Basketball nets will be rippin’ in Buffalo when March Madness tips off Thursday in a game between Notre Dame and Princeton. While the basketball world will be focused on the court, there’s another kind of “net” that needs some attention when fans and players invade our kingdom of sorts – a fish net. Yes, Western New York is home to some of the finest freshwater fishing in the world.
“Some of the best freshwater fishing in the country can be found within a 50-mile radius of Buffalo,” says Capt. Jim Hanley, former host of Northeast Outdoors television show and a promoter of the resource for Erie County from 1996 to 2006. “People come from all over the United States to fish for bass and walleye in Lake Erie and/or salmon and trout in Lake Ontario and (too) many of the people here locally are shocked when they learn the truth about these fish-rich waters.”
Dave Chilson, president of Empire State Lake Ontario Promotions out of Ontario, N.Y., confirmed what Hanley was saying regarding due recognition when it comes to the sportfishery. “In our derbies last year we had 42 different states represented and five different countries,” said Chilson, referring to his Lake Ontario Counties (LOC) trout and salmon derbies, contests that are coordinated every spring, summer and fall (www.loc.org). Over 10,000 anglers compete in this competitive trilogy every year. The best place to be? Off the shores of Niagara County, where more than 60 percent of the winning fish are caught every spring.
Rick Kustich of Getzville, a local author whose most recent book (Hunting Musky with a Fly) is now on the market, had this to say about the fly fishing in the area:
“From a fly fishing perspective, I would say that we have an incredibly diverse fishery which provides a wide range of angling experiences. Aside from possibly parts of Michigan, there is really nowhere else in North America that offers such variety. And much of the opportunity is high quality, whether pursuing warm-water species such as smallmouth bass, musky or carp; wading beautiful Southern Tier streams for trout; or chasing migratory steelhead and the lake-run lake trout and salmon.”
We truly are blessed.
“The diversity is also found in the type of water,” says Kustich, who also has books on fishing the Great Lakes tributaries for trout. “An angler can explore small creeks and streams that one could practically jump across to the big open water of Lake Erie or Lake Ontario … and everything in between. A serious fly angler could fly fish an entire year and try something different almost every single day.”
Scott McKee of Williamsville, longtime president of the Niagara Musky Association, mirrored some of the other comments:
“From size, numbers and species available in our two Great Lakes, and the numerous tributaries coupled with all of our inland lakes, ponds and streams, Western New York is the very best place for the freshwater angler to live or visit in North America.”
Jim Dolly, Sr., the founder and production manager of 3-D Worm Harnesses, focuses on perch, bass and walleye in Lake Erie. He has no desire to fish anywhere else.
“We have world-class fishing right here,” insists Dolly. “We have lunker walleye up to 14 pounds, jumbo yellow perch and trophy smallmouth bass. The bass anglers can catch over a hundred fish some days. Walleye fishing is phenomenal. The reports indicate that the future is bright with all of these natural resources.” Yes, the fishery can grow on you … as you grow with the fishery.
While we are talking about bass, let’s chime in with a comment from a veteran competitor on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Mark Menendez of Kentucky. He had this to say about the area’s fish and fishing:
"The combination of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, associated with the majestic Niagara River creates the most dynamic fishery in the United States,” insists Menendez, a Bassmaster champion. “The smorgasbord of game fish found here can fill anyone’s bucket list. And the waters in and around the Buffalo area hold more giant smallmouth than anyplace in the world!" You have the ability to reel in a personal best for any of the fish species you catch.
Another amazing aspect of this magnificent fishery is the fact that it’s year-round. Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Falls had this to say about the fishing in Western New York:
“We have four seasons of fishing excitement that’s second to none,” says Campbell. “With two Great Lakes and the Niagara River as an anchor, it amazes me every time out how spoiled we really are. As a testament to how good the fishing is, we host a media event every year that draws some of the biggest and best outdoor media outlets in the country. Some of the publications include Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, In Fisherman, Bassmaster and more. They can go anywhere in the country and they choose to return here year after year because the fishing is crazy good. Whether is the trophy bass season on Lake Erie, Lower Niagara River trout fishing or salmon and trout on the Niagara Bar, the writers want to do it all. We’ve been doing this for nearly two decades with no signs of stopping.”
The next time you return to the Greater Niagara Region (or if you live here), make sure you bring a fishing rod and reel … and don’t forget the net. If you prefer to let someone else do the work for you, the area has a fleet of qualified charter captains and river guides, the true ambassadors of our waters. Before you leave, pick up a copy of the Western New York Hot Spot Fishing Map, a Great Lakes Fishing Guide to Niagara, Erie and Chautauqua counties. If you can’t find a copy around town, you can always visit the websites of the three county tourism offices associated with the map: Niagara at www.niagara-usa.com ; Erie at www.visitbuffaloniagara.com; and Chautauqua at www.tourchautauqua.com. You’ll have a ball!