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Booker is a Hall of an angler

Chuck Booker has caught on with many ways to make the record books.

As of Nov. 4, Booker has logged 36 record catches with the National Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis., following successful feeder-stream outings along Lake Ontario in late October and early November.

"That and $2.50 will get you a really nice cup of coffee," he modestly said Thursday morning as we headed from his home in West Amherst to check on trout movements in Ontario feeders.

"I'll fish them all," he said of the streams east of the Niagara River mouth. Many are named for their distance from the mouth and Fort Niagara on its eastern shoreline.

"You can find good salmon and trout, headed from west to east, at Four Mile, Eight Mile, Twelve Mile, Eighteen Mile, Keg, Johnson, Oak Orchard, Marsh, and Sandy creeks all the way to the mouth of the Genesee River," he said as we began walking upstream.

"This time of year, the kings (Chinook salmon) are pretty well gone and the browns are down, but the steelhead trout are moving in," he said just before we spotted a brown and then a mating pair of steelies.

Steelhead trout don't usually mate in late fall -- or on the first day of winter -- but Booker explained that a strain of "domestics" -- shorter, stockier steelies -- will show up when stream waters cool and begin their mating rituals well before early spring.

The brown booked downstream after just a few casts, but Booker had the male and female steelies together in a moderate riffle lane on hold right under overhanging tree branches.

After several short casts, he finally hooked the male and it looked as though we'd have a quick, early shot at getting a photo of a nice, 8-pound male in all his bright fall colors.

He bit Booker's bait once and headed downstream to an opening that looked like a sure landing, but one quick turn and the hook was out of its lip before we could even get a shot of him in the water.

This scenario saw three more replays, plus four tries with the smaller female before Booker could bring one in for a couple of photos.

Of course, this is fishing and the big one got away. Actually, the big male just swam away well within sight and wouldn't bite the bait no matter how annoyingly Booker sent it past his nose.

"That's why it's called fishing, not just casting," he said as we headed upstream to seek out fresh fish finds. One long pool held another big fish, but even with polarized sunglasses and a good angle on the sun he was not in a position to attract this fish.

When finished, we headed downstream and saw that big male steelie once again, now finning next to his female in a deeper, wider section of the stream. "That's good," Booker said. "Two days ago there weren't any fish in here."

He will survey streams with or without a fishing rod throughout the early-fall to late-spring fishing season.

His fishing successes have drawn some skepticism from critics unfamiliar with the efforts and skills he puts into his catch-and-release fishing. Department of Environmental Conservation enforcement officials have seen how he works.

Stream anglers know it's illegal to "lift" trout and salmon when fishing. That is, to intentionally snag fish swimming by a fishing line. Some anglers have developed skilled ways of appearing to hook fish in the mouth by timing their "lifts" to snag a fish in the head area somewhere near its mouth. Not Booker.

He's developed and refined egg and fly patterns and colors that trigger fish bites. "I've found blue, the darker the better, best for browns in the fall," he said.

Green or purple have been good for Chinook (king) salmon, with the hot colors -- red, pink, orange and other light shades -- better during the spring run.

He's also gone with what most anglers would call "ultra light" fly tackle for monster trout and salmon. On Thursday, he brought along a number 4 and 5 fly rod strung with 6-pound test line, both designed for light trout and bass.

But he has had all kinds of catches with these light rods and lines with the right kinds of presentations and handling.

For example, he caught and released a 42-inch Chinook salmon on Oct. 27 that was caught on 4-pound test line. Four days later he brought in and measured a 41-inch salmon caught on a 4-pound tippet (leader) in the same creek.

He doesn't own a boat and takes off throughout the summer to upgrade his tackle items and get ready for the fall run. "We've got the best fishing in the world within a half hour of downtown Buffalo," he said of stream fishing along the Lake Ontario and Lake Erie shoreline.

As for the weather, he looks for snow, not for Santa's sleigh, skiers or ice fishing. "We need snow for a later runoff and good steelies in the spring," he said, always thinking ahead to fishing in the New Year.

White or green, Booker is enjoying a Merry Christmas.

e-mail: willodrs@gmail.com

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