“A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last…” – Counting Crows
It was a long December in 2017. We ended the month and the year with the Buffalo Bills making the playoffs – and losing one of the biggest hunting and photography icons in the outdoor world, Charlie Alsheimer of Bath. It seemed like the entire year was filled with good and bad.
Lake Ontario suffered with the highest water levels in its history, causing terrible destruction in its wake – and that same lake offered up some of the best salmon fishing we’ve ever seen, especially as it related to catch rates. The bad with the good.
Heading into a new year, it’s supposed to be about “Beginnings.” New resolutions involving being a better person, leading a more productive, healthier life and learning something new are some things we always seem to strive for. There isn’t a better stage than the outdoors when it comes to making those life-changing resolutions.
When my outdoor writer friend Tony Zappia of Massena messaged me last week to say Alsheimer had passed away, I was watching an old episode of The Twilight Zone. I had to read the words a few times before they sunk in. It was like I was in my own Twilight Zone. It couldn’t be Charlie. He was only 70 years old and in great shape. He was a long-time friend of the family. I have every one of his books, sat in on more than a dozen of his deer and photography seminars and probably wrote about him every fall since his “Hunting Whitetails by the Moon” came out in 1999. I valued his insight into the world of the whitetail, a true expert in his field.
As a wildlife photographer, whitetail deer was his specialty. Many times I could just look at an outdoor magazine cover and tell the photo came from Alsheimer’s magic camera. His pictures were incredible. He was a professional through and through.
As much as Charlie was a professional in this outdoor realm, he was an even better person on life’s stage: passionate, religious, patriotic and always willing to share his knowledge and his faith. He was a great man and a true ambassador for the natural world we hold dear. Those who knew him well now know that he is in a better place. However, we will still miss him.
One of the first thoughts that came to my mind was who will replace him? Not that there can be anyone who can truly replace the legend. However, do we have leaders and stewards of our natural resources coming up through the ranks that can fill the massive void? That should be one resolution we should strive to fulfill moving forward. We need to recruit more boys and girls into the ranks of these outdoor pastimes. We have to do a better job exposing them to these outdoor experiences. It can be something as simple as finding a youngster to attend a DEC Conservation Camp in the summer or taking someone fishing the next time you hit the water.
As we look ahead in 2018, the future appears to be a bright one for the Great Lakes fisheries. Lake Erie is boasting some strong year classes of walleye and yellow perch. This year could be one of the best ever. Trout runs in the Lake Erie tributaries were very strong recently. Combined with new programs designed to increase survival and return rates, some exciting things are starting to happen. A new interactive fishing map produced by Erie County includes Chautauqua and Niagara is in the mix. Buffalo will also be center stage for the Costa Series FLW Fishing Tournament the end of July – exciting stuff for the next 12 months.
In Lake Ontario, water levels should not be as much of a problem in the coming year. From a fishing standpoint, based on the numbers of smaller, immature salmon and trout caught in 2017, this coming year should be a good one, too. Runs in the rivers and streams were also very good in the fall and DEC promises to improve communications for stocking issues and the corresponding pen rearing projects in an effort to increase survival.
These fisheries are ours to enjoy and protect. When we see someone abusing the resource, we should report it (844-DEC ECOS). Don’t leave it to someone else. Take matters into our own hands. Take it a step further and when someone is caught, send a note to the judge to make sure they understand the importance of a severe penalty. It’s not enough just to issue a citation. The recent increase in fines for big-game poaching is good in that there are now increased minimum penalties.
As long as we’re on the subject of hunting, it looks like the deer and bear harvests were up this past fall. However, poaching activity seems to be on the rise, too. One popular deer hunting blog may no longer be offering their expertise to their fellow hunters because of illegal activity associated with the family’s hunting lands and the deer that they have nurtured. The blog seems to be the source of the information that violators took advantage of. We should continue to push for ethical behavior. If someone crosses that line, though, make the call.
Take pride in our natural resources. Take along an extra garbage bag and pick up trash while on a trail or riverbank. Set an example for others. Again, teach this to the next generation.
There needs to be a resolution to spend more time on the water or in the woods. “Too busy” or “not enough time” are excuses that need to be replaced with “yes” and “let’s go.” Find the time and share it with family and friends. If you need some confidence boosting for fishing, attend the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo Jan. 19-21. Details can be found at www.niagarafishingexpo.com.
We live in a special place and we’re on the threshold of something great. Even the state tourism office is starting to recognize that. There is a full page on fishing in the winter travel guide and it includes mentions of Lake Erie, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
Choose your resolutions wisely … December will be here before you know it.