Tag Archives: cattaraugus creek

Winter Fishing – It’s Not Crazy

Every fall, after the leaves are gone and we start to see winter creeping up, we discuss the topic of shack nasties. See here for the definition. This year isn’t going to be any different. Consider it an annual public service announcement. If the shock of cold weather hasn’t hit you yet, it will soon. The forecast for the next week or so is looking somewhat grim for those that fear freezing weather. Use this shock and seasonal adaption period to kick you into action – start making plans to stay moving over the next few months.

Shack Nasties are Starting to Set In

I can already feel the crazy crawling up my spine. I went from fishing 20+ days per month for 6 months to suddenly…a couple days per week. The weather here in Buffalo Niagara has been a bit rough for a few weeks now and I wasn’t ready for the transition to frigid temps and numerous unfishable days.

Leading up to the start of November, it seemed like it rained nearly every day of salmon season yet almost every day had fishable conditions. Then, things got a bit more challenging. Big wind, rain, snow, ice, mud, and waves became the norm. The big water only had a 2-day window earlier this week where clarity was good enough to fish from the boat. Other than that, it’s been in rough shape for nearly 2 weeks. The tribs, both Ontario and Erie, have been hit or miss as well (unless you want to fish the shoulder-to-shoulder water).

Fighting them off the only way I Know How

Exercise and bowling are my cures for the shack nasties when fishing isn’t an option. Sure, I’ll get out to do some site seeing, take part in a seasonal Tonawanda pub crawl, go out to eat, see some movies, etc. but those aren’t routine activities. At best, most of these activities will encompass a few hours in any given month. What about all the rest of the time you aren’t sleeping, working, or on the water?

The best cure for shack nasties is an activity that forces you to move vigorously every day coupled with an activity that’s somewhat new for you. This new activity should be a challenge to learn and extraordinarily difficult to perfect. Exercise and bowling are my choices but there are countless options.


The next 4-6 months will present ample time for you to get in peak physical condition. When the weather is frigid or downright hostile, gyms or exercise clubs are a great place to spend an hour. I recently joined an Orange Theory gym near me. I’m not necessarily a devotee to their philosophy however, it’s something new and committing to classes is a way to hold myself accountable. Daily vigorous activity…check!

Get into a routine. Occupy that space once filled with after work fun in the sun during the summer months with something that taxes you physically. If a gym isn’t possible due to your location (don’t use budget as an excuse, there are countless gyms around that charge $10/month), train in your house/garage. You can build an ample gym in your garage for less than $200. Don’t believe me, shoot me a message and I’ll show you what I did.


I only bowl from November through April. I’m horrible but I enjoy it. By April I am OK but it all falls apart during the other 6 months. I particularly enjoy going by myself at 10:00AM on a weekday. I go at this hour for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I’m nearly guaranteed to encounter a variety of interesting patrons. Second, the prices are usually cheap. Finally, because so few people will be there, you can get a lane for yourself…away from everyone.

Bowling is one of those activities that, if taken seriously, can be therapeutic. Something akin to target shooting. Yes…I just compared bowling to shooting weapons. Balance, proper mechanics, control, aim, poise, etc. all play a roll in these kinds of activities. One must engage the mind and the body to achieve maximum effect. Done in conjunction with an exercise routine, mind-body engaging activities will keep your mind sharp and your body limber. This is crucial for keeping the shack nasties at bay.

Whether it’s 25 or 95 – it’s Just Another Day, Dress Accordingly

In my opinion, getting outside for an extended period during the winter months is the best cure for shack nasties. After all, it’s the shack that’s making you nasty. During casual conversation with summer clients or friends of friends, etc. people frequently comment how crazy it must be to fish in the winter. The conversation usually goes like this:

Random “Non-Winter” Angler: “You fish in the winter around here? That’s crazy? Don’t you freeze?”
Me: “Do you think it’s crazy to attend outdoor sporting events in the winter?”
RNWA: “No.”
Me: “So why is it crazy to go fishing?”
RNWA: no response…but hopefully a ponderous look.

Understandably, people have a hard time associating outdoor winter fun with water-oriented activities. Sliding down snow- and ice-covered hills with a board or 2 sticks attached to your feet is somehow sane, but fishing isn’t. It’s also perfectly sane to consume alcohol (a body temperature lowering substance), in a snow-covered parking lot for a few hours followed by consuming more alcohol while sitting around an arena watching large humans move a ball up and down a field for a few more hours. Bottom line, if you dress accordingly and manipulate your environment to make it as comfortable as possible, it doesn’t matter what the temperature is outside (within reason – safety first), you can make a good time happen.

Winter Fishing in Buffalo Niagara

The winter solstice is officially a month away. That means the fall is 2/3s over. The temperatures lately have the feel of winter through and signs of the winter pattern are emerging. All the tributaries are already full of trout as is the Niagara River. Brown trout and lake trout are in spawn mode and are about to become ravenous. Steelhead are around in huge numbers in the lower Niagara River, starting to show up more and more on the Ontario tribs, and are flowing well into the Erie tribs.

Typically, winter fishing in Buffalo Niagara will yield the biggest and hardest fighting fish of the year. This winter will be no different. We’re very encouraged by what we’ve seen so far. If you want to experience it first hand instead of reading the fishing reports on a tiny screen, give us a call. Tight lines.

Late Fall Fishing in Buffalo Niagara

Urgency is in the Air – Fall is Coming

Maybe that’s why I like fall so much. When that first cold wind of the season creeps up your spine it triggers a sense of urgency that’s palpable everywhere you look. It’s a season of sensory overload – vibrant colors, incredible smells, tastes you can only experience this time of year. This sensory overload is part of the urgency of it all – it fuels our daily lives in a much more obvious way than any time of year.

For those of us that live in Great Lakes bordering regions, this atmosphere comes from a primordial place. It’s a natural prompt for action – time to start stocking up, food/resources won’t be available for too much longer. For those people that, “don’t do cold weather,” the fall their final chance to enjoy the outdoors before slipping into hibernation and the inevitable case of the shack nasties. Luckily, if you live in the Buffalo Niagara region, there are many options available to get outdoors and enjoy the splendor of the season.

We Aren’t Alone in this Experience

If you have spent any amount of time outside lately, you’ve likely noticed that this sense of urgency isn’t uniquely human. New birds are showing up. The trees are starting to show a little flicker of color change. Animals are becoming more active. The sun is rising later and setting earlier. Most importantly, the fish are putting on the feedbags or are staging to make their spawning runs.

Regional anglers benefit from nature’s sense of urgency this time of year. Regardless of the activity – feeding or mating – fish start to congregate thereby becoming easier to locate and catch. The smallmouth bass, muskies, and walleye that are putting on the feedbags aggressively pursue prey.

The salmon, steelhead, and lake run brown trout start staging in well-known and accessible locations. Just like any predator in nature – large groups of prey concentrating in certain areas is cause for excitement. The urgency that follows is a prompt for action – gotta get mine before everyone else/the opportunity passes.

The Urgency of the Fall – How are you Taking Advantage of it?

What are your fall plans? It’s obvious what our plans are – fishing…daily. This video shows what we’ll be up to for the next couple months.

It is by far my favorite little slice of the year – if for no other reason that it’s fleeting. Salmon fishing in the lower Niagara River is something that’s truly unique to the Buffalo Niagara Region. Deep canyons, crazy colors, and big fish everywhere. Simply put – it’s a marvel everyone should experience at least once. Give us a call if you’re interested.

Observations from the Water (a few weeks ago – 20180908)

I’ve been slacking on the blog lately. Honestly, August was a slow month for business. We expected this though – see our late summer blog.  August was a heavy walleye month and pictures of dead fish on the table lose their flair after you take a few so there wasn’t much to show or talk about. In the future, August will be a heavy vacation month and harvest month for us – getting ready for the next 2 months of solid work.

The walleye bite on Eastern Lake Erie has been great out at upper 50 – upper 60s depths near the international line. We’ve been bouncing the bottom with harnesses in pink and purple and have had few if any problems catching our limit on our full day programs.

The Smallmouth Bass bite had been slow but is kicking into high gear. The river is producing more and more with each outing and those old reliable spots on the Lake are producing more fish. They are feeling the urgency of fall for sure.

I had the privilege of working as first mate for Capt Matt Yablonski of Wet Net Charters a few times this past week. What a blast! It has been very cool to see the salmon make the transition to spawning colors while staging outside the Lake Ontario tribs. It won’t be long before we start dedicating all of our time to the lower river.

Plan for Next Week

Recon work and preparation is the plan. Starting 17-September, we’re booked every day until late October. It’s to the point now that we are considering doing 2/day trips. The boat needs to be in tip top shape. We need to dial in the pattern. Finally, we need to chalk up some family time as it will be scarce for more than a month. We hope to see you out there!

The Dog Days of Winter – is That a Thing?

Are the dog days of winter a thing?

I was out fishing on the Lower Niagara River with Chuck and his bride Sara a few days ago when the concept of the “dog days of winter” popped up. Not even a week earlier, he and I both had strong days in the same spot using the same tactics. That day, however, action was sporadic. Not so slow as to make us lose interest but slow enough for us to start considering if the “dog days of winter” was a real thing. This short but interesting conversation got me wondering if there was anything I could do to prevent or minimize prolonged patterns of slow activity. I haven’t landed on a firm position on this idea yet, but I did determine that a look at myself would be a great place to start.

Dog Days or Not, a Nice Steelhead Always Brings a Smile to your Face.
Do Fish Experience the Same Lulls We Do?

Back to the day Chuck, Sara, and I were on the Lower Niagara River. If you’ve never fished this place before, click here to see what it’s like. This time of year, we fish the Lower Niagara River for steelhead and lake trout. The steelhead are there staging for the spawn and the lake trout are there recovering from the spawn and getting full on steelhead eggs and bait. Bottom line – there are many fish around – the challenge is determining what they want to eat. We tried every presentation and every lure/bait we had in the box and could only just pick away at them. What’s up with that? Why did they turn off so quickly? They are all still down there – we can see them on the sonar so why the hell aren’t they

Sara with a Nice Winter Laker
Dog Days Defined

This lull is what we labeled as the dog days of winter. I don’t typically use the phrase, “dog days,” to describe anything. However, I’m guilty of empathizing with people when they talk about the dog days of summer. The images that pop into my head when I think about the dog days of summer are a bunch of sweaty bodies hanging out on their porches, drinking something cold, just hanging in there. Sluggish. Lazy. I think (read as I’m hoping) that fish behave the same way when they find themselves in the middle of a stable weather pattern and a lot of heat.

So what images pop into the dome when contemplating the idea of the dog days of winter? I conjured a few. If you’re not from the Buffalo Niagara Region or really any of the Great Lakes bordering states, you’ll likely feel sorry for us:
– A slumped over figure
– More than a few pounds heavier than 6 months ago
– Very little skin exposed/likely wearing a hoodie and sweatpants
– The skin that is exposed is pasty
– Mindless gaze on the face caused by binge watching shows on Netflix/Amazon Prime

Mindfulness is the Key to Breaking the Cycle

I want to believe the fish are in the same situation in the middle of winter. Many of them have been in the Lower River for a few months now. They’ve seen all matter of tackle and debris flow by them. They’ve seen more than a few of their compatriots move to grab what they thought was food only to be violently pulled away in a flurry of chaos. I think it’s safe to say they are in a bit of a rut. Maybe I’m humanizing them too much (I probably am). Maybe I’m not. Bottom line, I have to assume this is the case and do everything I can to prove otherwise.

Picking away at the Tribs for Steel
Picking away at the Tribs for Steel – look at that Water Color in the Background

Proving otherwise involves a lot of thinking and physical activity. You have to change speeds, angles, tackle, bait, drifts, etc. – and hope you figure out a pattern. Your eyes have to capture and your mind has to absorb all the little details. Your hands will likely be cold but you can’t let that prevent you from changing lures or bait. You’ll likely be freezing but you can’t let that affect your situational awareness. Remaining mindful throughout the struggle is the best way to stay engaged and your best shot of figuring out a pattern.

Final Thoughts

As charter captains and guides, we spend a lot of time on the water and all of us experience slow periods in fishing. Sometimes it’s only part of the day. Sometimes it can last a couple days. For the most part however, we catch fish regularly (we’d better – it’s our job). That’s not to say it’s easy, just that we spend a lot of time doing this so we can get things dialed in a bit faster than the average angler.

When we find ourselves in a slow period, all we can do is a better job of taking notice of what’s going on and experiment with ways to combat the lull. Most of the time we’re successful. Sometimes we aren’t. Those hard periods are the gems – the learning opportunities – OR they are just a message from Mother Nature reminding you that there is a warm couch back home and that you’d be better off going there than floating down a river in the cold. My mother would tell you that listening to what she said was never a strong suit of mine.

Notes on Recent Fishing Activity

Dog days of winter or not, we’ve been on the water.  Yeah, it was a bit slow toward the end of this past week.  All that rain and high temperatures melted every bit of snow and completely saturated the ground and our regional, Great Lakes tributaries.  Just about everything was blown out over the weekend but we hung in there, tried a bunch of techniques and flies, and managed to land some fish.

Although the tributaries were a bit problematic due to high water, the Niagara River didn’t have that problem.  Devils Hole is still running clear and fishing well for this time of year.  Below the power authority, all the mud from Cayuga Creek, the Erie Canal, and Buffalo Creek caused by the rain and snow melt is clouding up the water quite a bit.  The upper Niagara River, although clear, is full of icebergs now as yesterday’s gale force winds blew them downstream from Lake Erie.  We won’t head back out on the Upper until that stuff clears out.

Josh – just happy to be out there.
Josh – this was the first time he had ever gone fishing and he managed to land a steelhead on a fly rod. Nice work, Josh!
Ruben – having a blast. This was his first time fishing – EVER. He hooked 3 steelhead – all of which broke him off (and bewildered the hell out of him). We’re glad he had fun.
Mark – intensely trying to figure this fly fishing thing out.
A Bro Vacation on the Water – Mark, Josh, and Ruben visiting WNY from Cleveland. They planned on going skiing – Mother Nature had different plans
Notes on Upcoming Fishing

We are about to experience a very mild stretch of water.  The tribs will clear up quickly now that all the snow is gone so we plan on spending some time walking over the next few days.  The Lower River continues to fish well for steelhead and the sporadic lake trout so we’ll be spending time on the big water as well.  If you find yourself lookin for a cure to the dog days of winter – give us a call! 

Winter Fishing in Buffalo Niagara – 20171218 – 20171225

Winter Fishing in Buffalo Niagara – 20171218 – 20171225

Winter fishing in Buffalo Niagara can be magical. Right now, as I type this, there are thousands of steelhead and brown trout in the lower river and great lake tributaries throughout the region. While cold weather keeps many anglers and would-be anglers inside, those that avoid the shack nasties will capitalize on relatively unpressured waters. That’s exactly what happened this past weekend.

Look at how awesome that water color was. It almost looks gray from this angle due to the snow
Mother Nature Coats us in White

Starting Friday and carrying on throughout the rest of the weekend, Mother Nature pounded us with snow. Over 3 inches accumulated on my boat (as well as the other boats in the Lower River) as we fished throughout the day on Saturday. It was that really crappy kind of snow too – cold, wet, and penetrating.

Thanks to Matt Yablonski of Wet Net Charters for taking this pic of John and I loving life

Although all of our protective clothing is high quality and waterproof, none of it could withstand 6 straight hours of consistent, wet snow. After about hour 3, we had to warm up with the “My Buddy” space heater on every 3rd drift to be able to feel our hands enough to reel and tie knots. Sound grueling – it would have been but the catching was excellent. Honestly, we stopped counting. Quality steelhead after quality steelhead was brought to the net.

Lesson Learned – Endure and You Can Reap the Rewards

I don’t have a ton of pics to show. Knock me or doubt me all you want on the quantity and quality we landed that day. Honestly, we got to the point that we’d rather have functioning digits to reel in the next fish than freeze for that quick snap. It was the right call.

She was new to the river. Her scales reflect that gorgeous snow covered scene

Aside from the steadily falling wet snow, conditions were excellent. Yeah, there was a north wind, but it was slight. Water clarity was perfect and there were a ton of fish around. We struggled on the first couple of drifts using eggs until I made the call to switch to plugs – we were rewarded on the first drift. It’s always cool to see a plan come together. Plugging is great because it’s a little faster paced than bouncing eggs and egg patterns, the hit is awesome, and it saves my hands from the ceasing up that would occur if I had to steadily re-rig new egg sacs.

Look at all that snow. The fish couldn’t tell. They loved it.
John with a grip and attempted grin (frozen face)

Conditions were perfect by every measure on Sunday – and we didn’t fish at all. That’s always devastating. If we’re not booked, we often have to balance personal and family time with the urge to fish. Considering we had some last minute Christmas shopping and other personal commitments in the way, we ended up passing. It hurt – I’m sure those that did fish Christmas Eve had an awesome day.

Looking Forward

Looking at the extended weather forecast, this week is going to be brutal. Although we pride ourselves in fishing in some harsh conditions, angling in single digit and low teen temperatures isn’t really worth it. Any slight wind slices like razors on exposed skin. Line freezes on reels and guides. Trolling motors get a mind of their own. Random mechanical issues pop up. Clients end up going internal quickly if you aren’t catching fish on nearly every drift. These are just the obstacles frigid temps pose for big water winter fishing. Walking and wading the creaks around the region offer different challenges when it’s insanely cold.

On the inland creeks and great lakes tributaries, frigid temps pose similar problems. Guides freeze up on fly rods. Feet freeze from wading. Hands freeze from landing fish (if you do). Shelf ice and slush forms on the water thereby preventing a good drift. Bottom line, we won’t be on the water this week.

Always Have Something to Look Forward To

Although not fishing for the next week or so will be painful, we’re comforted by the fact that we depart for Guyana next week. Arapaima, peacock bass, wolf fish, arawana, and more await our flies. Thinking about two weeks living with Amerindian tribes and catching true river monsters that likely have never seen humans is comfort enough. Stay tuned!

We hope you enjoyed your Christmas Holiday and are able to do the same over New Years. We also hope that this little piece gives you a different way to think about winter in Buffalo Niagara. Although winter fishing around here can be grueling sometimes, it often rewards mightily. Especially when you can experience a winter wonderland of snow, ice, emerald water, and big fish. Give us a call if you want to experience this first hand.

Fishing Buffalo Niagara – Fall 2017 Update

Fishing Buffalo Niagara  2017-10-11

Fishing Buffalo Niagara Fishing this fall has been excellent. From salmon to smallmouth bass to steelhead to musky – choosing what to fish for is a tough call. We’ve been focused mainly on salmon and musky lately. Although our love for smalljaws is powerful, it’s nice for us to give them a break for a bit. Both for our sake and for the benefit of the fish. Steelhead are in the tribs but some of the daytime temperatures have kept water temperatures prohibitively warm. Recent cooling trends and rain will divert some of our focus to the fall steelhead run this weekend!

On Salmon

Salmon fishing in the Buffalo Niagara region is strong right now. There are certainly kings in the Lake Ontario tributaries but the Lower Niagara River in in the middle of prime time. Water temperatures are a bit warm for this time of year so the run is getting stretched out perfectly. Although some of the fish we are catching have been in the river for a while, bright fish pop up regularly.

We’ve been starting every outing dragging 3-way rigs with skein. This usually produces fish somewhat quickly. However, patience wanes rapidly on the “skein train.” In order to keep things engaging, we’ve introduced “crankbaiting” for salmon to our last few clients. It’s been a blast! Catch rates may be a bit lower than on skein (experiment in progress) but when a king smashes a crankbait, it’s an unforgettable experience. Those hits come frequently and after experiencing one, we’ve noticed our clients reel enthusiastically in anticipation of the next one. That “next one” often comes soon thereafter.

On Musky

The musky action keeps getting better in the upper Niagara River. Cooling water temperatures and schooling shad are causing musky to move to their fall haunts and feed regularly.

On Angling Nirvana While Fishing Buffalo Niagara

Nate said it best – I’ve reached a point of angling nirvana. Although our culture butchered the real definition of that word, I’ll try to repair that a bit by providing this definition. Nirvana: a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, nor desire, nor sense of self.
Not to get too deep here but if you fish often, or you’ve been at this angling-thing for a long time, this mindset happens naturally. I’ve written about this before in a previous essay but I am going to walk a different path on this little piece. I want to discuss how I reached this mindset fishing our local waters in the Buffalo Niagara Region.

Just a Dude Who Likes to Fish

I just like catching fish – remember, “Just a dude who likes to fish.” I prefer to do so with fly fishing tackle. In fact, I have done just that in many ways (streamers, nymphs, dries, etc), on many bodies of water, for many types of fish. However, these days, if the situation warrants it (like deep water, raging wind, crazy currents) I’m just as happy to use conventional tackle

In some fly fishing circles that comment would be blasphemous. The fact is, I really don’t care. Remember…nirvana. If anyone wants to question my abilities with a fly rod or wants to label me as a sellout – please do. I’d love to have the conversation.

The Benefits of Being a Jack-Of-All-Trades in Angling

Notwithstanding judgement from some purists in the fly fishing world, being a jack-of-all-trades in the world of fishing and guiding just makes sense. The biggest reason for this is: not everyone fly fishes. Moreover, many anglers that claim they fly fish only wet a line a couple times a year. The reality is there are FAR MORE conventional anglers out there than fly anglers. Many of these conventional anglers want to hire a guide. Why would I deny someone that opportunity because I don’t use a particular type of tackle? Their intentions are the same as someone wanting to hire me for a fly fishing trip. They just want to fish, experience the outdoors, and have a good time. So do I! Plus, I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people and teaching them about responsible angling practices and how to fish in general. It’s a win-win!

If you’re a guide that isn’t completely booked with clients who want to fish ONLY the way you want to fish – you’re selling yourself short not becoming a jack of all angling trades. Every time I’m on the water with a client, my goals are simple:

1. Give them the opportunity to catch as many fish as possible (the bigger the better)
2. Ensure they learn something – a new technique, how to be a responsible angler, etc.
3. Laugh and have a good time
4. Advocate for the Buffalo Niagara fishery/represent the region proudly

Skilled, knowledgeable, and responsible use of every tackle type is the ticket to accomplishing goals 1 & 2. Goals 3 & 4 – that’s a separate topic entirely based on your personality.

To Beef or Not to Beef – That’s the Question

It’s somewhat sad that I need to address this but I feel compelled to do so. Call it a tinge of guilt I think I may be experiencing if this ends up disappointing someone that thought I was fly fishing purist. Beefs between the fly fishing, conventional tackle, tenkara, and centerpin community are well cataloged. Why these beefs exist are numerous but overall this proclivity toward trash talking is nothing but divisive and unproductive. There’s a lot we can learn from each other.

Personally, I’ve never played into it. From age 5 until my mid twenties, I was purely conventional tackle. I was cocky about it too until my boss, who was a fly angler, smoked me in a weekend competition in South Florida. It wasn’t long after that when I purchased my first fly rod and I remained purely fly for nearly a decade. I went that route mainly to hone my skills. I stayed on that path for a long time because the waters flowing around the places I lived and traveled during that period were ideally suited for fly fishing.  Since moving back to the Buffalo Niagara region (where I’m from and where my angling life started) I’ve re-introduced conventional tackle into my arsenal. I have no regrets.

Reconciling the Differences

I try to be reflectively skeptical about my positions and arguments. So allow me to take the position of a fly fishing purist for a minute. Let’s assume that I remained pure to fly angling since starting our guide service. A client calls me wanting to fish. I tell that client that I’d love the chance to give him/her that day of memories. I follow that comment up with something like:

“Have you ever fly fished before?”
“Well, I only do fly fishing trips. But don’t worry – I can teach you and we’ll get into some fish.”
“Ummmm – OK.” Or worse, “Never mind, I’ll find someone else. Thank you!”

How to Respond

Here’s the one problem with that situation: that person had a picture in his/her mind that I just clouded with a complete unknown. Another problem is that fishing Buffalo Niagara, especially on the big water like Lake Erie and the Niagara River is not easy for entry-level fly anglers. I can clarify that further but that’d be another essay altogether. Yet another problem is that even if I could teach a brand new fly caster how to throw a type 7, 250 grain, sinking line over 60 ft in about an hour – the catch rate is dramatically lower when compared to conventional tackle in most instances.

The point is why would I force a potential client (and myself for that matter) into a situation that dramatically reduces the probability of actually catching fish? Or, revisiting the original question – why would I deny a person the opportunity to catch fish and experience the bounty of the Buffalo Niagara region (and turn down business) by limiting myself to one type of tackle?

The Transition to the “Dark Side”

I couldn’t come up with an answer as to why I would deny potential clients based on tackle type. In turn, I had to re-acquaint myself to the conventional tackle world. It was so much fun! With the help of a couple local fishing buddies (Chuch Yauch and Kyle Gordon) and charter captains (Jim Hanley and Larry Jones) I spent day after day on the water pursuing fish the “conventional” way. Learning new tricks and patterns every time I went out, I caught a ton of fish and my clients benefitted from my efforts.

These days, I’m far more apt to use conventional tackle on the big water (Lake Erie and the Niagara River) than fly tackle. There are a few reasons for this:

1. I catch WAY more fish that way
2. That’s how the vast majority of my clients and potential clients want to catch fish so I need to put myself in their shoes as often as possible
3. I’m genuinely enjoying myself…nirvana


As shown in our Re-Discover Your Region Series, I still throw flies regularly – all over the country in fact. My 50 states on-the-fly before I’m 50 goal remains and will never die. However, these days, I’m the kind of angler that prefers catching fish using the method most likely to lead to success (snagging not included). The security of high probability is comforting – it brings me to that nirvana mind set. Still, I use all tackle types to keep the sword sharp. Maybe an angler can reach nirvana by remaining pure to one way of fishing. All I know is that I couldn’t get there. I guess the purist won’t know either – unless he/she tries something different.

Buffalo Niagara Winters: Stave Off the Shack Nasties

Buffalo Niagara winters can be painful…if you let them

Although our region is known for an insane amount of snow and frigid temperatures, it’s really not all that bad.  At some point, years ago, we got a bad rap.  I’m not sure how, because Buffalo Niagara winters aren’t even in the top 20 coldest in the lower 48.  We don’t get that much snow either.  Sure, every once in awhile we get a strong blast of lake effect snow but it melts quickly and just creates a soggy mess.

This bad reputation for horrible winters in Buffalo Niagara is truly a shame.  Even some of our locals buy into it.  That kind of sucks because this should be a winter tourist destination (more on that in a minute.  The real issue – just one guy’s opinion – is the wind and clouds.

Days often go by where the sun won’t poke out from the clouds and the winds rage in the upper teens to lower 20s MPH.  That lack of sun and the sometimes screaming wind often keep people indoors.  Cocooning like this creates what’s called the shack nasties.  This disorder causes pale skin, depression, weight gain, and a general malaise toward life.  NO WAY!

We refuse to be bound up indoors!  After all, look  at what we’d be missing if we did.  Oh yeah, the fishing is pretty good too.  Click here for details about our winter fishery. 

The mighty Cattaraugus River
The mighty Cattaraugus River
The mighty Cattaraugus River
Winter Steelheading on Lake Erie Tributaries
Sword and sheath
Parking Lot Prep
Winter Steelheading on Lake Erie Tributaries
TFO Promo
Steelheading = lots of casting

Don’t get the shack nasties!!!  Give us a call to experience this region first hand instead of looking at it on a little screen.

Midas Cichlids are a Blast – if You Can Get One to Commit

Aren’t these guys incredibly photogenic?  This is a Midas Cichlid and he put up a fight well above his weight class. Thanks to Scott Rose for putting me on this beautiful little guy!  Drop Scott a line if you want to chalk-up this species along with many other SFL canal inhabitants (http://www.peacockadventures.com/).

I’m thinking this is going to be a yearly trip for me.  Maybe a destination for a Rediscover Your Region Episode.

Here’s a quick blurb from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about this fish. Notice what it says about the sporting quality:

Midas Cichlid: Cichlasoma citrinellum

Has multiple color phases (or morphs) ranging from dull gray and black to orange, red, and even white; all young start off gray, looking much like small bluegill or Mayan cichlid, but most change to brightly-colored morphs, starting when they are about three inches long; a mottled coloration indicates a fish in transition; in Florida, more than 95% of adults greater than 10 inches are brightly colored, but this ratio is nearly reversed in their native range; males and females equally likely to be brightly colored; pronounced forehead nuchal hump associated with breeding present in some fish; like most other cichlids this one has broken lateral lines.
First discovered in Florida in July 1980, now common in the Black Creek and Cutler Drain canal systems in Miami-Dade County. Native range includes Atlantic slope of Nicaragua and Costa Rica where more common in lakes than rivers.
Prefers clear-water, box-cut canals with lots of shoreline crevices that they use to hide from predators.
Spawning Habitats:
Similar to other substrate spawning cichlids that provide biparental care; parents also produce a mucous body covering fed on by young; females mature by 7 inches and males by 8 inches; March through May appears to be the peak spawning season.
Feeding Habits:
Feed primarily on snails and other benthic material including aquatic insects, small fishes, and some plant and animal matter attached to or associated with submerged logs, leaves, rocks, etc.
Age and Growth:
Reaches just over a foot in length, and can weigh over 2.5 pounds; males tend to be larger than females.
Sporting Quality:
Rarely caught on hook and line, but can sometimes be aggravated into biting; no bag or size limits.
Little known, but probably good.

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Re-Discover Your Region: The Sublime Chaos of Autumn

For our second episode of Re-Discover Your Region, we explore the raging waters downstream from our first video – below one of the natural wonders of the world.   Amidst the breathtakingly beautiful fall foliage that lines the canyon walls, see how we pursue the anadromous King/Chinook salmon as they make their fall spawning run.  We follow up an awe inspiring day of fishing with a great meal and some equally great beer at Woodcock Brothers Brewery.  Enjoy and please share!
Special thanks for video production goes out to Colton Wright.  He outperformed his last piece of work on this one.  You can contact him at [email protected]  Additional thanks goes out to the Santa Lucia brothers at Santa Lucia Global, LLC for their outstanding drone work – they were critical to making all this come together.  You can reach them at www.santaluciaglobal.com.
 Additional thanks goes out to:
– Woodcock Brothers Brewery – for running a top notch establishment and proudly representing our hometown
Temple Fork Outfitters – for all the rods and some of the reels used
Flymen Fishing Company – for some of the flies featured in the film
Lamson Waterworks – for some of the reels used
Alumacraft Boats – for developing the ideal boat for our big water fisheries
Minn Kota Motors – we couldn’t do what we do without the Terrova iPilot
Mercury Outboards – for getting us where we need to go with a quickness
Simms Fishing Products – for keeping us comfortable and protected when we are on the water
Scientific Anglers – for producing the best lines for our year round fishery and multiple species
Cabelas – for outfitting us with various equipment from tackle to  our watercraft
For more details about our fishery and the options available to anglers and those interested in a fun day outside, please explore our seasons and species pages on our website.  We talk to anglers and people interested in angling all the time and most are surprised that we can still fish throughout the fall and winter here in Western NY.  Oh yes, we can!  It’s our favorite time of year to get out there!.  Give us a call – 716-704-5144.

Re-Discover Your Region: Brookdog’s Breakout in Buffalo, NY

This video, Re-Discover Your Region, is the first of what will be a series of short videos that feature Western NY in its resurgent glory.  From local eateries, to spectacular scenery, to the diverse fisheries of the region, we will explore WNY from the air, land, and water and showcase the area in a new and exciting way.  Please enjoy and share!
Special thanks for video production goes out to Colton Wright.  He is a true artist and an extremely talented producer.  You can contact him at [email protected]  Additional thanks goes out to the Santa Lucia brothers at Santa Lucia Global, LLC for their outstanding drone work – they were critical to making all this come together.  You can reach them at www.santaluciaglobal.com.
Additional thanks goes out to:
Blane Chocklett – for mentorship and guidance
Big Ditch Brewery – for running a top notch establishment and proudly representing our hometown
Mossy Creek Fishing – for some of the flies featured in the film
Temple Fork Outfitters – for all the rods and some of the reels used
Flymen Fishing Company – for some of the flies featured in the film
Lamson Waterworks – for some of the reels used
Alumacraft Boats – for developing the ideal boat for our big water fisheries
Minn Kota Motors – we couldn’t do what we do without the Terrova iPilot
Mercury Outboards – for getting us where we need to go with a quickness
Simms Fishing Products – for keeping us comfortable and protected when we are on the water
Scientific Anglers – for producing the best lines for our year round fishery and multiple species
Cabelas – for outfitting us with various equipment from tackle to  our watercraft
For more details about our fishery and the options available to anglers and those interested in a fun day outside, please explore our seasons and species pages on our website.

Algonquin Adventure: A Musky Epic

We just finished another epic trip to Algonquin Provincial Park!  It was a fly fishing guide vacation that included myself (Ryan Shea), Nate Carr, Tony Lohr (of 85th Day Angling), and Nick Sagnibene (of Adventure Bound on the Fly).  We made the short drive north of the border to this little slice of musky heaven on a Friday and spent 5.5 days on the water.  I usually don’t like to write about specific spots (I’m not going to disclose the river we fished) but I am confident that our fellow anglers won’t blow up this location – it’s logistically taxing to get to and fish.  Unless your idea of a vacation is going to a location where there are no roads, no cell service, brutal portages, unpredictable weather, frigid nights, eating freeze-dried foods, and sleeping in the dirt in the quest to catch the fish of 10,000 casts, what will follow isn’t for you.  However, I’m sure this description piqued your curiosity so hang in there – if for no other reason than to see some of the incredible pictures.  Here is some guidance for a do it yourself (DIY) trip to Algonquin Provincial Park.

Planning is CRITICAL:  Remember – your biggest constraint is space. 

Sure, that’s a blinding statement of the obvious when preparing for any trip but in the case of an Algonquin adventure, your life depends on it.  Think that’s dramatic?  Picture this – you’ll spend at least 5 days on the water in a canoe.  Once the shuttle drops you off and you push away from shore, you’re completely on your own.  No roads, no way to call for help, no way to harvest food (unless extremely small bass make it on the menu).  You’re out there…and it’s perfect!  A little careful planning will ensure you have a great time and remain relatively comfortable.  Just remember, your biggest constraint is space – everything you need to survive must fit in your canoe.

A quick view of the scenery and canoe set up
A quick view of the scenery and canoe set up
Short bank break. Take note of the canoe set up
Short bank break. Take note of the canoe set up

Meals:  Eat to survive while maintaining morale.

One thing that will take up a significant amount of room in your canoe is food.  Plan your daily meals carefully but remember that everything must be shelf stable.  There are numerous options available – from freeze-dried meals, to “just add water” food packets, to canned goods, to trail mix.  Of utmost importance in planning for daily sustenance is to consider how active you’ll be once you’re out there.  On a trip to Algonquin, someone will always be rowing.  Someone will always be casting.  You’ll have to hike for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of yards around rapids with a canoe on your shoulders and a large pack on your back.  When you set up camp, there are tents/hammocks to set up, wood to harvest, fire to start, food to prepare, etc.  In other words, you’ll be moving constantly and burning calories at a rapid rate – even more so if it’s cold – so make sure to include calorie rich foods but don’t be monotonous.  A good variety will keep you focused, maintain morale, and sustain high energy levels.

Survival Equipment:  A careful balance between safety, comfort, and cubic inches

Another large space consumer is the equipment you’ll need to survive.  You’ll have to prepare meals, cut firewood, treat small (hopefully not big) injuries, purify water, start fires (maybe in wet conditions), etc.  Like meals, there are numerous options available to accomplish these tasks.  Stoves, small handsaws, fire-starter logs, knives, pots, pans, cooking utensils, headlamps, bug repellent, plates, sporks, aquatabs (to purify water), rope, and many lighters should make your packing list.  I could get prescriptive here but some of this list depends on what food you plan on preparing.

You’ll also need safety equipment like a first aid kit, spare parts for your canoe, and personal floatation devices.  The outfitter you choose can provide this for you – but I’ll discuss that later.  Although Algonquin is breathtakingly beautiful, it can be a hostile place if you’re not prepared.

Clothing:  Keep it simple, get used to being dirty, and dress for the occasion.

This is the hardest issue to discuss as it completely depends on when you plan on going up there.  Anglers can go extremely light in the late spring and summer – shorts, wet wading shoes, and a couple of layers for cooler nights.  Bugs will be your biggest obstacle this time of year – the black flies and mosquitoes are MISERABLE in Algonquin.  Make sure you have bug nets and insect repellent.

If you make the trip in the fall, bugs will not be a problem but there are other obstacles to consider.  Packing clothing for fall weather is far more complicated as the weather can change rapidly.  Fall in Algonquin consists of cooler days and cold nights, which necessitate numerous layers and protection from the rain – getting wet is inevitable but getting soaked to the bone is miserable and potentially deadly.  The biggest concern this time of year is hypothermia – it’ll ruin your day quickly if you start shivering as you’ll have to get off the water and build a fire, which takes up precious fishing time.

Regardless of the season, make sure you have at least one change of clothes in case you get wet as well as a warmer set of clothing to sleep in.  Morale will increase exponentially in the evenings if you can change into warm, dry clothes as you settle in for a meal by the fire.

Happy as hell and dressed for the occasion. I was ready to experience the rising vibes of what was to be an evening frenzy.
Happy as hell and dressed for the occasion. I was ready to experience the rising vibes of what was to be an evening frenzy.

Racking out:  how to get a good night’s sleep in a primitive campsite

This section is simple – the most important item required here is a sleeping bag rated for the projected temperatures of the trip.  Don’t be afraid to go bigger here – the better you sleep, the more focused and energized you’ll be on the water the next day.  If the nights call for temps in the 30s, go with a 25 degree or 0 degree bag.  If it’s going to be in the 60s, go with something that’ll keep you comfortable in the 50s.

For overhead cover and protection from the hard, rocky ground, you can go with either a tent/tarp and inflatable mattress set up or the leaner profile afforded by a hammock and rainfly set up.  Both have pros and cons but I’ll say this much – make sure you practice setting up your hammock and rainfly prior to going up there.  Let’s just say getting into your sleeping bag and remaining comfortable throughout the evening can be an exercise in futility if you aren’t used to hammock life.

Fishing Equipment: Few of these fish have ever seen a human let alone a fly – they aren’t picky feeders. 

Under normal circumstances, I keep my fly selection simple – focusing on what fish are feeding on at the time.  My Algonquin fly box is even sparser.  The musky up there, if they are active, are anxious to kill anything that enters their zone so if it displaces enough water or makes enough noise, a fish will attack if there is one around – more to come on this topic.  It’s always difficult to talk fly anglers off the ledge of having every fly imaginable at their disposal but I am serious when I tell you that all you’ll need is a small boat box with about a dozen 8-12in musky streamers of your favorite colors and a few big top water flies.

To get your flies out there, you’ll need 12wt rods with 450 grain sinking lines for streamers and 10wt rods with intermediate and floating lines for top water flies.  You’ll also need redundancy in all the rods you bring – plan on at least one breaking (we broke one and lost another – long and painful story).  Think of it this way – you’ll be casting big flies all day every day, will frequently switch from subsurface to topwater tactics, and will break your rods down for every portage.  Something is bound to happen to a rod and the last thing you want is to be confined to one method of fishing.

You should also bring plenty of 40lb fluorocarbon, wire bite guard leader material, wire cutters, swivels, snaps, hook sharpeners, mouth openers, and a good net (not a cradle – although more space efficient, they are tough to use when operating from a canoe).

Look at the battle wounds on those topwater flies
Look at the battle wounds on those topwater flies
A little souvenier - a musky tooth embedded in a topwater fly
A little souvenir – a musky tooth embedded in a topwater fly
Another topwater beast - 2 big ones from the same drift!
Another top water beast – 2 big ones from the same drift!

Packing it all up: Maintaining a snag free casting platform while ensuring efficiency during portages. 

Notice that there are five distinct paragraphs leading up to this section.  That’s how we binned our packing list.  We rented four, 100L dry bags from the outfitter and filled them as follows: 2 x bags with clothes, waders, boots, hammocks, and rain flies – one bag per boat if you’re fishing with 4 anglers.  1 x bag with survival gear.  1 x bag with food.  1 x boat bag per boat with fishing equipment.  Rods were either in hand, folded up in a rod carrier, or set up and stationed off the back of the canoe.  If you do the math, each canoe had 2 anglers; 2, 100L boat bags; 2 rods that were set up (1 with sinking line and one with floating line); 2 rods that were stowed; 1 boat bag; and 2 PFDs.  This created plenty of snag casting space in the bow for the angler and plenty of legroom for the angler on the oars.  I told you planning for this was complicated!

Provisioning: a reliable outfitter with quality equipment will save you time and $$$

We rented boat bags, some safety equipment (we could’ve rented all of it but had much of our requirements already on hand), and canoes from our outfitter.  The outfitter also provided the shuttle service.  There is only one outfitter that services the area we fished: Algonquin Bound Outfitters.  Click on this link for more details.  They are extremely helpful and can help you plan a detailed packing list and itinerary.

The fishing:  If you’re a musky head like us, there is no better place for numbers amidst incredible scenery. 

I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking here but I will say one thing pictures can never show – these fish are voracious predators.  Sure, musky are never easy to catch but in Algonquin, they are FAR EASIER than the norm.  We boated 25 fish in 5.5 days and almost every fish took top water flies!  Making matters even crazier is that we hooked very few of these fish on the first take.  Nearly all of them would crash a fly, miss it, and keep coming back as if it was pissed off that the thing wasn’t dead yet.  We had fish buttoned up, come off, and go right back after the fly as if feeling a sharp hook was some sort of defense mechanism of its prey.  Some came back to the fly more than a half dozen times!  REDICULOUS!.  Enjoy the pics.

The primitive campsites were great!
The primitive campsites were great!
Getting ready for muskies in the mist
Getting ready for muskies in the mist
Yet another miCROski - you seeing a trend yet from my exploits? They were still beautiful though. And the takes!
Yet another miCROski – you seeing a trend yet from my exploits? They were still beautiful though. And the takes!
Tony's first 'ski on the fly - his look of relief and bewilderment is classic!
Tony’s first ‘ski on the fly – his look of relief and bewilderment is classic!
The big fish of the trip - one of the few taken from deep water on a streamer
The big fish of the trip – one of the few taken from deep water on a streamer
Tony casting into the dusk
Tony casting into the dusk
Another downstream shot - take note of the placement of the net and additional rod
Another downstream shot – take note of the placement of the net and additional rod
A little fall foliage as a backdrop to some epic fishing
A little fall foliage as a backdrop to some epic fishing
Tony posing for the shot - take note of how much space he has in the front of the canoe
Tony posing for the shot – take note of how much space he has in the front of the canoe
Me with a miCROski - I couldn't keep the little guys away from my fly
Me with a miCROski – I couldn’t keep the little guys away from my fly
Look at that smile! It's as if the fish knew it was posing for the camera
Look at that smile! It’s as if the fish knew it was posing for the camera
Look at how beautiful this guy is. The fish, of course. Nick's not too shabby himself
Look at how beautiful this guy is. The fish, of course. Nick’s not too shabby himself
Taking it all in before shooting a rapid
Taking it all in before shooting a rapid
Me with yet another miCROski
Me with yet another miCROski
Figure 8s were key as those fish kept coming back for more - Nick making it happen rain or shine
Figure 8s were key as those fish kept coming back for more – Nick making it happen rain or shine
One of Nate's topwater skis - look at that background too
One of Nate’s topwater skis – look at that background too
Grease flowing through conifers
Grease flowing through conifers
The net is alway at the ready
The net is alway at the ready
Nick with one if his first studs
Nick with one if his first studs
We got into them almost immediately
We got into them almost immediately


Nate with an Algonquin stud
Nate with an Algonquin stud
View from one of 5 campsites
View from one of 5 campsites
The beauty never ceases
The beauty never ceases