The New Year holds good prospects for outdoors folks in and around Western New York, following a 2006 with more ups than downs for anglers, hunters and all involved in things in the great outdoors.
Lake Erie, the most fertile of the five Great Lakes, did it again. After years of decreasing walleye numbers, a remarkable hatch in 2003 had 'eye catchers bug-eyed in 2006.
Herb Schultz, an angling veteran with more than a half century of fishing experience on everything to do with eastern Lake Erie waters, said, "The past two years have been the best [walleye fishing] for me, even better than the late 1980s." Schultz logged 612 fish during the 2006 season, fishing every day possible on the water.
"Actually, we caught more [walleye] in 2005 but the fish were bigger this past year," he added.
Even a late-summer die-off of smallmouth bass didn't dent the bass bonanza found along shoreline shoals from Buffalo to Barcelona Harbor and into Pennsylvania waters. A week after bass began floating onto beaches, Capt. Terry Jones caught five-pounders in fair numbers.
If you think fishing in and around Buffalo and Western New York is tops, you share that sentiment with editors of Outdoor Life magazine. In the October 2006 issue of OL, reporter Bob McNally did the breakdown of all that Buffalo has to offer as the tops of 10 fall fishing destinations.
McNally cited diversity of species -- bass, trout, walleye and salmon -- as the reason to shuffle off to Buffalo for fishing fun. He also noted that the variety of waterways "affords Buffalo-area anglers the opportunity to catch fish in virtually any weather 12 months of the year."
Hunters had a fair year with wild turkeys and whitetail deer. Waterfowl hunters had a so-so season on ducks and fairly small gaggles of geese. Excuses ranged from global warming to partners' substandard shooting skills.
Eve and Norm Fertig, both 81, continue to make national news with their harrowing night of the Oct. 12 surprise storm. After feeding animals in their shelter behind their home at Enchanted Forest Wildlife Sanctuary in Alden, they became trapped behind falling tree limbs and snow.
Their dog Shana, a 7-year-old part timber wolf, saved them both. "She dug from 9:30 until almost 11 that night and saved our lives," Eve said of the cave Shana dug through snow and gravel so Eve and Norm could reach the house.
The Fertigs would not leave Shana when rescuers arrived at 2 p.m. Accounts of this rescue appeared in the area media and also made national media outlets, including CNN, Fox News, and the Rush Limbaugh radio program.
"We've even been interviewed recently for reports in Reader's Digest and Ladies Home Journal," Eve noted of what she calls their "early Christmas present."
For an on-and-off-the-bubble outdoors-related story in 2007, nothing tops that proposed Bass Pro Shop facility in downtown Buffalo.
The latest word on Bass Pro has it a signed deal or canceled contract sometime in January. It's something like waiting for that 12-point buck to step out some day or that 10-pound smallmouth to finally hit that jig. All could happen.
Losses in 2006 included two key DEC personnel and two lifelong contributor-volunteers.
Within a week in early April, retired Lt. Robert Kaufmann and Region 9 Director Gerry Mikol left this life. Both men excelled at not only serving the environmental conservation needs of our area but also connecting with all people at all levels of involvement in the outdoors.
Niagara County lost two remarkable outdoors volunteers and mutual good friends with the passing of Charles T. "Chuck" Pelcin during the summer and Don Bronson in mid-December.
Pelcin, a retired educator and administrator, helped found and expand the Niagara River Anglers Association. He served as a director since its inception.
Bronson's teaching skills spanned 32 years with New York State, 26 years as a master instructor, certifying hunters, archers, and waterfowl ID as well as a National Rifle Association instructor for handguns, shotgun, rifle and self defense. We will miss, Chuck, Don and all or good outdoors friends who left us in 2007.
To meet and bond with good outdoor folk in 2007, order tickets early for the Western and Central New York Chapter of Safari Club International's 13th Annual Game dinner. On Dec. 15, SCI served up its 12th annual home-style dinner at Michael's Banquet in Hamburg to more than 600 guests.
Non-hunters and those unfamiliar to wild-game cooking now make this SCI an annual get-together each December.
Wherever the outing, whomever in the gathering, one good resolution for the new year would be a plan to spend more time enjoying the outdoors in 2007.