Winter 2024 – Mid Season Update


It’s been an interesting winter for me thus far.  I haven’t fished in close to a month and a half.  I don’t keep records of unfortunate stats like that one, but I’m sure that’s the longest I’ve gone without fishing in 8 years.  I kinda feel like a fraud.  After all, I’m a guide/charter captain, isn’t it my job to be on the water to the maximum extent possible?  I mean, for the better part of the year, I provided weekly fishing reports.  Lately – none.  I’m unsure how I feel about this.

How I formed these Thoughts About Winter

2024 marks the 8th year that I’ve been a charter captain/fishing guide.  I’m not an OG by any stretch.  Still, I’ve been doing this long enough to appreciate how Mother Nature behaves around the Buffalo Niagara Region throughout the year.  All those seasons helped me develop a picture of what I believe to be the optimal pattern of life (for me).  My goal for 2024, as was conceived in the weeks leading up to the new year, was to try to execute that pattern.

My optimal, annual pattern of life would be a multi-thousand-word essay.  That’s not where I’m going with this one (it’s in my head and I’ll turn it into a piece once I’ve fished all 50 states).  I do, however, want to spend a little time describing my optimal winter as it’ll provide context for my month-and-a-half lack of angling plight.

Winter Fishing in the Buffalo Niagara Region

I love winter fishing here in the Buffalo Niagara Region.  Sure, the fish you catch are big (the apex predators of the region) – like lake trout, steelhead, and brown trout, but that’s not why I like it.  After 3 seasons or 9 months’ worth of fishing in crowds and navigating around recreational boaters, I can get a little crusty.  None of those factors are in play during the winter.  It’s a time to relax, go with the flow, and enjoy the silence.

Unfortunately, few folks feel this way about winter – especially about Buffalo Niagara winters.  Despite writing numerous blogs and running a couple winter fishing advertising campaigns, I’ve failed to generate much interest in winter angling around here. Sure, there are a couple hardcore guys I can call to fish over the winter – but not many.

Even if there was a big demand for winter angling around here, there’s another major drawback – damage to equipment.  Think about this – boats float on water.  Water is usually frozen in winter.  Therefore, boats don’t have anything to float on in the winter.  In other words, the builders of boats (recreational fishing boats, that is) aren’t building them with below freezing temperatures in mind.  Oh yeah, one other little detail – the freezing/thawing cycle of water has shaped this planet from the beginning – imagine what it can do to a boat.  Then add salt on the roads for good measure.

Here in the Buffalo Niagara Region, us anglers have a VERY UNIQUE opportunity to operate our boats in freezing/below freezing temperatures because the Niagara River doesn’t freeze.  This pushes our crafts to their limits.  Unfortunately, I’ve unwittingly exceeded those limits more than a handful of times – and it cost me.

My Optimal Winter

After fishing through a few winters that cost me money and a little bit of my sanity, I decided to modify my approach for 2024.  In my last fishing report, I talked about becoming a fair-weather angler for the winter.  Just a quick reminder, by fair-weather I mean at least 2 of these factors must be in place for me to fish between late December through early March:

  • Winds less than 10kts
  • No precipitation
  • Water clarity at least 3’ of visibility
  • Daytime high over 30 degrees
  • Bluebird skies or minimally cloudy – the sun has to be out

By imposing “fair weather angling” constraints on a Buffalo Niagara winter, I dramatically limited the number of “fishable” days for the season.  I did this intentionally so I would have plenty of time to do things other than fishing.  Sure, I’m a professional angler, through and through, on the water is where I feel at home.  However, longevity in this profession requires more than just fishing all the time.

The thought was – fish hard during the 9-10 months of the year where everything is active (to include anglers).  Then, use the winter to recover from it all to rebuild and get stronger.  Activities of this sort would include the following (keep in mind as you read these that when I’m fishing those other 9-10 months out of the year, all these activities occur, but are sporadic at best):

  • Spend time with friends and family – travel, make it a point to eat meals together, party, etc.
  • Mental development – read, listen to podcasts, write, meditate.
  • Physical development – exercise often, pick up a new hobby, seek preventative and corrective care from medical professionals.

That pattern of life makes sense, right?  I’m not so sure…

My Plan Wasn’t the Only Thing that Kept me off the Water

I haven’t been on the water lately solely because I chose not to.  Although I’ve accomplished most if not all my goals for the winter, other factors prevented me from fishing when I otherwise would/could have.

An “Unusual” Autumn

Although winters around here are tough on boats AND anglers, I’ve always managed to execute a handful of trips every January and February since I’ve been in business.  Rare was the occasion when someone called me wanting to book a trip in the winter.  Almost all those trips were a result of having to reschedule a FALL trip due to poor conditions.

The fall of 2023 was spectacular – the best I’ve been a part of since I’ve been in business.  The fishing was incredible – you saw the pictures – but that’s not what I’m talking about.  Every year, from the beginning of October through the end of December, I’m booked over 90% of the days.  The fall of 2023 was no different.  However, the weather was so stable this past fall that I was able to execute all but a few of my scheduled bookings.  That was awesome, but it also led to a dearth of booked dates in January and February.

Thinking the winter of 2024 would be no different from the past, I wasn’t concerned.  I had a handful of days on the books but thought, for sure, that I’d end up having to reschedule them due to poor conditions.  I was right…but what I didn’t anticipate was the spring-like season we’ve had since the big storm back in January.  Seeing all those bluebird skies and feeling all those days where the temperatures were in the 40s and low 50s induced a SEVERE case of FOMO (fear of missing out).

The Boat Issue

Even if I wanted to fish, just to get on the water and sharpen the sword, I couldn’t.  In mid-January, just prior to the week of storms and insane snow, I decided to take my boat in for some preventative maintenance.  I was due for the 1000-hour service, so it wasn’t going to be a simple oil change.  A few of the items required for the service weren’t in stock at the dealership so they placed them on order.  Then the storm hit and delayed shipments for more than a week.

While going through the 1000-hour service check list, the mechanics also identified that something was wrong with my lower unit.  Those that know me know that I’m not mechanically inclined, so I won’t try to describe the problem.  Bottom line, it wasn’t a catastrophic issue, but one that the dealership could fix via warranty.  Since the conditions on the water were a mess (remember – post storm), I didn’t flinch at keeping my boat at the shop.

Long story short – the warranty process took far longer than anticipated and as of this writing, my new lower unit is on the way and will be installed soon.  However, it still hurt to not be able to fish on all those gorgeous days we had over the past week (+).  So much so that I hiked the gorge for over 4 hours the other day just so I could immerse myself in the power of the river.  I miss it far more than I thought I would.

Thoughts about my “Optimal” Winter so Far

In reflecting on the past month and a half, I find myself torn between the expectations of my profession and the realities of personal fulfillment. As a charter captain and fishing guide, my absence from the water this winter has left me feeling disconnected, even questioning my legitimacy in a role that demands constant presence.  After all, time on the water matters, right?

On the other hand, doing all the things that I wanted to do over this winter has been wonderful.  I’m in the best shape in years, I’ve read some awesome books, I did some writing, and I had some awesome times with my family and friends.  However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t regret taking so many days off.  It’s a nagging feeling of losing relevance.  In other words, I’m conflicted…but winter isn’t over.

Later this week, I depart for Florida and then Guyana.  Over the next 3 weeks, I’ll break my fishing fast with a vengeance.  I’m sure all those days on the water will break me out of this little funk I’m in.  When I return, I’ll be ready to fish and have a solid number of bookings to hold me accountable.

The verdict is still out on how I feel about prioritizing personal stuff over executing charters over the winter.  Working my ass off for a huge block of time followed by resting my ass off for a small block of time is classic Ryan Shea – very little balance – all or nothing.  I guess I’m just a product of my environment.

I’ll see you/you’ll hear from me when I return from down south.  Until then, stay healthy, my friends – mentally and physically.