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Days on the Water: 5
Who we fished with: friends, clients
Where we fished: Lake Erie
What we caught: smallmouth bass, freshwater drum, walleyes
Tactics: ned rigs, worm harnesses

Commentary

Observations from the Water – this Past Week (26-Jul – 1-Aug)

It was a fun week spent mostly with friends and a couple new clients.  Other than getting rained off the water on Thursday and having to cancel my trip for today due to waterspouts and thunderstorms, the weather was pleasant.  Almost fall like toward the end of the week.  Here are my observations.

Walleyes

It’s been inconsistent out of Buffalo.  Some days are great and others a near dud.  There are plenty of fish around as evidenced by what’s on the sonar so “insert guide excuse here” to explain why boxing out isn’t the norm.  Another way of putting it is that many of my fellow charter captains have been driving all the way to Barcelona, NY to fish for walleyes as the bite is more consistent down there.  Sorry – that push is a little too far for me.

Smallmouth bass

Observations

Over the past couple of weeks, the majority of the fish I’ve boated have had jacked up faces – meaning they’ve been hooked a lot.  Every time I saw this – just once – I would move to a new place only to find more jacked up faces – and I cover a ton of water on any given day when I go bass fishing.  There also seems to be less fish around in their usual summer haunts.  It’s getting to the point that I will likely execute reconnaissance missions with competent clients to find some untouched fish.

I look forward to exploring some new spots – but that’s what I do all spring and again in late June, so I don’t have to throughout the summer.  Not a complaint – just an observation – there are MANY folks on the water nowadays and getting away from the crowds is becoming increasingly difficult yet very important so as to not bludgeon the resource.    In general, I cover a ton of water with clients and never loiter in an area for too long.  This protects the resource – the fish don’t get beat up.  Ask any client that’s ever fished with me – I never stay in the same spot for more than 2-3 drifts.

There are nearly 30 miles of water along the Grand Island shoreline – plus close to 20 more miles along the Tonawanda, NT, and Wheatfield shoreline.  Every year, I work well over a dozen spots, rarely fishing the same ones 2 days in a row.  This year – many of those spots are getting beat up by the huge increase in recreational anglers and a few guides that have emerged since COVID.  Time for me to find some new zones – plus spend more time on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario – although I’m seeing the same thing happen there too.

Recommendations

So…here’s a small ask to the few folks (if any) that read this – please cover water.  You’ll find it rewarding when you discover something new, and you’ll be helping to preserve the resource.  Another, maybe larger ask, please dramatically limit the number of bass you kill.  I get it – it’s your right to kill fish – just please consider the following:

  • Bass aren’t studied by our DEC other than a handful of angler interviews at the boat launches so we don’t really know what’s happening to the population other than a ton of anecdotal evidence coming from us charter captains and guides – all pointing in the direction of decreasing numbers year over year.
  • The regulations were written when angling pressure was “X” – well – now due to the “COVID effect” it’s definitely NOT “X” – more likely “X squared.” So, if X was a sustainable level of harvest and now the harvest has increased by an order of magnitude – what do we think the fishing will be like in the fall…better yet, next year, or the year after?

Final Thoughts

I’m sure this commentary will receive some degree of blowback after I post it on social media – just know that if you decide to comment – I won’t see it/be paying attention.  I post and ghost to social media – don’t even have the apps on my phone – so if you want to discuss it, please find a different way to contact me.  I’m not naïve enough to think that my take on this situation will influence the behavior of any of my colleagues in the business of guiding/chartering – but I hope that I can influence a few new guides and recreational anglers to modify their program and to think long term.

Although I chose smallmouth bass and the Niagara River as the main characters for this narrative, it’s relevant to just about everything in the Buffalo Niagara Region fishery.  From king salmon, to steelhead, to browns and bass – it would be prudent to start thinking about the whole picture in the wake of COVID.  Up ‘til now, I’ve been silent on issues like this because I’m a relatively new guide – I’ve only been guiding since the summer of 2016 – and didn’t want to rock the boat in my rookie years.  I’ve also told myself to “be the Coyote” – observant and adaptable – operate on the periphery and figure out ways to survive…better yet…thrive.  That’ll continue to be the case…but I have time to try to influence policy as well and will start doing that if all the trends I mentioned above continue.

My primary concern is for the next generation of anglers and guides.  Our current behavior will affect them in the long term.  It ain’t like I’m desperate and losing business because of everything I mentioned above.  Although COVID has been the bane of humanity for the past year and a half, it’s been a boon to the outdoor industry – and that’s great – as long as it’s not some sort of pornographic experience to all the newcomers.  Everyone who spends time on the water should walk away with an understanding of/appreciation for what’s going on under the surface…maybe even consider doing things to help preserve it.

Looking Forward (2-8 Aug)

The forecast looks excellent for this upcoming week.  I’ll likely spend most days starting with walleyes.  If the bite is good – I’ll stick with it.  If it isn’t, and my clients are up for it, I’ll cover water in search of un-harassed bass.

It’s August my friends – summer life is almost over.  Soon, kids will return to school, temperatures will start to drop, and a more regimented daily routine will become the norm.  I hope you’ve had a good summer so far – be safe out there/don’t get too frantic with your remaining days.

Stay healthy my friends – mentally and physically,

Ryan