The heat is (still) on, but fall-like conditions confront anglers on streams and out in deep, open waters.
Shorter daylight each day, cooler waters on the big lakes and bait movement closer to shore brings both cold-water and warm-water species within range for shore casters.
Lake Erie surface temperatures hold at summerlike readings, but Lake Ontario’s shoreline waters dipped below 70 degrees around piers, breakwaters and feeder stream mouths in the last week during that gusty nor’easter that riled waters and canceled many weekend outings.
This week, warm days and decreasing daylight hours could put warm-water species such as walleye and bass-family fishes closer to shore and weed lines and draw trout and salmon into Great Lakes feeder streams in greater numbers.
Fall panfishing can be productive for shore casters and boaters interested in anchoring or running a trolling motor to open-water casting sites. Steve Ryan offers an insightful presentation on vertical tactics for fall panfish on pages 42 to 45 of the October/November issue of In-Fisherman magazine.
Ryan’s vertical-jigging tips might not apply fully to deep-water perch on Erie and Ontario, but his lure and presentation approaches could be some help on crappie, bluegill and perch runs on western Finger Lakes and lakes along the Southern Tier. Vertical jigs, generally associated with ice angling, work well on cooling, early-fall waters even before the panfish procession gets out to deeper waters.
For the bigger fish, Erie’s walleye fishery remains functional, Ontario’s salmonids are sallying their way into shore and up feeder streams, and bass can be found deeper and shallower on every water body that supports smallies and bigmouths.
Trollers still find and often log limit catches on walleye schooling at 75 to 100 feet in deeper waters west of Dunkirk Harbor. Boaters out of the Catt can connect west of the creek at depths of less than 75 feet, when winds and waves cooperate.
High winds have hampered many walleye and perch outings this past week and summer, but when boaters can get onto the water the fishing has been fantastic for those able to get over hefty schools of feeding fish.
Waypoints, GPS plotting that pinpoint locations on the water, help. However, hefty winds, especially high northeasterly breezes, have moved bait and game fish on a daily, perhaps hourly, basis most of the spring and summer. Given weather patterns of this past week, that movement thing could continue through the fall.
Trollers seeking walleye often hit into sizable schools of perch. Perch searchers have to move around to find respectable ringbacks. Waypoints that were hot a day or week earlier can turn stone cold the next day. A good perch outing might call for nearly as much boat movement as a trolling run.
Nonetheless, boaters willing to do repeated reconnaissance runs to get over sizable schools of feeding fish have done well on walleyes and fairly well on perch pursuits.
Bait has been a factor. Emerald shiners have not shown close to shore for private and commercial dippers on the big lakes. Live bait is almost always a must for Erie perch catches, and bait dealers right now are stocking golden shiners for panfish bait. Opinions vary. Emeralds are a primary food source for perch, but feeding fish will bite on goldens as well as salted emeralds. Thus continues the great bait debate.
Bass offer less controversy and disputation. Find rocks that form a hump/shoal or edges along current waters and smallmouths become a big item. Buffalo Harbor waters above the head of the Niagara River continues as a bronzeback bonanza for drifters working crayfish at and close to bottom at depths of 20 to 35 feet around shoals and shallower near river waters.
The bass bite continues in the river, with upper waters a bit more productive than the lower river.
Crayfish has been standard fare for bass catching in the river. Some casters and boat drifters have done as well with tube jigs and minnows as with crayfish, according to Capt. Frank Campbell. With water temperatures holding at and above 70 degrees, lower-river anglers in boats and along shore have seen sparse numbers of salmon and trout. The fishery remains a warm-water quest for bass and the occasional walleye.
Both trout and salmon have made a showing along the Ontario shore. Some salmon and brown trout have moved into feeder streams and open-water trollers head out to waters over less than 100-foot depths to find mature salmon, according to Wes Walker at Slipper Sinker Bait & Tackle in Olcott.
Even yellow perch numbers have shown in harbor waters at Wilson, Olcott and points east, but the major excitement has been trout and salmon moving past piers and breakwaters. The action peaks at change-of-light hours mornings and evenings.