Actual summer fishing conditions have finally arrived in full.
A long, cold winter, a dry April and May, a wet, cool June and below-average water temperatures in all area water bodies are now by the boards.
Lake Erie and the Niagara River system now hold at and above 70 degrees, at least on their surfaces. Most inland lakes that lacked shoreline weed growth now see solid, green canopies in areas that should have been weed-covered a month earlier, but that generalization has yet to apply in Chautauqua Lake.
All this “normalizing” bodes neither well nor ill for fish finding and catching. One distinct feature of this early-summer season, so far, has been the disparity in catch reports from the same sites.
Lake Erie walleye trips have been feast or famine in locations that showed consistent fish presence and activity in previous years. Same can be said for northerly breezes that have Lake Ontario’s salmon – and other trout and salmon – on the run; but, westerly winds are settling things for the kings. Seasoned and rookie anglers have seen good and poor numbers on successive trips so far this season.
Lake Erie/Niagara River
Catch successes vary and bass reports seem to be the most disparate. On a good day, in Erie or in the upper Niagara River, the bass bite can be solid in shallower water.
Upper river bass casters work 10-foot depths on drifts around Grand Island. Open water bass drifts over rubble rock from Buffalo to the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek can produce bass from depths of less than 25 feet.
Live bait draws bigger numbers; well-placed jigs, spinners and crankbaits attract larger smallies on average. The bass bite on live offerings varies between crayfish and golden shiners. All artificials work at times in some places, with drop-shot rigs, normally a deep-water offering, doing well along shoreline shallows.
The great bait debate continues between walleye workers unionizing behind either live bait (worm harnesses) or artificials (mainly stickbaits and assorted spoon offerings) when trolling. Worm rigs dominate on bottom-bouncing drift trips.
Trout and salmon action traditionally dipped during the summer season, but in recent years the fishery has been stable and consistent enough for anglers to track schools and enjoy productive days on the water through July and August.
When winds settle down to a steady west or southwesterly push, boaters can get over king salmon for reasonably consistent catches.
Right now, the boat trip is rarely more than two miles to get over depths well above 100 feet. The salmon bite has been anywhere from 40 to 100 feet down and the spoon has been more productive than flashers-fly rigs or bait rigs.
Charters and long-runners have gone out to 350-foot depths for a king bite at 80 to 100 feet and a mix of steelies and cohos above the kings at either side of 40-foot depths.
Cormorants are devastating panfish in Ontario bays and creek mouths, but the pike bite has been good with chubs and bass going for either crayfish or bass chubs.
Canal Derby results
Carp Division winner Joe Z. Henneburger of Tonawanda won a drawing among first-place winners in each division of the Erie Canal Derby. Henneburger’s 21.41-pound carp was an impressive catch and later resulted in his winning the boat and motor prize.
A close second for size and story-telling is Holly Sewar’s 16.51-pound sheepshead she hooked on July 1, the first day of the derby, while fishing with her dad, Derald Sewar, from shore in Lockport.
“She was fishing with just a worm and all I could tell her was to loosen the drag and play the fish,” dad said.
All went well and, for its species, her 16.51-pound sheepshead led the division from start to finish and garnered a trophy and valued merchandise prizes. To view the listing of the top three winners in all seven divisions and Kids Division winners, visit eriecanalderby.com.
Walleye got off to a fair start and bass showed well earlier this summer, but muskies have stolen the spotlight in recent weeks, according to Mike Sperry at Chautauqua Reel Outdoor Guide & Tackle in Lakewood.
“Both trolling and casting have been working well,” Sperry said of the uptick in the toothy tribe. A lack of substantial weed-edge growth and bait movement has stirred things for Chautauqua anglers, but musky trollers have done well with either a jointed Stalker or Baker lures.
The Leo Shayla Shad can be effective when casting or trolling; the Sprankle Lure is another big lure for big fish.