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Youngstown's Joe Paonessa knows fish

by jmaloni
Sat, Mar 16th 2013 07:00 am

by Mark Daul

Outdoors in Niagara

Of all the years I spent fishing for yellow perch, I have never seen a perch as big as the one you see in the photo accompanying this story.

I have travelled extensively to connect with spring perch. Lake Simcoe at the Athertly "Narrows" in Canada was a spring ritual. I'd pack the kids in the car at 4 a.m. to arrive at dawn just to be first on the water; catch and clean our perch and head back home the same day to get back before dark. Seneca Lake was another trip; get up early, and be home before dark the same day. Those trips and more were adventures never to be forgotten.

The Niagara River perch run would overlap as the Simcoe run was slowing down, in late May or early June, then I would spend a lot of time there, never getting tired of perch fishing. I never got to Lake Erie for spring perch much, because the lower river provided so many good catches.

The big perch in the photo held by Youngstown's Joe Paonessa is a whopping 16-1/4 inches long yellow perch. There were others that went 14-15 inches taken that same day late last fall. These were big enough to make a grown man cry for sure. I never saw a perch over 13 inches long, and those were caught in the spring runs.

Guess where those big 14-16 inchers were caught? Right here, in the Wilson Harbor off the docks, just a couple of miles away from anywhere in Niagara County. No boat needed. All you need is a hook, line, a lure and instructions from an expert like Paonessa. He has fished most of his adult life, and he has developed an uncanny way of catching fish, any fish. Paonessa doesn't sit while fishing, because he's "working" at his passion.

In New York state, perch average about 6 to 14 inches in length and most average 10 inches. The state record weight is 31/2 pounds, and that was caught in Lake Erie back in 1982. Locals fishing in Irondequoit Bay, near Rochester, would call big perch like this "elephant" perch.

In a recent conversation with Paonessa, he told me, "The fish don't come to you, you need to go to them." Gesturing with his hands, he added, "If they are not here, you need to go over there, if they are not there, keep looking because they might be way over there."

Paonessa said he left all thoughts of using live bait years ago, when he discovered the bigger challenge of using artificial baits like plastic worms, grubs and small flies that imitate live baits. He says he can catch more fish on artificial baits than most anyone using the "real live" thing.

Well, I, for one, am a believer. He can stand next to you and your bucketful of live bait, and he'll toss his line in to the right of you or to the left of you, and start catching fish. You might see Paonessa in his boat standing while fishing, or standing on shore or a stream bank pulling out fish. When he goes to the water, it is only him and the fish.

He has a technique that anyone can learn but few use. He'll tell you, "It's all in the wrist, a highly sensitive rod, reel, and line, you can feel 'em," he says. He adds, "To fish, you need to think like a fish. Follow the smaller bait, follow the birds catching their daily meal, watch the sun and the shade, and watch the wind. The wind will blow plankton along with small baitfish following them into the shoreline or a cove that bigger fish will follow."

Last spring, Paonessa took a ride to the small boat harbor in Buffalo where many fishermen were fishing traditional spots there. Checking with some of them, he was told fishing that day was lousy. He assessed the situation, got his equipment out, and took a walk all the way to the far end of the harbor where he saw seagulls circling around. It just so happened the wind was weak, but blowing that way. Away from everybody else, he tossed his line out and bang, there were the perch. He caught all kinds of them.

Don't think that Paonessa only fishes for yellow perch. Trout, salmon, walleye, bass, and crappies are all challenges he takes on. You'll occasionally see his truck parked at Four Mile Creek near Route 93 fishing for a fresh run of trout, or at Chautauqua Lake spring fishing for crappies, in the Lower River for bass or anyplace else where there is water with fish in it.

Ingredients for finding Paonessa: Spot a white truck with an extended cab, parked along the roadside where there is a creek or water, find a guy in camouflaged clothing tossing a line out with a sliding bobber on the top end, and you'll get an exhibition on fishing.

Spring is just around the corner, and will arrive in the Northern Hemisphere on March 20. As the ground warms, worms will be emerging, as will the birds chirping looking for love, flowers blooming, and four-legged critters you haven't seen since last fall will be skittering around looking for a mate. The fish will be feeling better, too, getting ready to raise their young and searching for food. Fishing starts with bullhead in the creeks first, followed by spring perch runs, and in June all heck will break loose. Salmon and trout will start heading out into the lake for colder, deeper water as the near shore water begins to warm. Bass season starts the third Saturday in June.

There will be a spring bullhead contest in Wilson on April 5 and 6. Sign up at Jean's Bar, 273 Young St., Wilson. There's a $10 entry fee; phone for details, 716-751-9198.

Say, what do Ed Mort, Dan Argona, Roy Barr and Jim Sissler have in common? They all took a youngster and/or an elderly person out fishing last fishing season and showed them what fishing is all about. I've recited this proverb before: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." How true.

For comments or questions contact me at [email protected], or check www.OutdoorsNiagara.com and post your comments there. Don't forget, take that kid fishing and don't forget the elderly, as they could use your help, too!

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