What a century this has been for Western New York outdoors folk.
Passenger pigeons has nerly disappeared the start of the 1900s, but anglers could catch a bucket of blue pike anywhere along Lake Erie, the Niagara River and much of the Western New York shoreline of Lake Ontario.
Hunters had to travel to the hills and mountains to find deer. Turkeys were somehting read about at Thanksgiving. Habitat loss to farming and housing left few who could remember seeing wild turkeys at the Western end of the state. Market hunters-not sport hunters- had reduced area populations of deer and Canada geese to marginal populations.
Conservation efforts, which sportsmen and women strongly supported with funds and game management practices, restored many fish and wildlife species. In 1900, white-tailed deer numbers had dropped to less than a half million; today, more than 19 million deer inhabit U. S. fields and forests.
Wild turkey showed the greatest comeback. In 1900, only 100,000 turkeys could be counted in this country. Now, more than 4,500,000 birds exist nationwide, including a burgeoning population of Western New York birds that migrated north from Pennsylvania during the middle of the century.
Like deer, Canada geese have rebounded in numbers area landowners often wish were not as great. Habitat destruction prior to World War II dropped goose populations to just over a million birds. Now, close to four million birds migrate across North America, and substantial numbers of these birds have evolved as cold-enduring residents of Western New York, oftern surviving near open-water areas along the Great Lakes instead of heading south for the winter.
Perhaps the most catastrophic fish and wildlife loss for all Western New Yorkers was the decline and disappearance of the blue pike. Officially declared extinct by the U. S. Congress in 1982, blue pike is still the object of hopeful researchers seeking possible DNA links that might restore this fabulous food fish to area waters.
The blue pike decline, which came fast, occured at a time when meat fishermen had an excess of yello perch available from Lake Erie, Boaters no longer needed to light lanterns and sit out at night to bring in tasty fillets. When the "blues" started thinning out, anglers settled for a bucket of perch. Quietly, blue pike disappeared to a point that Bill Shepared and his newly formed Blue Pike Task Force could not bring in "true blues" in the early 1970s.
Since then, yellow perch numbers also decreased, but signs point to better perch fishing in seasons to come.
"Perch fishing will probably not rebound to the level it was 10 or more years ago." says DEC Lake Erie warm-water fisheries specialist Don Einhouse at the Lake Erie Unit, "but good classes of perch keep showing up each year."
The century's major fishery plus arrived in Western New York waters from Michigan starting in 1967. Dr. Howard Tanner, a specialist in propageting Pacific salmon species in Great Lakes waters, introduced New York anglers to a dose of salmon fever which has yet to be cured in many.
Tanner, while visiting the area in the late 1960s, said, "We wanted to put a fish in the water that was stupid enough for fishermen to catch."
His first choice was the coho salmon, which took well in Lake Ontario but only showed sporadically in Lake Erie waters.
King (Chinnook) salmon made the most remarkable splash in area fishery circles, although avid bass, musky and walleye anglers would argue that their favorite fish has been more consistent over the years. Today, a Buffalo angeler can travel less than hour and find 40-pound salmon, 30-pound muskies, five-pound smallmouth bass and cleaner waters than anyone could have imagined when Teddy Roosevelt came to Buffalo to be sworn in as president in 1901.
In 1935, Bison city Rod & Gun Club first produced a pocket-sized booklet titled "The Fishermen's Range Finder." This booklet listed 23 hot spots off Buffalo Harbor and along the Lake Erie shoreline.
Many shore markers have been removed, but some spots still draw good numbers of anglers. To this day, boaters seek out Seneca Shoal, Meyers Reef, south gap, middle gap and North gap. Then, it was called "Sun Down Reef"; today it is called Evans or Angola Bar northwest of Sturgeon Point.
The April 19, 1947 issue of Collier's, a general interst magazine, devoted the week to fishing. The lead article, "Fishermen are Crazy Too," by Georges Carusso, chronicles an opening day battle with "the Terrible Trout."
Area anglers will recall many of the products offered in the display ads in Collier's: Firestone outboard motors, Winchester Arms & Ammunition, Flat-fish plugs, Ocean City reels, Jitterbug plugs, Johnson Sea-Horse fishing motors, Evinrude outboards, South Bend rods, reels and the Bass-Oreno, Gladding fishing line, Corland, nylon fishing line, and the Hurd built-in reel.
Times may have been simpler at the start of this century. Fishing, hunting and all outdoors activities have seen some drastic changes, but area sportmen and women have even greater options for outings as we head into another year, decade, century and millennium.