When is water too warm?
A 60 degree reading would be too chilly for early summer swimmers, but for mid-fall anglers, that's too hot.
Lake Erie's main body and much of the Ontario shoreline has just dipped below the 60-degree mark, and even inland lakes hold warm waters through cold fronts and chills. This week Honeoye, Keuka and Canandaigua lakes all moved above 60 degrees by noon with a couple hours of direct sunlight.
Variety counts in these conditions. Take out shallow- and deep-running rigs (jigs, live bait, body baits) to check depths. The bigger panfish still hold in deep water in most Finger Lakes, but cold turnovers could move bait and gamefish onto shallows on short notice.
Lake Erie fishing is the future concern, but during the Southtowns Walleye meeting Thursday night the focus of Assemblyman Dick Smith (D-Blasdell) and Senator Dale Volker (R-Lancaster) was on plans for a warm water fish hatchery and research center to be established along the Lake Erie shoreline in Western New York.
Volker cited the incredible comeback of Lake Erie fishing, caused in part by the activist efforts of those such as the late Stan Spisiak, Volker's father and others. Volker cautioned, however, that the project calls for a $4 million expenditure, and that Western New York received major grants from Albany about 10 years ago, so this project will need justification.
"The hatchery bill right now is sitting in committee, mainly because of DEC opposition," Smith said.
Smith says the DEC is only concerned with stocking feeder streams rather than building and maintaining a hatchery. Joe Fischer, NYS Conservation Council fishery committee chairman, pointed out that the Salmon River hatchery has shown a 50-1 return on the money invested in that project. Smith replied that even if the Lake Erie return was much less than the Salmon River successes, the project would draw new anglers into the sport and bolster faltering license sales.
Smith is organizing a "State of Lake Erie" forum to be held Dec. 13 at Ilio DePaolo's Restaurant in Blasdell.
Bass need no hatchery to thrive in Lake Erie waters. Roy Starkey, Town of Tonawanda angler, saw the nice weather when he finished work at 9 a.m. Saturday and decided to work Windmill Point for some bass. He also likes Waverly Shoals during the fall season, but on this day Windmill was spinning. He kept five smallies -- mostly females -- with a total weight of 20 pounds. One went 5 1/4 pounds.
"I use live bait, whatever minnows they can stock at this time of the year, and found these fish at 30-33 feet," said Starkey.
Both musky and bass seekers place significance on the temperature dropping below 60 degrees to trigger good fall fishing.
Capt. Tom Slomka said the warm water is holding the big 'lunge at the head of the river and out onto lake shoals. Slomka also noted the lack of good bass fishing on the shallower shoals is another sign of excessively warm waters.
Brown trout have moved into some feeder streams and steelies have shown around piers in small numbers, but the mid-fall run is not yet solid. Those few Chinook taken from piers are huge, but the odds of catching one are slim.
Smallmouth bass are the most catchable fish for boaters right now. Bass have moved up from the 30-foot depths of last week and go for live bait (minnows or nightcrawlers) bumped along the bottom at 15-20 feet.
Chautauqua -- Walleye finally turned on around the edges of deep holes from Long Point north to Dewittville. Minnow-tipped jigs account for some fish, but a three-way rig tied with fine, clear line does best with a plain live minnow as bait. Both trolling and drifting call for good drop weight selection to bump along the bottom. Weights vary from 2 to 5 ounces, depending on depths and wind speed.
Seneca -- Bass and perch have moved closer to shore at both the north and south ends of the lake. Boaters have to move around, but schools can be found at depths of less than 35 feet.
Oneida -- Limit catches (50 perch) are becoming more likely and a few walleye are showing up at 22- to 30-foot depths at both ends of the lake. Some anchor, some drift, all use minnows to get the most perch. Walleye odds improve after dark when waders can cast minnow-type baits over ledges where bait schools are moving.