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Outdoors Column / by Will Elliott: Outdoors year unfolded in good way

The 2014 outdoors year offered both spectacular and subtle surprises from the extended ice fishing season at its start to the late-season shore and boating options open to anglers as well as for hunters near and far who brought home trophy harvests.

2014 outdoors review

Unlike this year’s ending, ice anglers in 2013 had access to solid surfaces and copious catches well before Santa sat in his sleigh. Walkers and light machine runners were on ice at Lake Simcoe and most of the Southern Tier and Western Finger Lakes by mid-December of 2013, and those hard-water happenings continued until late March. Lake Erie froze solid by mid-January, and the deep-water perch fishery between Hamburg and just west of Sturgeon Point matched catches boaters see out there during the warm-weather seasons.

For hunters, legalization of crossbows for hunting big game in New York State finally occurred without a sunset provision. The new regulations have some odd stipulations, such as equating the device with muzzleloader rifles in the late season and imposing an open season with crossbows well after the opening of archery season.

The Great Lakes provided anglers with some great catch opportunities in 2014. Lake Erie perch and walleye abundance continues. Yellow perch are a year-round deep-water resident in Erie’s Eastern Basin waters; walleye schools, both resident and the Ohio’s eastern migrants, offered boaters a fine fishery for “yellows” from the opener on the first Saturday in May until well into the fall.

Lake Ontario saw a good run of mature king salmon from the lower Niagara River to well east of Oak Orchard Point. Out in the lake, browns, steelies and lakers showed well; along shore, bays, harbors and creek mouths offered a nice run of perch and some bass. Biggest surprise overall was a good number of sizeable northern pike caught during the spring and well into late fall.

Two Western New York outdoors contributors were inducted into the NYS Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame in 2014: George Rocky, waterfowl club youth and adult program coordinator; and the late Dick Kirby, founder of Quaker Boy Game Calls in Orchard Park

Weather wows and woes

Weather went wild for outdoors folk. National attention focused on the November 18-20 surprise storm that piled snow depths to and above six feet south and west of Buffalo. But it was a double-dose deluge in the Western Finger Lakes area that brought May flooding and damage to lake shorelines from Silver Lake east to Seneca Lake.

After the excess spring rains, a prolonged early-fall dry spell threatened waterfowl and hunting prospects. But by the early-season ending, waterfowl harvest numbers, especially at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, were up for most duck species.

The new Cabela’s store in Cheektowaga, first retail outlet for that company in New York State, opened with rave responses and continued customer calls and comebacks.

Jennifer Miller, 32, of Olean won the U.S. Fish & Wildlife artists’ Duck Stamp competition; Miller’s painting of a pair of ruddy ducks will be the illustration on the 2015-2016 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. The cost of this stamp, priced at $15 since 1991, might increase in 2015. Legislators have passed an increase to $25, which only awaits the president’s signature.

Safari hunts

In 2013, Mike Carvelli, along with wife Nadine, traveled to Africa on hunts that had Carvelli within feet of dangerous game species.

In 2014 the WNY hunting-couple accolade goes to Jack Code and his fiancée, Anne O’Leary of South Buffalo. The duo booked a South Africa hunt with Numzaan Safaris July 18 to 31 for plains-game hunts with archery gear only.

“This was Anne’s first hunt ever,” Code wrote of her first animal, a perfect shot on an impala. She later successfully harvested what he called “a beautiful warthog.” She came close to zebra herds but could not get a clear, killing shot on an isolated animal in tight groups. Code later noted, “Those two shots were my proudest moments of the hunt.”

Code used an Elite 32 bow with Goldtip arrows fixed with Solid Broadheads for all his harvests, which included a 53-inch kudu, two wildebeests and a record-book bushbuck. The Solid Broadheads lived up to their name. “I shot all four animals with the same broadhead and arrow as did Anne,” he said after the hunt.

The couple plans to be back on another bow hunt in 2016.

Notable passings

Four major outdoors contributors died within a month of each other in 2014.

Kenneth “Ken” Sprenger, a 42-year veteran outdoor writer for Tonawanda and Lockport publications, died Sept. 25; Joseph “Joe” Jemiolo Jr., youth program coordinator and Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs volunteer, on Sept. 26; Randy Helf, competitive angler and owner of Keyser Cadillac, on Oct. 8; and Marshall J. Brown, noted reporter and longtime gun-rights advocate, on Oct. 10.

Youth license winners

Ten Erie County youths will enjoy a lifelong memory of winning an Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs Youth Lifetime License that was drawn during the ECFSC December meeting at Bison City Rod & Gun Club.

The program, founded and developed by Joe Jemiolo Jr. as an ECFSC annual event, was formally named in his honor.

Two youths received Big and Small Game Hunting Licenses. Cole Augustine, 13, of Lancaster has been out with dad, Taite, for years and was able to do his first youth hunt in 2014. Shawn Romanowski, 12, of Amherst looks forward to starting his big- and small-game hunts in 2015.

Four young anglers will be able to fish with a NYS fishing license for a lifetime.

Luke LaBoy, 14, of Amherst fishes with mother, Lynette, and his grandfather Richard Snyder. Mom said when it comes to outings, “We fish all over.”

Jack Eagan, 9 of the Town of Tonawanda fishes with dad, John. Of their shore casting ventures, Dad said, “He wants to go constantly.”

Andrew Pelczynski, 5, of Grand Island has become an avid angler at an early age, fishing with parents Daniel and Margaret Pelczynski and granddad, John Stefko, who introduced Andrew to fishing at Chautauqua Lakes this past year.

John Meyers, 9, of Cheektowaga fishes with mom and dad, Sue and Craig Meyers at lakes in the Thousand Islands and western Finger Lakes.

Four lucky kids received Lifetime Sportsman licenses, which include hunting and fishing.

Ryan Current, 11, recently moved to Marilla and dad, Jeff Current, said, “He’s out there on our 10 acres all the time.” Ryan is an avid researcher on hunting and fishes at state parks and other outings with family members.

Jacob Kelley, 2, of East Concord is the youngest license recipient in this year’s drawing. His parents could not be reached for comment, but they will have many options to consider for young Jacob’s Sportsman License involvements.

Lydia Wrest, 6, Alden, the only girl winner in this year’s drawings, fishes with the family and looks forward to hunting. According to mom, Jennifer Wrest, Lydia’s older brothers were a bit envious of her license-drawing win.

Richard Kicak Jr., 11, of Depew has been fishing with dad, Richard Kicak Jr., for six to seven years now. “We mainly do catch-and-release fishing for bluegills at Oatka Creek and Tillman Road, and he’s just getting into hunting,” dad said.

Joe Jemiolo Jr.’s widow, Margaret Jemiolo, drew the names of the winning recipients. Their lifetime licenses will be formally presented during the ECFSC Annual Awards Banquet on March 7.