Fishing with dad a walk back in time

Bill HiltsTime goes by too quickly. Our hectic lifestyles get in the way and we try to make time to relax. The reality is we “need” to make time to relax. While I try to get out fishing every chance I get, it’s usually revolving around hosting media for my full-time tourism job as outdoor sports specialist with Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. One exception is when I can get on the water with my Dad, Bill, Jr. as guests of Mike George of Niagara Falls.

Mike lives on Cayuga Island, situated just a few miles above Niagara Falls on the upper Niagara River. At least once a summer, we try to make time for a morning on the water to chase smallmouth bass. Fishing out of Mike’s Lund boat, we motored through the Little River until we hit the main river, under the Grand Island bridge and toward the West River along Grand Island.

It was a beautiful morning with very light boat traffic. The mist from the mighty Cataracts billowed in the distance as we dragged a floating jighead tipped with a juicy nightcrawler along the bottom. Life is good.

It was fitting that Bill, Sr., at age 81 1/2 (not that the half mattered) hooked into the first fish of the day, a dandy two-and-a-half (this half mattered) pound smallie that thought he was a five-pounder. The ultralight spinning rod was doubled over as the fish fought gallantly – leaping out the water and then hugging the bottom until “Big Bill” won the battle. That was a feat that would be duplicated three more times in the next hour before we could hook into our own fish.

George is a river rat from way back, too, and when these two guys get together, it's like re-living an important part of our outdoor history. The conversations go something like this:

“I can remember fishing with my dad along that Canadian shoreline over there,” said Bill, Sr., reflecting on his time growing up on the river and living on the same island where George now resides. “One time we hooked a sturgeon that I fought for over an hour before we lost it.”

“A sturgeon?” questioned George, 69 years young himself. “Speaking of sturgeon, those pictures I saw in the old Mang’s Fish Market – did they catch all those fish in the Niagara River?”

“Oh sure,” said the elder Hilts, whose mother was originally a Mang – another important name in the heritage of the LaSalle neighborhood of Niagara Falls. He should write a book. “Every one of those fish came from the Niagara River. Did I ever tell you I was once asked if I wanted to learn how to build the old Mang boats? I said yes but it only lasted a day … I was too young. It was certainly an art.”

“The late Mark Cerrone rebuilt one of the old Mang boats,” George countered. “He put a lot of time into it and it looked beautiful.”

And so the morning went – reflecting on favorite fishing drifts, fellow fishermen and how the river used to be in the “old days.” Rather than wait until next year, we hope to squeeze out another trip in these hallowed fishing waters. Take the time to fish with family and friends while you still can. Guaranteed, you will learn something new and have a good time in the process.

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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