Fall fishing is coming on in waves.
Salmon runs are up; trout streams are down. Inland lake panfish school and head for weed edges; walleye and bass scatter in search of larger baitfish schools. Where you caught fish last weekend may not be the hottest spot this Saturday. Stay ahead of the current wave. The biggest salmon to the smallest sunfish are on the move.
Don't count out walleyes in Lake Erie's open waters. Boaters have to take runs of 11 and 12 miles to find the heavier schools northwest of Dunkirk Harbor, a 330-degree compass setting.
Lure selection depends on the reporter. Jerry May had limit catches with a setup of downrigs and Dipsy Divers all running hard baits (Renosky plugs, Bombers and spoons) while Ted Malota ran worm harnesses to bring in a limit this past weekend. Whatever you prefer, the best fishing is well off shore and close to bottom in 85- to 100-foot depths.
Ken Hinkle of Buffalo did well fishing with partner Andy Carter of Tonawanda Saturday morning while skein drifting Devils Hole.
Hinkle's first big strike and fight turned out to be a 3-foot sturgeon, which had two freshly set hooks in its mouth. He carefully released the sturgeon and went on take a limit, two 40-inch females in the mid 20-pound range and a 36-inch male. "I like to use golf-ball sized chunks of skein and rely on fluorocarbon leader material," he said.
Weekend boat traffic can be heavy at Devils Hole throughout the fall, and recent weekends have seen better catches, averaging four to five fish per boat on Saturdays and less fish on the Sunday runs.
Salmon have made a solid run into rivers and larger feeder streams, but ledge trollers off Fort Niagara, Wilson, Olcott and Oak Orchard find staging kings along dropoffs in less than 100-foot depths. Immature, 2-year-old kings school heavier than mature salmon. Stream anglers have yet to see the peak run of these matures. The Niagara Fishing Forecast says of Burt Dam, "The best is yet to come there."
Stream levels remain low along Great Lakes feeder streams entering Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, but inland stream conditions are at a point that updaters at the Carl D. Coleman's Fly Shop in Rochester summarize in one word -- "stressed." Tailwind storms from hurricane Floyd brought enough rain to draw some lake-run salmon and trout into the lower stretches of feeder streams, but pools and riffles upstream still need steady, soaking rainfall to restore healthy trout habitat.
"The ground had dried so much upstream that rain soaks into the ground and not into the streams," said Ray Kegler at G & R Tackle in West Seneca. He looks for a steelhead run in a week to 10 days.
Fly fisherman can still find some trout in upland pools, Kegler suggests, "Fish the deeper holes carefully, net and release the fish as soon as possible and you will not stress them as much as you do during a long fight."
Trout Unlimited members Paul Borkowski and Dave May tried fishing flies in Cattaraugus Creek and Borkowski wrote, "The water's not moving; most areas are unfishable for fly fishing."
Farther upstream, Chuck Godfrey walked the banks of Clear Creek, which feeds into Cattaraugus Creek, and said, "I've never seen Clear that low in almost 40 years of fishing that stream." Many fly anglers along the upper Genesee River say the same thing about steam levels there.
In the smaller, upper streams (Cohocton, Oatka, Wiscoy, East Koy, Spring Brook, and the upper Genesee) the Coleman report recommends finding a place to fish for warm-water species -- a powerful statement from a shop that specializes in trout fishing gear.