Erie Canal offers some fine fishing

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor covers 524 miles from Lake Champlain to Albany and west all the way to Buffalo. It offers outdoors enthusiasts some great recreational opportunities – from boating and fishing to paddling and pedaling activities. It truly is an outdoor playground that extends across the state through a wide variety of habitats, terrains and watersheds. Out in the western section of the canal, the fishing is highlighted through a couple of unique fishing opportunities that will be coming up soon on the angling calendar.

First up is the Fifth Annual Hooked on the Tonawandas Fishing Derby set for June 27-28 out of Gateway Harbor in North Tonawanda. If those dates sound familiar it’s because those are the state’s Free Fishing Weekend dates, a time when no fishing license is required to take advantage of New York’s excellent natural resources as they pertain to fish and fishing. That’s the reason contest organizers picked the dates they did. As long as people can fish for free, why not run a little competition? At the same time, it’s a great opportunity to showcase the Erie Canal’s finer fishing fun and give families a reason to play outdoors together. 

Yes, there is some pretty darn good fishing in the Erie Canal. It often goes unnoticed since it’s surrounded by the likes of the Niagara River, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Species categories for this event are smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, carp, perch and bullhead. Channel catfish also have special recognition. A registration fee of $15 is for adults and junior anglers have the option of registering as an adult or fishing in a free kids division. The eligible waters are in the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda and you can fish from shore or boat. In the end, everyone is a winner. For more information check out their website.

The grandfather of all Canal derbies, though, is the 25th Annual Erie Canal Fishing Derby, an event that has spanned a quarter of a century. Steve and Lynn Harrington of Gasport have made this an important part of their lives as they continue to focus on the Erie Canal as an angling resource for families to enjoy. The milestone celebration this year (set for July 1-12) is special, offering participants over $20,000 in cash and prizes across the board. 

Bass, walleye, bullhead, northern pike, carp, sheepshead and catfish are all species categories and the size of previous winners is impressive. Imagine a 16-pound sheepshead or a 20-pound carp coming from the canal? They do, and those fish get bigger than that as well. The bass division winner is usually around a five-pounder and it takes well over a couple of pounds to win in the bullhead division. It was a 15-pound catfish that won that category last year. Yes, the fishing is pretty darn good in Clinton’s Ditch. 

The grand prize is a boat, motor and trailer, with the big winner determined through a drawing on awards night among all first place winners. There are $10,000 worth of tagged fish put into the canal, too. Eligible waters for this derby are from Albion in Orleans County to the Niagara River in Erie and Niagara counties. For more information, visit the contest website. It has all of the registration points and weigh stations, too.

A favorite fishing spot of mine in the canal is where the canal and Tonawanda Creek come together. This is a natural gathering point for fish species and a good place to start if you’re looking to catch a fish or two in the upcoming derbies. This Pendleton hotspot has been on the fishing map for a long time – ever since I was in high school. No, that wasn’t when the canal was first built in 1825. 

Another favorite canal offering is for northern pike in the spring. That will be the subject of a future blog. Get out there and enjoy the Erie Canal, no matter where you are in the Empire State.

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