Outdoor writers from across the Great Lakes go to see and enjoy the outdoors bounty Western New York anglers and hunters experience all around the area.
The Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) staged a Cast 'N Blast last week centered at the Barton Hill Hotel and Spa in Lewiston. Writers and outdoors product experts came from as far as Oceanside, Calif., Edgefield, S.C., and Elsberry, Mo. and as close as East Aurora and Canton, N.Y., to cast (fish) and blast (hunt) area waters and wilds.
New and reliably-tested outdoors products appear at outdoors shows throughout the winter and early spring. But it is at events such as the AGLOW Cast 'N Blast gathering where product experts and outdoor writers get the chance to put these gadgets, gear, clothing, and devices to use during a series of serious fun afield. We did.
For two full days, and stints before and after activity-packed pursuits on Tuesday and Wednesday, writers and products experts put their toys to the test. All held passing grades, with or without high harvest and copious catch numbers.
For hunters, a spring wild turkey season offers the primary pursuit. Turkey hunters vary in their involvements, but serious gobbler getters hone their approaches and their skills with intense intent.
The word "turkey" often enters conversations as a jest for things and/or people dull witted and/or comically un-cool. Not these wild birds. Their vision is pegged at or above ten times greater than a human being's eye sight. They are wary birds. Even during the spring mating season, with all kinds of adrenaline flowing, the males (only legal target for hunters) and their hen mates move through woodlots and fields with uncanny caution to avoid human and natural predators.
Two mornings, which started with a 3 a.m. wakeup call, afforded 16 writers and gear experts outings with area guides at sites in Niagara and Erie Counties. Many a product proved its merit afield and hunters got to hear and see some impressive turkey bird presence from before sunrise until just before noon.
Calls worked well, gear items functioned beautifully, but the final score came to Turkeys 16, Hunters 0. Actually, hunters encountered scores of bearded birds and one duo actually had a bird get away in a swamp in a way that has one wondering if at least one wild turkey once mated with a waterfowl.
For both hunting days, I had the pleasure of heading out with Kevin Howard of Howard Communications, a firm that represents many popular outdoors products. During many previous outdoors writers gatherings I had shared hunting stories with Howard and knew him to be a devoted hunter. But this outing provided me with first-hand proof of his involvement and skills.
Our guide for trips to these eastern Niagara County hunts turned out to be Terry Jones, better known to area anglers as a bass fishing guide (1stclass-bass.com) but an equally able turkey trekker when called upon to call in turkeys.
The first morning started slowly. Birds had been either pushed heavily by hunters or had good roosting mates nearby, which meant not much tom foolery going on just after sunrise and their fly-down from roost sites. They didn't.
Nonetheless, the sights and sounds made these two mornings quality time. Like the musky angler who might cast all day and see nothing more than a toothy attacker miss a surfacing bait, turkey hunters revel in seeing and hearing a working bird or two. We did.
Deer were on the move, but turkeys did not start gobbling until about 7:30 a.m. the first morning. A calm, sunny day, they might have just stayed on the roost. But once things warmed up, we had good bird presence. Howard, a supremely skilled caller, used H.S. Strut calls to locate and draw in birds. At one point, we had gobblers in stereo -- approaching from opposite sides, that is.
Who knows what ultimately brings birds into that final/kill range? At one field a tom looked out of a brush edge at about 150 yards, saw decoys and backed back into the bush. Minutes later, a mature tom came into the clearing in full sunlight at about 125 yards, gobbled to an assortment of purrs and clucks, walked about 100 yards around the field edge and dropped back into the high hardwoods.
Many of the other seven trio groups saw and shared similar stories of shy-guy tom turkeys. Not one bird could be brought in for a photo session; that swam escapee will be a topic for National Wild Turkey Federation gatherings for years to come. But the time spent afield with fellow hunters made every moment enjoyable, with learned insights and hopes for better harvest outcomes before the spring season ends May 31.
As for products, two items stood out among the many new and reliable hunting gear options. A Mossy Oak finish on an H.S. Strut Turkey Vest made for carrying everything from small calls to a 25-pound turkey. The ThermaCELL bug deflector unit did just that. Early warming both mornings brought out biting bugs. Without a dab or spraying of bug repellent on skin or clothing, Howard and I sat in blinds on brush edges without one bite from or sight of eater 'skeeters.
Writers only could get to four outing destinations. While some headed to ports along Lake Ontario, some more got in on the lower Niagara River drifts and others headed to Lake Erie.
On Ontario, the shore bite continued and the king run was still warm if not hot. On Erie, the bass bite was good and the walleye run was just picking up.
Trollers out of Wilson Harbor could head for the Niagara Bar or go east toward Olcott Harbor. Capt. Bob Cinelli (Bob Cinelli Sportfishing) chose to head straight out of Wilson Harbor with mate Roy Letcher Tuesday afternoon and participating writers.
Women anglers wielded weights on this outing. Brooke Droese, a marketing administrator with Frabill outdoor products, fought a 2-year-old king salmon taken on a long planer board line. After a few photo flashes that king went back to fight as a mature next year.
Lori Smith, writer with Indiana Outdoor News and CEO of Curves in Camp, had a go with a coho that hit a Dipsy Diver rig.
Casters had used jerk baits (minnow-shaped surface or near-surface lures cast in the shallows) for coho salmon surfacing around the Niagara Bar. Noel Vick, with Traditions Media and a rep for Rapala lures, put the new X-Rap (a suspending bait similar to the Husky Jerk) to good use drifting rocky edges along Devils Hole on a drift outing with Capt. Joe Marra.
Vick and P.J. Perea with National Wild Turkey Federation, worked up a steady program of jerk bait casting in the hole where lake trout and steelhead trout had been heavy of late.
Similar bass successes came from Lake Erie, where charter captains bemoaned a 33-fish catch that should have been closer to 100 smallmouths per outing.
Impressive among fishing gear was the newer Marcum Showdown sonar unit, a hand-sized flasher rig. Initially designed for ice fishing, it also works well on paddleboats during warm-weather outings. The transducer reads through boat hulls and does not need mounting brackets. Check it out at marcumtech.com
No turkey takes, cold fronts, a spurt of rain and some hefty winds did little to dim all outing options AGLOW attendees enjoyed around Western New York this past week, encounters area sportsmen and women get to enjoy throughout the year.
Next Week: An outdoors success story all will enjoy, but more so for those who frequented the Caps Hunting and Fishing store years ago.