by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
When sitting in the coffee shop one Friday morning, I got a cell phone call from "Big Joe" asking if I wanted to go fishing the river that morning. After a "quick think," my wife said, "Go, get going; you don't need to do anything today." She was right; the only thing I needed to do was to go fishing. I'm always happy to go when Big Joe calls, I've known him all his life, and he turned out to be a darned good fisherman.
I told Big Joe "Yeah, I'd love to, it's starting to be such a beautiful day, but I need to run home to get my rods and other paraphernalia," Big Joe said to, get going, and "I'll meet you at the Fort Niagara south launch ramp in about 45 minutes." I scooted home picked up my paraphernalia, filled the thermos with my favorite morning beverage, hot tea. I always make sure I bring my camera and if I forget it, it's like going out with no shorts on. In fact, shorts are what we both wore that day in anticipation of the hot sun warming the day up, and it did.
It was nice, I arrived just in time, Big Joe already had the boat in the water and all I had to do was bring my baggage, jump in and go. Good timing by me.
Underway, Big Joe asked, "Well, where do you want to fish?" I told him, "You're the captain for the day, and besides it's your boat." So he took us up to the Stella drift, which starts a few hundred yards south of the Stella Niagara Chapel actually, where the clay banks are. In an earlier story I told everyone about using the plastic tube jig/bait, and that is what I started out using in a crawdad color. Big Joe had an idea of using live bait on a double hook crappie rig that day. He had picked up the bass minnows at the Lewiston Bait and Tackle Shop on Creek Road in Lewiston.
I tossed my tube jig/bait overboard and within minutes, I latched on to a 13-inch bass. Then I dropped the line again further on down the drift and caught another 13-incher. A much bigger bass hit Big Joe's large bass minnow, and we were happy campers when we knew the fish would be active that day. The wind was right, the morning air crispy, semi-cloudy sky; me with my hot tea, and him with a thermos filled with Dunkin' Donuts coffee from Ransomville. The boat captain picked the right spot right off the bat.
When you find a good drift on the river and the fish are cooperating, it is best to stay there until the fish get smart and move out to go someplace else. When the fish smartened up, we drifted a longer distance, down past the pipeline that comes to the U.S. from Canada. When coming across the pipeline I got snagged immediately, lost my lure and tied on another. Back to the head of the drift again, arriving at the pipeline I got snagged again, losing another lure. This went on about six times until I smartened up and said, "OK, enough is enough." At over a buck a crack, it adds up quick.
Yes, Big Joe caught some big bruisers in that drift, while all I was doing was tying on a new lure each time we went through there, losing my time fishing in the water. Big Joe never got hung up and lost lures going through that drift. Yes, he got snagged, but he was using that new braided fishing line in a higher pound test than mine and he could pull his snag out while my thinner line would snap in a heartbeat. I remember saying at one time I like to use light line for fishing and Steve Drabczyk from Lewiston Bait and Tackle answered back, "Good Luck!" Yes Steve, the river has no mercy.
My line didn't break when I hauled in a couple of big lunkers that were so mature they would make a grown man cry. I have to admit, Big Joe caught the largest fish of the day, but I told him I was fishing for quantity, not quality. We spent the better part of the day on the water soaking up the Vitamin D. Around 1:30 in the afternoon the wind came up, and after an hour of fighting the wind we gave up. We had enough fish for a nice fish fry, and then some.
Remember this: If your line isn't in the water you are not going to catch any fish, that's all there is to it. If you are tying lures, you are not in the water, simple as that. If you take a kid fishing, sometimes they want to diddle around, kick over rocks looking for little critters that fascinate them, which is really good, but they won't catch fish unless their line is in the water.
The guy holding his fish in the picture is Joe, he is my No. 3 son, and the joke around town is he "took an elderly fishing." Ha! OMG.
When Joe pulled the boat out we went over to the fish cleaning station, cleaned the fish, washed everything down and went to the parking lot. There we noticed two men from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service heading toward the north launch ramp with minnow traps, a long seine and hip waders for walking in the water. I went over and started asking questions. I wanted to know what they were seining for. One of the men named Eric started telling me they were seining for gobies, crawfish, minnows, zebra mussels and any other waterborne creature that gets caught. They would take them back to the USFWS lab at the Amherst regional field office testing for condition, aging, and water chemistry among other things.
Eric and his intern, Matt, were at the bar in front of Fort Niagara for most of the day, in a boat checking trap nets that were set out to sample larger fish. Eric told me they trapped two sturgeons that day - one was 5 feet long and the other was "only" 31/2 feet long.
Wow, can you imagine that - 5 feet of blood and muscle? Trapping and tagging sturgeon has been an ongoing thing for several years in Lake Erie and the Niagara River, studying their roaming range, health, and other habits. Sturgeon nowadays are tagged and released with electronic monitoring devices attached so USFWS can actually follow a fish by boat wherever it goes. Eric said the USFWS would be going even more modern next year, using tracking devices capable of being tracked by air. Tracking in the lower Niagara takes place twice a week from shore, and by boat April through June, and once a week or less the rest of the year.
In addition to trapping sturgeon, walleye and bass on the bar that day, Eric said the two actually trapped an 18-pound brown trout, the largest brown he'd ever laid eyes on. He said they got some lake trout in the net, too.
I would like to mention that in addition to being highly dedicated to his job as a Fish and Wildlife specialist, Eric is an avid fisherman who lives on the southern end of Grand Island and does lots of fishing in the Upper Niagara, as well as the lower.
It made for an interesting day that Friday, and again I want to remind you to take a kid fishing, take your significant other, your grandparent, neighbor kids, and never forget the elderly until you find out it is too late. In fact, rent a bus and take everybody. Just do it, and get outdoors, that's where it's at!
"So Smart" asked one time, "Do you know why fish are so smart?" The answer was, "It's because they hang out in schools."