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July 2003

Niagara Frontier

Lake Ontario is on fire off the shores of Niagara County! No, it’s not in a literal sense that would cause concern from local firefighters and environmental groups. The fantastic fishing that’s taking place beneath the waters of this popular Great Lake is generating the “heat”. Smoke is coming off the reels, thanks to some energetic spring king salmon. It’s not the whole lake, either, as evidence revealed by the recently completed Lake Ontario Counties (LOC)

Trout and Salmon Derby April 25 to May 4. The derby, with more than 3,000 competitors, saw Niagara dominate the leader board once again. Not only did the Grand Prize catch come from the waters of Niagara - a 23 pound, 14 ounce king taken from the Niagara Bar near the red can - but 56 of the top 81 fish came from these very waters. In the salmon division, 20 of 21 fish were Niagara-based kings. In the lake trout division, 19 to 20 fish came from Niagara, including the top fish, a 21 pound, seven ounce laker hauled in by Tony Gould of Rochester while fishing west of Wilson. Ten of the top 20 steelhead came from here, along with seven of the top 20 brown trout. That alone should prove the fish are here. This translates into 61 percent of the derby-winning fish. There’s more, too. There were countless fish caught that were good enough to make the derby board but anglers failed to get into the competition. One in particular reeled in a 26 and a half-pound lake trout while drifting the Niagara Bar with Capt. Jeff Draper. It had Grand Prize written all over it and it would have been the second time ever that a Niagara Bar laker bested a Niagara Bar king for the spring kick-off. It wasn’t meant to be. Capt. Frank Campbell had at least three steelhead that would have made the board, if customers participated in the derby.  We hear those types of stories every single derby. You’d think they would learn. As a result, other people went home with the money, including the $10,000 Grand Prize check.

The best part is that, while the derby does provide a vehicle to help get the word out about the fishing, fishing for salmon and trout is continuing at an impressive pace even after the derby. The fish have hung around (at least up until this writing) these same waters, leading to some great catches and short days for charter captains. Some captains have been off the water by 8 or 9 a.m. with limits of silver fish. Imagine being 15 for 19 on boating salmon in an hour and a half? That happened just last Friday by Capt. Bruce Blakelock of Lewiston. The funny thing was that he had the same clients aboard the day before and it was decent fishing. They caught their limit by 10 a.m., which would have been 12 silver fish. It would have been sooner had it not been a case of the dropsies. The next day, they would have ended before 8 a.m. but when they were reeling in their 12th silver fish and their limit, three rods went off simultaneously. The three fish were reeled in and released, but that’s the kind of fishing and those are the kinds of stories that we’ve been listening to since the LOC Derby ended.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  A quick plug on the LOC Derby:  this 10-day fun contest has a huge economic impact on the lakeshore communities. In a study conducted by LOC through a private survey consultant, results of the 2002 event were very important for Niagara County businesses. Of the $2.5 million generated along the lakeshore by the derby, more than a third of that total figure came from Niagara County, which is very impressive to say the least. A majority of that money was tourist revenue, meaning it came from outside the county - new dollars that wouldn’t have been realized.

Sportfishing is big business in Niagara. People have questioned the estimated $20 million this popular pastime generates annually in this lakeshore county alone. I question it too. I think it’s too low! If a 10 day derby can generate nearly a million dollars, what do you think the LOC 18 day derby generates in the fall with twice as many participants? Lewiston charter captains have estimated their worth at over $2 million and that’s not even counting the average angler coming in with their own boat, staying in the local motels and bed and breakfast operations, eating meals and buying gas as they pursue these feisty fish. Impacts from those people are just as great if not greater. In the new Greater Niagara fish map, there are 38 charter captains listed for Niagara, 18 listed for Erie.  Of those 18, at least 12 of those work their trade in Niagara County waters. There’s a reason for that. The best fishing is here. Between the mighty Niagara River and the Western Basin of Lake Ontario, we have the best of both worlds.

In the meantime, fishing season is here, with the Spring LOC Derby sounding the starting gun. There’s been talk of reviving the old Sportfishing Promotion position to help get the word out about the fishing, especially after a poor summer/fall effort in 2002. The derby proves that those fish are out there waiting to be caught, and people need to know that. I picked up the phone and called the old Niagara County fishing hotline number. It’s the same number that appears in every state fishing regulations guide and on the DEC website for fishing information. There was no answer. You can only guess what kind of an impression that leaves, but it’s not good. In the meantime, get out there on the water and take advantage of some of the best fishing on the planet. NorthCountry Whitetails Offer Tours NorthCountry Whitetail, a company dedicated to assisting landowners in reaching their habitat development and quality deer hunting goals, have announced tour dates for their Habitat Development Demo Center and BioLogic’s Research Facility. The demo center is located in Steuben County, about a two and a half hour drive from Western New York.

Attendees will be taken on a tractor-pulled tram through the 500 acre site, allowing people to see first hand how to develop quality habitat for whitetail deer. If you’re thinking about some sort of Quality Deer Management program, or would like to learn more about habitat and/or food for attracting whitetails, this is the program you’ll want to check out. Four-hour tours will be run on Saturdays starting May 24 and running through mid-September.  For more information, contact NorthCountry Whitetails at (585) 388-6990 or visit their website at

New Fishing Regulations Changes Proposed; Comments Sought By June At the May meeting of the Niagara River Anglers Association, DEC Region 9 Fisheries Biologist Mike Wilkinson passed out a list of pre-proposals for fishing regulations changes that would considered for the next regulations guide printing for the season starting October 1, 2004. That’s how far in advance the state is working now, printing the regulations guide in two-year cycles. Some of the new proposals were a bit controversial so the state wants to hear from you by June 5th, so that your comments can be considered. Here are those proposals in a nutshell:

One statewide regulation (SW-1) involves a change in the wording of inland trout fishing. Instead of the previous wording, they want to restrict the numbers of fish over 12 inches long. Five trout of any size can still be creeled, but this proposal adds that no more than two can be over 12 inches long. 

Reasoning behind this proposal is to better distribute harvest opportunity for brown trout, thereby emphasizing the value of these larger browns. The state’s two-year-old brown trout program has been highly successful for those who take advantage of it and they’d like to distribute the wealth to more anglers. The proposal  (GL-1) to shorten the walleye season in the lower Niagara River finally made it to the table. The Niagara River Anglers Association brought this new proposal to the table to help protect the ripe females that are extremely susceptible to angling pressure from January 1 to March 15th, when the season officially closes statewide. This is only for the lower Niagara River and nowhere else. After what’s been going on with the Bay of Quinte restrictions-wise, it’s better to address the problem now before it becomes one. The St. Lawrence River people put forth their own proposal (GL-2), this one to move the black bass season from the third Saturday in June to the fourth Saturday in June. The primary reason was to conform more closely to the Canadian regulations on the other side of the river and make it less confusing for fishermen.  It’s also in line with Fish Community Objectives for the river. Con forming to Canadian regulations hasn’t been easy. It’s as different as night and day for the same body of water when it comes to angling on the Niagara River.  While the season is a start, you still have daily limits and size limits that need to be addressed as well. With bass, Canadians can take six fish with no minimum size. New York anglers can take five with a minimum size of 12 inches.

Look at the big discrepancies between the salmon and trout regulations, too. The most controversial proposal (GL-3) involves reducing the steelhead/rainbow trout creel in all tributaries of lakes Erie and Ontario from three to one from the lower-most bridge to the first impassible barrier. Declines in recent years of Lake Ontario steelhead in the tributaries was the rationale for the proposal, along with another attempt to increase the status level of these fish within the angling community. A survey was done of stream anglers along the Lake Ontario shoreline and more than 90 percent of steelhead anglers were in favor of this proposal, enjoying more the thrill of catching the fish than keeping it for the frying pan. Some feel that this should be applied to brown trout as well, making it one fish of either species. At the NRAA meeting, several people felt that reducing it so drastically from three to one would keep people away and affect the overall impact economically to the lakeshore communities.  This would not impact the lower Niagara River in any way because it’s not a tributary.

Proposal GL-4 would call for an extension of the muskie season in the Lower Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River from November 30th to December 15th, again to conform to the Province of Ontario and their current season.

Proposal R9-10 would call for a change in Chautauqua Lake walleye regulations.  The recommended wording would alter the current five fish per day with a minimum size of 15 inches to a more restrictive three fish per day and a minimum size of 18 inches. The intent of the regulation is to increase the abundance of the walleye spawning stock. There has been low recruitment on the lake since 1996.

There are numerous other proposals for Region 9 in Western New York pertaining to corrections in the regulations guide and year-round trout options in specific waters offering no kill restrictions. Visit the DEC website at for a complete rundown on all the pre-proposals being put forth on the table. DEC wants to hear from you on these pre-proposals.  Send your comments by June 5 to Region 9 DEC Fisheries Manager Paul McKeown at 182 East Union Street, Allegany, NY 14706.

Henderson Harbor Spring Walleye Fishing Great

As we motored out of Henchen Marina and Fishing Camp, located in Henderson Harbor in Lake Ontario’s Eastern Basin, we really didn’t know what to expect.

Capt. Mitch Franz of Henderson Harbor, who owns and operates Mit-She Fishing Charters this harbor, has been a friend for over 15 years. He said he was “on” walleye, but still didn’t tell us what to expect. We would soon find out. The invite to fish the Thousand Islands Region came a couple months ago when the local tourism agency, the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, pitched the New York State Outdoor Writers Association for a weekend Safari in May. We all operated out of Clayton, staying in two different motels in this quaint fishing village. We opted to stay in the Thousand Islands Inn. My choice of fishing was what they called lake fishing out of Henderson Harbor and to participate in the Henderson Harbor Classic Spring Derby, a short four day event to kick off their local season. They had four divisions, including brown trout, lake trout, walleye and northern pike. When we headed out, our choice for the day was walleye, although there was already two eleven pound fish on the board for the derby. Driving the boat, a 28 foot Bayliner, was Leo Trombley of Vermont, who moved to the area for the fishing. Also on board was Kathy Balbierer of Fairport, a public relations person who concentrates on the outdoor industry. This was her first fishing trip in over 30 years. After she said that, I know it would be a good trip.

Franz immediately motored over to the area that produced for him the day before, heading to Sackets Harbor and the Black River Bay shoreline. The point that produced all his fish the previous outing was covered with boats - word travels fast in a small community. I counted over 30 boats on that point. Franz opted to stay away from the other boats and concentrate along the shoreline and some smaller points in 35 to 40 feet of water.

The program was relatively simple. He used stickbaits behind in-line planer boards 180 to 220 feet back at a speed of 2.0 to 2.5 miles per hour. With 25 years experience taking people fishing out of this popular Eastern Basin port, it all came natural to him. The artificial lure of choice was shallow-diving stickbaits such as Thundersticks, Renoskys and Rattlin’ Rogues, to name but a few. He ran St. Croix rods that were made specifically for in-line planers, with 10 pound test Ande or Berkley XT line. Line counter reels helped him nail the exact distances for putting the lures out.

As soon as we set up, we hit our first fish, a nice six pound walleye that took a blue and silver Thunderstick 200 feet back behind the Offshore inline planer board, which was another 135 feet from the boat.  It would be our smallest fish of the day and a good one for Kathy to get her feet wet. We slowly worked up the ladder. Next was a seven pounder, followed by a seven-and-a-half pound walleye. Eight pounds was next, followed by a fish eight ounces bigger than that. Then it was a nine pounder on the board, followed by a fish that was both longer and heavier by a half of a pound. The final walleye of the day, reeled in by the “rookie” angler, was a 10 pound, two ounce fish that slammed a black and silver Renosky bait. The fish was over 31 inches long.  I mention the length because the derby also had a special award for the longest walleye caught during the competition, in honor of Marty Edmonds. The longest fish received a check for $500. Leading the way was a 33 inch fish. Close, but no cigar.

The amazing thing to me was the fact that most of our fish were caught during late morning and mid-day. Mitch started out fishing for walleye several years ago, specifically targeting this time of day to catch fish. His mentality was that if he could learn to catch fish during the day - a fish that is extremely sensitive to light - he could catch them anytime. He certainly had confidence in his program and he did well for us in promoting his area. The walleye fishing should continue into mid-June in this area.

For more information on Mit-She Charters and Capt. Mitch Franz, give him a call at (315) 938-5865. For more information on the Henderson Harbor Classic Derby, check out the Henderson Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce website at or call them toll-free at (888) 938-5568. For information on the 1000 Islands, call (800) 847-5263 or visit Be sure to ask for their excellent fishing guide, along with their international travel guide.

Oh, yea. That 10 pound two ounce walleye didn’t even come close to making it on the board. Here’s the results    of the 2003 Henderson Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Spring Classic Derby that we fished in.

Walleye- Danny Kilbert’s 13 pound, 10 ounce fish won the top prize for the division, the Cash Bash and the longest walleye (32-3/4 inches). Northern Pike - John Kopy’s 15 pound, 8 ounce fish took top honors. Lake trout - Paul Mancari’s 20 pound 4 ounce fish was the four day winner. Brown trout - Dawn Dick was top angler with a 12 pound 10 ounce brownie.

For more information on the derby, contact the Henderson Chamber at: or call (888) 938-5568.

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