gets a thrill. Not all kids can score touchdowns or home runs, but guess what? All kids can catch a fish.
First, remember parents, you won't get much fishing in yourself, not until the youngsters get comfortable with baiting their own hook and taking their own fish off the hook. Some take longer than others, but if you show them the proper way to do it right from the start, they will want to learn like you did. Or perhaps you can both learn together.
Maybe you are not a very good fisherperson yourself. So what? Bring a couple of old rags with you, something like an old terrycloth washcloth or an old bath towel torn into pieces for your hands. They will help you keep your fish under control until you unhook it and get it back in the water. Getting the fish back in the water is the first lesson in "catch and release." Releasing fish unharmed back into the water is a good lesson, because it is protecting what we have for the future fishermen/gals.
So that your trip starts out on the right foot, be sure to bring sun lotion, insect repellant, a snack of some kind and a liquid. You might even want a Band-Aid or two, just in case. The experts say between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. are the hottest times of a day, so avoid those times. It's always best to go early.
Take a trip to your neighborhood tackle store and pick up a 4- or 5-foot spin cast rod and reel for your child for starters. Cost is $10 to $15 for a child-size starter set for 3-to-5-year-olds. You don't want anything too long or you will be untangling line cast after cast and/or pulling line out of trees. A 61/2- or 7-foot hand-me-down rod is fine if you have an older learner, but make sure it works well. Kids are fast learners so you don't want defective tackle, then their interest is driven away.
Of course, you can buy bait, worms in most cases, in many of these shops and other places along the road. But the very best thing to do is go out with the child the night before and dig for worms yourselves, or spray your lawn an hour or so before dusk and pick them off the grass after dark. They are free then. Or you can even try a small ball of fresh bread on your hook.
When kids start out they don't want a big fish to scare them, they just want the thrill; a little sunfish or rock bass will do fine. It's like hitting that home run I talked about. This is a good time to teach them about their surroundings and taking care of those surroundings. Make sure they don't leave bait containers, sandwich wrappers and other junk lying around. Have the kids pick up any containers or debris that might be left behind, not you. They won't learn a thing if you do it for them. And remember, someday they'll be fishing without you. If there is junk around that other people left, make that part of the cleanup too. The kids don't mind, they will feel even more important and will learn a good lesson. After all this about taking kids fishing.
And don't forget the elders, they would just love to tag along on a simple little fishing trip, too.
Be forewarned about Bond Lake: in the lake area especially, there are no restrooms - a real shame for a public park as nice as this. I would think the Niagara County lawmakers could come up with a couple of bucks for a couple of facilities that can be bought or rented pretty reasonably.
Fish Odyssey, LOC Derby, both this month
Right with fishing at its peak, the 36th annual Greater Niagara Fish Odyssey gets under way Saturday, Aug. 18, and continues through Aug. 26. It covers all public waters of Niagara, Erie, and Orleans counties. Salmon, smallmouth bass, walleye, carp, lake trout and brown/rainbow trout are the targeted species. Entry fee is $20 per adult, and youth fish in a special youth division at no charge.
The 2012 edition of this derby is in memory of Elbert Benton of Newfane. Benton passed away recently and was one of the early organizers of the Niagara County Derby 36 years ago; when it was known as the "Fall Classic." He volunteered and served many years on the Niagara County fisheries and derby boards, and was well respected in the fishing community.
For more information on the event, go to www.fishodyssey.net. Local tackle shops will be able to provide information also.
The Fall Lake Ontario Counties Derby kicks off a day before the Niagara Fish Odyssey. It starts Friday, Aug. 17, and runs through to Sept. 3. The derby covers salmon, lake trout, rainbow/steelhead and brown trout divisions. Offered is a $2,500 cash first-place prize in each division, and each paying back to 16th place, plus daily prizes of $100 for the largest trout or salmon entered. Entry fee for adults is $30. The youth division has a $15 entry fee for those 10-to-15 years old, and those 16 and over must register as an adult.
More information and registration is available online at http://www.LOC.org.