It’s more than the weather
The preliminary summary for the Lake Ontario Fishing Boat Survey last year was released this January and to anyone familiar with this Great Lake and how things went in 2015, it was no surprise to see that fishing was down. For Chinook salmon, catch rates were the lowest they’ve been since 2002. Catch rates for Coho salmon, brown trout and rainbow trout were well below the long-term averages. Correspondingly, fishing effort on the lake was also down.
Many point the finger at the weather patterns and the severity of the last two winters. East winds, the nemesis of the lake fishery, occurred a bit more frequently than normal. After a fairly consistent May, June was far from productive. July and August were both off from normal fishing conditions and cold water in the lake (in part because of the severe winters) contributed to the poor fishing and to growth rates of fish. It couldn’t have all been weather, though.
Yes, weather can have an effect on fishing throughout the season, but if you aren’t catching those fish, they have to show up someplace – like the rivers and streams in the fall when the mature fish succumb to their natural urges. We kept hearing that the fish were going to be late … but how long do we really have to wait? The salmon run in the Niagara River was the poorest that anglers (including this writer) can ever remember and at some point the spectacular scenery and exciting trip into the Niagara Gorge won’t be able to make up for the lack of fish. Every day local guides have their fingers crossed that they are not the one to end up with a goose egg for the day. It’s a long day on the water when you have nothing to show for it.
The Niagara isn’t the only one that was suffering last year. Every tributary along the south shore of the lake had water-related issues to deal with. Lack of water flow due to limited precipitation (again, the weather) and warmer water temperatures affected returns of fish across the board. I heard the stories time and time again at the Cleveland Outdoor Adventure Show at the I-X Center in Berea, Ohio as I promoted the lake’s fishing resources.
There were a few saving graces. The poor fishing didn’t seem to deter people from coming back … yet. They understood that it’s still called “fishing” for a reason. Another recurring theme was that many of the prospective anglers I spoke with did not fish last year for a long list of reasons. They are ready to make the return trip back – all the more reason why the state needs to maintain contact with past anglers through social media or email considerations. The state conservation agency has started to step up with a Facebook page to help promote the resource. I see some movement was made with a recent Freshwater Fishing Newsletter as well, which also alerted us to the fact that there will be a free fishing day weekend Feb. 13-14. Who knew? Lack of communication with the outdoor press has been getting worse instead of better. That’s a continuing saga. We should be their best friend.
Which takes us back to Fishing Boat Survey early release. Total effort was just over 53,000 fishing boat trips. Some 87 percent focused on salmon and trout, with the remainder targeting bass. Last year, 46,000 trips concentrated on salmonids and that was the second lowest observed in the data set. Bass fishing was down 29 percent from the previous year and was also the second lowest observed as far as effort. Yes, the weather had a hand in lower numbers – but so did the fishing. It’s time to take a hard look at the total picture and see what needs to happen and what needs to change.
If the state agency is not going to be proactive in helping to promote these resources, they need to work more closely with the state’s tourism agency, county tourism promotion agents and the outdoor press. There needs to be a better system in place than what we have now. This includes information from fishing license sales. Mike Waterhouse with Orleans County Sportfishing has been pushing Albany for something as simple at zip codes from license sales to help identify key markets and focus advertising there. For the last five years it has fallen on deaf ears. With the computer age that we are in, it should be a relatively simple task.
With a new hatchery manager stepping in last year, it was time to give the facility a total once-over from the standpoint of how things were functioning. They uncovered some interesting things as simple as pump impellors not working, limiting the amount of water that could be pumped. They also found some issues with how eggs were being handled that could make a difference moving forward when it comes to salmon stocking. We need to stay on top of everything as it relates to the lake and make sure we can get the biggest bang for our buck when it comes to overall fish numbers and angler satisfaction. Remember that the number one form of advertising is word of mouth.