For area anglers the start of summer fishing – finding and catching, that is – can be the best of times or the worst of times in spots that were hot or catch-sites that were cold last summer at this time.
The week after the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s BassEye Challenge last year was a walleye boon for Lake Erie boaters drifting the bubble humps off Buffalo Harbor or trolling suspended depths from Sturgeon Point to well west of Barcelona Harbor.
This year, the ’eyes do not always have it.
Lake Ontario trout and salmon schools set up off shoreline sites from Fort Niagara to well east of Point Breeze, with even smaller vessels able to reach steelies, browns, kings and even the odd school of coho salmon throughout the summer. This year, northeast breezes and gusts have pushed salmon and trout all about.
The early-spring bite was a tease. Erie anglers saw a nice walleye run just after the May 2 opener; Ontario boaters had a near-shore fishing feast for trout and salmon along shore and in feeder streams.
Inland lakes took some shakes. Honeoye, which usually produces good numbers and sizes of bluegills, provided a fair spring fishery, but weed growth slowed and the ’gills did not move into shore close enough for shore casters or boaters working weed edges. A spike in crappie numbers added to the panfish panoply, but the total take for pan-worthy ’gills, sunfish, perch and crappie weakened this spring.
Silver and Conesus Lakes both saw a setback in catch numbers, with a fair take of northern pike showing at Conesus and a fun catch-and-release bass fishery shining at Silver.
Same can be said for Chautauqua Lake earlier this season and as the summer heat warms Chautauqua waters now. Musky reports vary from week to week; catches soar one day and bore the next. Bass, largemouth and smallmouth, have been the savior for catch numbers. Weed growth is back on par and both smallies and bucket-mouths show in shoreline shallows of both basins. The south basin, Long Point to Jamestown, has offered a better bass bite so far this season.
The key that turns lock-jawed lunkers is location even more than presentation. Crappie schools on inland lakes, walleye schools on Lake Erie, and trout and salmon schools on Lake Ontario all take some time to find and work for the better bite.
For example, last year a summer run for Erie perch might take a 10- to 15-minute sonar run across a well-known depth to locate a school of ringbacks stacked 4 to 5 feet off the bottom.
This summer, a good perch outing might start with an hour or more of drifting or slow trolling and sonar watching to find smaller pods and patches of perch schools on the bottom. Most boaters are happy to see a 2-foot depth of bottom-hugging perch on the screen in areas that are productive after the Fourth of July.
Odds are far from great, but the perch gamble out of Sturgeon Point can be sevens or elevens in the right spots. Scattered schools hold in tight formation at depths of 52 to 58 feet less than 3 miles from the point, but for every 10 boats that head out in search of perch one or two come through with nice numbers. Live bait or salted emeralds have taken fish on recent runs.
Same can be said for walleyes farther west. Boaters run to the left out of Cattaraugus Creek to find ’eye schools. Warming surface waters push suspended bait schools and feeding marble-eyes to mid depths over 60- to 100-foot depths. Today’s hot hits at 25 feet could move to 40-foot fare tomorrow. Listen to the experts and some say minnow-type baits do it all; others boast that the worm harness draws more hits than anything artificial.
Shoreline casters can still have fun with bass during the day but most of the trout and salmon action is out deeper.
A break in northeast breeze turnovers set up a fair column of trout and salmon feeding depths.
“I’m running almost everything from 20 to 60 feet down,” said Capt. Bob Cinelli, fishing out of Olcott Harbor.
Cinelli has run out 11 miles at times to get over good fish numbers, which have produced kings over the 20-pound mark, steelies near the top and a good mix of browns and sometimes cohos in between. Spoons have had a slight edge over flasher-fly rigs, but both are worth washing and watching.
Erie Canal Derby
Anglers can still enter a derby contest, avoid fishing pressure and enjoy the pleasure of shore fishing along the Erie Canal until Sunday with an entry in the 25th Annual Erie Canal Fishing Derby.
Details on the seven divisions and registration information can be found at eriecanalderby.com.