by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
The picture you see here was taken at Fox BoyZ Marina (the old Petroy Marina) in Youngstown. Fox BoyZ is one of 18 weigh stations spread across the Lake Ontario counties of New York state for the annual spring Lake Ontario Counties Derby (www.LOC.org).
Michael Erhardt of Brockport is holding up a 13.5-pound German brown trout he caught while fishing in front of Fort Niagara; Dawn Erhardt signed as his witness. Both Erhardts entered in the LOC Derby and were fishing off of Niagara Charter Capt. Chris Cinelli's vessel. This fish was 27 inches long; if you stretch out your hands to measure 27 inches you will get a better feel of how big it really is. It is not a New York state record, as that record was set back in 1997 when a 33-pound plus specimen was caught in Lake Ontario at Oswego. Ironically, of all things that fisherman's name was Tony "Brown."
If you never saw one of these trout before, you would be amazed by its beauty. Its colors are a light golden brown background, and the dots you see are black circular markings. Some have scattered red circular markings as an added visual treat. The Erhardt catch didn't have them.
Just a gorgeous fish. But if you caught one it would fight you until your arms feel limp.
The first one I ever caught was off Joseph Davis State Park, off that point in the river where the water picks up speed and gets deeper. One nice spring day I called in sick at work and put my boat in at Lewiston. I was self-employed, ha-ha!
Not knowing what to fish for, I just wanted to be out there fishing for something. I decided to fool around for perch, caught a few and after an hour or so, I remembered a friend of mine, Chuck Pelcin. He kept telling me how he had been catching German browns at the point at Joseph Davis. I picked up my equipment, which featured a 6-pound test monofilament line on the reel with a 7-foot light Fenwick rod. Pelcin said he was using number K-8 silver Kwikfish, a banana shaped lure. I had one in my tackle box.
Pelcin said to drift right off that point with the Kwikfish on a 3-way swivel rig, so I did. First drift, nothing. Four, five, six, drifts later, nothing, and then on about the 10th drift, a fish grabbed the lure and decided that wasn't what he expected, got mad, and decided to take off with my bait. He first went out away from the boat toward the center of the river, then downriver with the current - all the while I'm expecting my line to snap. He was out of control. The line probably didn't snap because of the 7-foot light action rod that acted like a rubber band between me and the fish. I was excited, as I found out the power of a brown trout that up to that time I had only heard of. After probably a 45-minute fight and drifting in that current clear past the park, and downriver somewhere, I was determined that this was to be my fish.
Come to think of it, it was tough out there being alone, trying to land my fish and to keep the boat lined up so the line didn't get all messed up so I could fight that fish at the proper angle. I must have looked like a one-armed fisherman in a rowboat going around in circles.
When I finally got him (or her) up to the side of the boat, I reached for the net, and no net! Poor planning, as I hadn't planned on fishing for brown trout that day, so all I could do was hang on to it, and admire its fighting ability and its colors. After finally getting him up to the side of the boat, and several attempts to grab it by hand - I swear it winked at me - it went sideways to show me his colors, then took a flip just before my line snapped and he took off with my $4 lure. So if you catch one with a silver banana shaped lure still hanging out of its mouth, keep the lure, but I want that fish.
I would guess my fish was about the size of the one Erhardt is holding. However he landed his, so that is called "catching." A fishing buddy of mine always said, "If it gets away, you can call it any size you want, nobody will ever know." (Whether you are full of B.S. or not). So, with that, could I put mine in the 20-pound range?
German brown trout are not native to New York state. History has it they were imported from Germany back in 1883 as eggs, then hatched in a hatchery on Long Island. The old timers at that time rejected the thought of these fish infiltrating their waters. In time they were accepted and slowly became a prized catch by many in those days, becoming famous for their fighting ability and table fare. We need to thank the state Department of Environmental Conservation for the foresight in stocking these critters all across the state. Stream fishermen love them for their acrobatics and prowess. Lake fishermen feel the same way, although those caught in the deeper waters of the lake grow much larger. Stream fishermen probably get more excited though, because they catch them on fly rods that are typically lighter and longer, with lighter lines and on tiny imitation flys. Fly-fishing is an art in itself.
This story grew from a visit to the weigh station at Fox BoyZ Marina to witness the fish that were being weighed in and visit with the weigh-master, Mike George. While there, the brown trout by Erhardt brought back some great memories and then another fish came in to be weighed. It was a 26-pound, 7-ounce King Salmon caught by Ed Hetrick from Edinburg, Pa. He said his fish was caught out at the "Red Can" in Lake Ontario on top of 110 feet of water, and according to his instruments, fishing down 58 feet with a flasher/fly combination. Terry Fulkerson, from Polk, Pa., was his partner and witness to the catch. The fish was caught off Fulkerson's fully equipped boat named after the famous Beatles song "Hey Jude."
The "Red Can" is a shipping lane buoy located about 31/2 miles in the lake off Fort Niagara. Fulkerson and Hetrick fish together often. Fulkerson said he fished this derby from when it was called the ESLO Derby (the Empire State Lake Ontario derby), owned/operated by Dick Schlyer. As time went on, a very capable and new owner/operator, Dave Chilson from Rochester came along, and revived what Schlyer began. Since then this derby has turned into the largest derby of its kind in New York state and probably on the eastern seaboard.
The spring derby runs from May 3 to May 12; the summer derby is from June 15 to July 28 and the finale is the fall derby running Aug. 16 through Sept. 2. Be sure to visit the LOC website for loads of good information, and don't forget to visit Outdoors Niagara website for hot spots and local fishing information. Just Google "Outdoors Niagara," it will be at the top of your Google.
Last but not least, even if you don't fish yourself, take a kid fishing this spring and summer. You won't regret it, and you won't need a license if that kid is under 16 years old and you don't actually handle the fishing equipment. I know, it's a funny law but that's what it is. Pack a lunch with some sodas and enjoy what a lot of us already know what we have.
No. 1 bait is a worm. Squeamish? Wear gloves, hell, they don't bite. In fact, New York state offers a Free Fishing Days weekend on June 29 and 30. No license is required by anyone fishing freshwater in the state that weekend. A good time to take the family fishing!