As the clock starts ticking down the end of 2016, it’s time to reflect on what happened in the outdoors the past 12 months. Narrowing things down to a “Top 10” is never easy and this past year was no exception. Much of it relates to personal preferences, as always. However, there are so many issues that affect our natural resources and outdoor pastimes that we can’t just stick our heads in the sand. We need to do a better job of keeping ourselves informed and getting involved when the need arises. In fact, it should be a resolution for 2017 moving forward. Here’s my “Top 10” in no specific order:

  • The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, not the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), made the official announcement in October that Lake Ontario would be experiencing a stocking adjustment in 2017 – a 20 percent cut in Chinook salmon plants and a 25 percent cut in lake trout stockings due to back-to-back severe winters affecting two year classes of alewives. “Adjustment” was a word being suggested because of the large number of natural reproduction going on in the lake right now. In fact, 50 percent of the king salmon in the lake did not come from the hatcheries. This will be re-evaluated again in 2017. There was some good news that came out of this. Wilson will be receiving its first salmon stockings in 25 years, earmarked for a pen in the harbor this coming spring.
  • Big game hunters were pleased that some changes were made to the regulations that allowed antlered deer to be taken during the first 15-day of the early archery season and the entire late archery and muzzleloader seasons. Unfortunately, the changes came so late that they weren’t removed from the hunting regulations guide and some people didn’t buy a license because of it. The deer season was hampered by some weird weather patterns, but by the end of the Southern Zone season, the harvest had caught up and surpassed last year. We won’t know official numbers until after the last seasons are closed the end of January.
  • The Province of Ontario made its mark on nonresident anglers by creating some roadblocks, causing recreational anglers and charter captains to jump through hoops. In most instances, it’s a one-way street with those rules and restrictions. For example, charter captains are now required to fill out working papers if they want to take customers over that imaginary line into Canada. Cost is around $150 to fill out the papers and when you do call in with a charter, they are hitting them up for GST and PST taxes. You still have to call in when entering Canadian waters and follow the rules, like with live bait. There are no reciprocal restrictions for Canadian anglers entering into New York waters. It’s time to do something.
  • In the promotion department, Western New York received a huge hit when Peek’N Peak and Chautauqua County hosted both the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and the New York State Outdoor Writers Association conferences back-to-back last September. Between the two events, nearly 100 writers and photographers sampled the waters of Lake Erie and the Niagara River, as well as some of the fields for some early season goose hunting. They also visited local outdoor attractions and listened to local experts about our natural resources. It was a win-win situation for all involved.
  • In another “good-news, bad-news” scenario, Environmental Conservation Officers nabbed three salmon poachers (not of the cooking variety) at 18 Mile Creek and Burt Dam this past fall – 69 fish caught illegally at night, way over the limit. We need more enforcement of the fish and game laws. And, we need to lend a hand because ECO staffing numbers are down. Yes, we need to police our own ranks and if someone is breaking the law – littering, illegal fish, poaching deer or whatever – we need to step up. You can remain anonymous and call 844-DEC ECOS. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.
  • Records are made to be broken … or tied. That’s what happened to Patrick Hildenbrand this past summer when he weighed in an 8-pound, 4-ounce smallmouth bass while fishing a tournament on the St. Lawrence River in August. It tied the mark set from Lake Erie in 1995. One record that was broken this past year was the sheepshead mark. Amelia Whalen, 12, was fishing in Lake Champlain on June 4 when she hooked into a 29-pound, 14-ounce freshwater drum. To quote Billy Fuccillo, “That’s Huge!”
  • The future of Lake Erie’s walleye fishery appears to be bright according to reports coming from DEC and other states agencies along this Great Lake. Strong year classes in 2003, 2010 and 2012 are all key to the current population levels and it looks like the 2015 year class was very good, too. Those fish will take three years before they become part of the angler catch. The bad news is that perch and bass numbers have been trending down slightly.
  • New York has been a trendsetter regarding Hunter Safety Education. Last year (2015), there were no fatalities with hunting, a mark that the state should strive for every year. Those results were announced in 2016. That said, there were several fatalities in 2016 (to be announced officially in 2017). There was even an ECO shot in Columbia County this fall. Safety need to be a top priority.
  • Two big sport shows in the region continue to reach out to the general public, as well as the outdoor community, to create a better awareness for the outdoors. The first one is the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo, held each January in the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls. The 2017 version is set for Jan. 20-22. Visit niagarafishingexpo.com. The WNY Outdoor Adventure Expo is held each March in Hamburg. Dates for next year are March 9-12. Check out www.eriepromotions.com.
  • For more than 20 years, Will Elliott graced the outdoor pages in the Buffalo News. When he moved on in August of 2016, I was honored to be selected as the new outdoors writer. Please use me as a resource to help get the word out about special events, share information with fellow fishermen in “The Fishing Beat,” and create an awareness for a unique program you may be involved with. We’re all in this together. Drop me an email anytime at billhiltsjr@gmail.com.

Happy New York!!

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