By Will Elliott
NEWS OUTDOORS WRITER
Warming air and waters have anglers headed in all directions in search of where the fish are biting, but reading up on favored fishing spots could be helpful in coming seasons.
Three recently published books provide the more casual fisher folk to the most serious piscatorial pursuant bountiful information on the past and present state of area fishing.
One need not be an octogenarian to recall commercial fishermen working Lake Erie out of two New York State ports. But Erie’s bounty was harvested long before any living anglers went down to the lake in fish tugs.
Erie, Pa., David Frew and Jerry Skrypzak put together a comprehensive history of commercial fishing in Lake Erie in a 2011 publication “Fortune and Fury.” The authors researched the earliest of Native American fishers to the most recent fish catching and processing procedures. Accounts often include the furious, often fatal times, as well as the fortune that Erie, the most fertile of the five Great Lakes, offered commercial fishermen.
At its peak, between the Civil War and the early Twentieth Century, the Lake Erie fishery in New York State provided bountiful ports at Barcelona and Dunkirk Harbor. Barcelona, a sister port to Erie, Pa., had at least a dozen Loomis class (wind driven) fish tugs. Dunkirk provided New York City and other major markets with fish stocks harvested from up to 60 fish tugs that transported fish via their own rail line.
Artifacts of Native American tribal fishing gear have been found that date back to well before the Seneca Nation formed as one of the Five Nations in the 1400s.
European settlers commercially fished with nets and gear that increased Erie catches, but warning signs were evident before the Civil War with the decline and losses of Atlantic salmon fishing stocks in Lake Ontario and then Lake Erie with practices such as over-harvesting fish that entered streams to spawn.
States developed hatcheries for trout, bass, musky, catfish, panfish such as perch, crappie and bluegill and even paddlefish at Linesville, Pa. Catch reductions began first in New York State in 1801, but the “frontier mentality” persisted until the end of the Nineteenth Century.
In 1885 the commercial harvest of Great Lakes sturgeon was more than 10 million pounds. By the turn of the century it dropped to one million and by the 1920s none were commercially harvested in “rough fish.” A severe depression from 1893 to 1898 collapsed fish marketing, but World War I brought Great Lakes commercial sales up to peak levels.
Then, in 1925, a collapse in Lake Erie herring production forced harvesters to switch to other fish species, but lake trout and whitefish numbers did not increase.
It took another World War and three decades of decline before the Great Lakes Commission formed in 1955. Eight U.S. and two Canadian Provinces bordering the Great Lakes began mutually coordinating fish populations and sensible harvest quotas.
Bad stocking decisions such as stocking carp in the 1870s as a “savior of Great Lakes commercial fishing” are noted, but it was Lake Erie’s blue pike decline and disappearance that most living folk recall as the lake’s greatest fishery demise.
A thorough reading of “Fortune and Fury,” especially the later chapters on fish wars and harvest shift, could help the modern angler understand more about the changing dynamics of fish catches in the past and to this day.
Proceeds from this book go entirely to the Erie County (Pa.) Historical Society. For a copy, check Amazon Books or call the SONS of Lake Erie at (814) 453-2270.
Spider Rybaak has just completed a book that will help any angler headed to Lake Erie or Lake Ontario in search of productive open-waters or tributary treks. Rybaak does his research first-hand and thoroughly covers each fishery.
For a Buffalo-area angler, Rybaak’s “Fishing the Great Lakes of New York” covers everything from Barcelona Harbor to the Thousand Islands. About two thirds of it focuses on fishing spots within a two-hour drive of Buffalo.
A reading of the introduction alone provides angling basics of use to new and long-time fishermen. After brief discussions on topics such as catch-and-release, invasive species spread, best times to fish and others, he includes a glossary that defines terms used in the text. Centerpins, cheaters, free-lining, scum line, slider, swim baits, wacky rigs and other angling terms are clearly defined before getting to the serious business of fishing fun.
A fish-species list keys on virtually every kind of fish an angler might catch in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. From brook trout (the state’s official fish) to rainbow smelt, the book details their description, distribution and info on catching techniques and interesting background worth knowing.
Rybaak spends considerable time afloat, but shore bound anglers will get tons of information based on first-hand trips via dock decks and wader walks.
The appendix lists sources for finding public-access sites open to anglers, guides, captains and bait shops anglers can contact for more information.
When J. Michael Kelly left his full-time post as outdoors writer at the Syracuse Post-Standard a few years back he began writing book-length texts that chronicle his decades of stream and lake fishing outings on the many Finger Lakes south of Syracuse. Readers can benefit from these outings as this award-winning writer pens insightful paragraphs on lake waters from Conesus in the west to Otisco to the east.
Kelly has been there and done that, but he had been back there repeatedly and what he has done is a thorough overview and detailed account in his “Fishing the Finger Lakes” text. The sub-title, “A Complete Guide to Prime Fishing Locations in Central New York State” is just that – complete.
His coverage of the western Finger Lakes gives Western New York anglers insights on the big lakes such as Cayuga and Seneca, the mid-sized guys such as Conesus and Honeoye, and even the small-but-stunning Canadice and Hemlock Lakes.
Finger Lakes boaters have an array of rigging devices that precede and probably outnumber the trolling, drifting and at-anchor gear seen aboard fishing vessels on the Great Lakes.
From the deepest haunts of lake trout in Seneca and Cayuga to the shallowest bass surface lures, Kelly has them illustrated and described in ways all anglers can see and enjoy.
After 11 chapters devoted to specific lakes, the text moves to ways to troll, cast and set lines for salmon, trout, bass and all other popular species caught from a boat or from shore.
The precise discussions of rainbow trout dynamics and of panfishing are worth the price of this book alone.
After comprehensive coverage of streams and open waters, the last chapter stresses “Conserving the Finger Lakes.” Readers and fellow anglers fortunate to have spent some time with J. Michael Kelly over the years know him as a no-nonsense guy who loves to fish and share his experiences with fellow speakers and readers. “Fishing the Great Lakes of New York” reads like a chat with this informative and personable writer/angler. For a copy of Kelly’s Burford Books paperback publication ($16.95), call (607) 319-4373 or go to burfordbooks.com.
Department of Environmental Conservation Region 8 fisheries personnel will conduct a “State of Western Finger Lakes Meeting” at the ELIM Bible Institute Tab Chapel in Lima, from 7 to 10 p.m. on Monday. Look for a detailed column on this meeting next week.