I’ve had the privilege of pursuing smallmouth bass on the fly in almost every state where they’re native as well as others where they are now wild. They are my favorite fish. One of my friends recently told me that smallmouth bass are my spirit animals. I provide this little slice of my background with smallmouth bass because Nate and I have been contemplating an idea that some might think would tarnish my love for the species or for angling in general. However – we’re confident that it won’t. Here it is: It’s our personal goal to set the fly tackle world record for smallmouth bass.
Take it Easy – Keep Reading
I’m not trying to make a case that I’m a talented smallmouth bass angler. I’m just a guy who happily pursues them on the fly, has had some pretty good success over the years, and am rarely, if ever, disappointed by this pursuit. However, I am disappointed about the lack of love our region receives for pursuing smallmouth bass on fly tackle.
The conventional tackle world has known about the quality of our smallmouth bass fishery for generations. More than half of our conventional tackle clients last year in May and June were NOT from New York. We want the same balance to emerge with fly fishing clients. How better to evoke this shift than appealing to the ego?
A World Record? Really?
Honestly, I’m ambivalent about setting the fly tackle world record for smallmouth bass. I’m not a record chaser but I understand those that pursue world records. Although ego plays some role in this pursuit, I’m willing to bet that most people who pursue records do so because they are goal oriented. Like my goal to fish 50 states on the fly before I turn 50, pursuing world records focuses travel plans, allows you to meet new people, and forces you to learn new techniques. Plus, there’s the added benefit of quantifying and cataloging your efforts in a captivating way.
Although I rarely count fish caught in a day or take measurements, I completely understand why people do. It’s that statistic, that figure, that one can toss into those inevitable conversations we have as anglers – the infamous “fishing stories.” This tendency to make comparisons is completely natural and if done so respectfully, can provoke thought and improve everyone’s game. Add “world record” to the conversation and things take on a tone that’s a little more serious and a lot more captivating.
Time for the Buffalo Niagara Region to Represent
Setting a fly tackle world record for smallmouth bass in the Buffalo Niagara region is VERY POSSIBLE. I personally broke the record last year and I know of quite a few more people that did as well. You may be asking yourself why nobody from the region claimed the title. I can only answer for myself but I’m willing to bet it’s the same answer for everyone else – we didn’t know what the record was.
Late last June, a friend and I were reflecting on a particularly insane day on the water when he asked what the fly tackle world record for smallmouth bass was. I didn’t know. So, I looked it up. Here’s the chart but you’re better off clicking here so you know it’s official:
6lbs 12oz – That’s the target. If one was so inclined to break any of the tippet class records – that’d be easy to accomplish if you put in the work.
Why Put this out There?
Some people reading this might be wondering why I’m introducing this idea to the masses vice quietly going for the record myself and showcasing it once accomplished. The answer to that question is simple: as I stated before, I’m not a record chaser. I want the Buffalo Niagara smallmouth fly-fishing scene to gain the fame it deserves. If one was to look at the IGFA as a source for information that people can use to pursue the biggest fish of the species – we’re not even registered!
I don’t care who earns the record – if the region gets the exposure it deserves – mission accomplished. So, I guess this is a call to arms for local fly anglers that have access to a boat and love to pursue smallmouth bass on the fly. Let’s all try to break the record.
If your name is currently on the IGFA record board, stand by – I’m very confident it won’t be there after this year. There are more than enough fly anglers with boats in the Buffalo Niagara region to break these records just fishing casually in early summer.
I’m not worried that a ton of people are going to read this and make plans to try to break the record – our following isn’t that big. Plus, this record would be very difficult (but doable) to break from shore. You really need a boat or access to a boat to move the odds in your favor. Those that have access to a boat, will be out there anyway. Those that don’t have access to a boat, book a trip with us – we’ll be out there daily as well – booked or not.
My primary concern in all of this is the safety/well-being of the fish. Read all the IGFA rules and regulations CAREFULLY (tap here). Watch this for proper handling procedures (tap here). A fish that breaks the fly fishing world record is a gem – a natural wonder – don’t shit all over it like humans often do. Admire it, handle it carefully, and let it go.
See you on the water!
Note: every bass pictured in this article could’ve broken a line class world fly fishing record. One of them – you know which one – would’ve beat it by 3/4 of a lb.
Women anglers – if you don’t break the record here this year, you didn’t put much time on the water. In other words, it’s yours for the taking.
I can only speak for myself, but March felt like the longest month ever here in Buffalo Niagara. Very high highs and very low lows. The following article is by no means a knock on our fishery. In fact, I challenge anyone to find a place in the U.S. that fishes better than the Buffalo Niagara region during the month of March. Considering that we are spoiled in that regard, I will tread lightly. However, I think it’s a fun exercise to relate to whomever wants to read this what the past 31 days has been like. It’s been an emotional journey that, because of the numerous challenges we experienced, ultimately made us better anglers.
You Know it’s March When…
To make this somewhat easy to read, I am going to divide my observations of the longest month ever into a few parts. Part 1 will address the weather. Part 2 will address the tactics. The emotional spectrum will comprise Part 3. Finally, Part 4 will be what we have to look forward to next month. Here it goes.
Part 1 – March Weather in Buffalo Niagara
You know it’s March when:
The Forecast is wrong/right 50% of the time.
You see the highs are supposed to be in the 50s so you go light on layers. That’s a mistake, as find out the hard way, because the water is still cold. Like below 32 degrees cold. Water that cold still produces a layer of cold air above it that causes you to freeze your ass off when on the water.
Once per week you think spring is here only to wake up and find snow on your driveway.
Bookings are lighter than normal – it’s even hard to get your friends to come out to endure the cold.
People start seeing the sun for the first time in months and decide to wear shorts around town. Ridiculous!
You fantasize about NOT wearing gloves. Actually, you try it a couple times just to remember what it feels like only to end up regretting it shortly thereafter.
The tributaries start locked up with ice, then flood, then get super clear. All in short order.
March weather in the Buffalo Niagara region is a roller coaster. Only the most resilient can endure. One would think that because we’ve been fishing for the past 4-5 months in frigid temperatures that we’d be used to it. We are used to it but this is the time when it becomes taxing. Being cold gets REALLY OLD. When conditions start to get to you, you’ll find that you keep telling yourself, “4 more weeks until good weather.” Well…one can only hope.
Part 2 – March Fishing Tactics
You know it’s March When:
You start thinking 6lb test might be too heavy for the big water.
Even if you’re running a 7ft leader, you still think it’s not long enough.
You start tying bags of every color and size imaginable in the hopes that one will be more productive than the other.
Minnows vs beads vs sacs becomes a heated debate among friends.
Weight size, rod length, line type, and reel type also become topics of debate.
You begin to believe, perhaps rightfully so, that a half digit on your trolling motor speed will make all the difference in the world.
You start experimenting with new tactics you never thought to use before.
March fishing tactics are somewhat different than the other, “easier,” times of year here in the Buffalo Niagara Region. Because Lake Erie is still frozen, it keeps the sediment levels down in the Niagara River. Low sediment = the clearest water of the year. Often there is close to 20ft of visibility in the Lower Niagara and more than that in the Upper Niagara. Stealth becomes key. Matching the hatch becomes extremely important. You find yourself constantly questioning everything. I believe this is an awesome opportunity – if you can do well in March, you’ll crush it the rest of the year.
Part 3 – The Emotions of March
You know it’s March when:
You have an awesome day on the water followed by an extremely slow day. Same conditions, same drifts, yet far less fish. You don’t know why. You find it hard to accept. You start questioning reality as a result.
You start wondering if March is the better month for your annual family vacation instead of January.
Although you are stoked to get on the water every day, somewhere around 10:00, with only a couple fish in the boat, your frustration levels start simmering.
When it’s sunny out, you tell yourself that it’s just great to be out there.
When your clients say, “That’s why it’s called fishing and not catching,” and you aren’t frustrated.
You begin to feel like all confidence is false confidence.
Maybe I’m showing too much of my hand in this section – but that’s just me. I wear it all on my sleeve and my friends, colleagues, and clients know that about me. I love this profession PRECISELY BECAUSE of the range of emotions we experience every day. It makes me stronger and it makes our clients appreciate the skill required to do this job well.
Of course, I prefer an easy-going day where we end up boating numerous fish. However, if it was like that every day, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much. If all days were “great days” none of them would really be great. People from the Buffalo Niagara Region pride themselves on embracing the idea of delayed gratification. We’re no different.
Part 4 – What we have to look forward to
You know it’s the END of March when:
The forecast has rain instead of snow and you are POSITIVE that the rain will produce a fresh run of fish.
You don’t care how cold it is, you don’t wear gloves just to make a statement to yourself.
Fresh runs of steelhead start showing up in the tributaries as well as the Upper and Lower Niagara River.
Big browns start feeding like crazy in the tributaries as well as along the mud lines in Lake Ontario.
Lakers, smalljaws, cohos, and kings start crushing baitfish on the Niagara Bar.
The removal of the ice boom on Lake Erie is coming REALLY SOON.
Hope/optimism shoots up.
Trees start budding.
Every hen steelhead you catch drops eggs.
The rest of the non-angling world finally thinks it’s safe to go outdoors and the charter business starts booming.
March is over and spring is here my friends. It’s time for you to re-embrace the outdoors. Give us a call if you want to get outside.
Yeah…so…I’m fighting off a potentially ravenous case of the shack nasties. My hope is that by exercising my brain a bit by writing this blog, I’ll continue to stave off what could be something truly horrendous. Over the past few years, we’ve discussed numerous strategies to help you avoid getting nasty when it gets wintery outside but I had an opportunity and I took it. That’s right – I tried to contract shack nasties over the past few days. I was going to be trapped inside to some extent – why not learn from it?
Why Even Try This?
Why would I intentionally place myself in a situation where I can catch a case of the winter’s number one killer of people who inhabit great lakes bordering areas? I’m talking about shack nasties of course. Why would I want to contract the nasties? For a couple of reasons:
1. To see how the other side lives
2. The weather was such that…well, it was almost unsafe to go outside. Schools shut down (my daughter was stuck at home with a bored mother and father), many businesses closed for a day or so, the roads were a mess, etc. – there was little incentive to leave the house. This is the ideal environment for a shack nasty epidemic by the way.
I’ll let you decide which reason had the greatest weight. Bottom line, it was a risky situation.
The following will describe, in a very fragmented way, what occurred during my bout with shack nasties. It’s choppy and bulleted because that’s basically what life was like when hunkering inside. For some, it’s a frantic quest for stimulation – to avoid feeling caged. High highs and low lows. For others, it’s a fast track to sedentary behavior – binge watching shows, savage “consumption” of social media, and eating garbage. Small pulses of consciousness to go to the bathroom, shove food into your face, or click “next” on our remote to keep the binge going is about all the stimulation you can muster.
Staying Sane by Getting Insane
The quest for stimulation when you’re stranded indoors can be a weird one. There are countless ways to stimulate oneself if left to one’s own devices. However, repetition or persistence of any one behavior/activity will eventually lead to adaptation/mindlessness/boredom. In other words, remaining stimulated over extended periods of time requires you to have numerous options for stimulation available. You also must have the mindfulness to know when enough is enough and it’s time to move on to the next thing.
Priming the environment with options for stimulation is relatively easy. For example, everyone has a “to do” list. It’s incredibly likely one can accomplish some of the items on that list while stranded inside. If you’re one of the rare few people that can’t work on something from your list, there are a ton of options to keep your mind and body engaged:
– Exercise – Reading – Watching a Documentary – Listening to Podcasts – Writing a blog (hahahaha) – Catching up with friends – To name only a few
All you need to prime your environment is your mobile device and some things around your house you can use for resistance training. Bottom line, you must see being trapped indoors as an opportunity to accomplish something meaningful to you.
The Sedentary Pattern – Shack Nasty Precursor
Think about this for a second – when you leave your house and engage with the outside world, you interact with things that are completely out of your control. I’m just talking about simple things…like weather or other people. These interactions are incredibly complex and even though they aren’t always conscious, a stimulation takes place. A stimulation that requires a decision and action. No matter how small that stimulation might be, it’s enormous compared to anything you’re experiencing when you’re locked inside during a winter storm.
When you’re inside, you have immense control over your environment. You can influence, with little to any interference from the outside world, what you experience across all senses in your home/dwelling.
– What you see: Paint, artwork, furniture, general cleanliness, etc. – What you smell: use of air fresheners, what’s in the trash, bathroom sanitation, cooking, cleaning products, etc. – What you hear: volume levels on TV/devices, conversations in other rooms, appliances, etc. – What you feel: clothing you wear around the house, choice of bedding, carpet vs. hardwood floors, etc. – What you taste: pretty obvious – you’re gonna eat what’s around you.
With that amount of control, it’s easy to set it and forget it. In your home, you can create an ideal operating environment/maximize comfort in such a way that the requirement for thought becomes rare. Enter the shack nasties.
The Route I Took
For those that know me, the route I took won’t come as a shock. For those that know me well, the details of what I ended up doing won’t come as a shock either. The goal – deeper self-awareness. It sounds heady and it kind of is but not in obvious ways.
When I returned from Guyana nearly 2 weeks ago, I had what was referred to as a “rude awakening” by a couple of my friends and clients. It was 90x colder here than it was there. Yeah – it was 90 when I departed Georgetown, Guyana and it was 1 when I landed in Toronto.
This shock, plus the fact that I was off the grid for nearly 3 weeks, gave me an excuse to hunker down and get caught up. However, I also knew I had to reacclimate to the cold while getting my body back into shape to endure the rest of the Buffalo Niagara winter on the water.
Getting Caught Up and Cleaned Up
Separating the wheat from the chaff in my inbox was relatively easy. The same goes for my social media notifications and trip requests so getting caught up with the rest of the world didn’t take much time. With that behind me, I moved on to consuming the dozens of pod casts and news articles I missed when I was in the jungle. However, I didn’t want to just sit on my ass and listen/read. What else could I do from my house at the same time?
My answer to this question aligns with my goal for this period of confinement – self-awareness. I saw an opportunity to experiment on myself with a couple things I believe have a direct impact on the way I act/feel/think. Maybe you can learn from it too. Maybe not. Worst case scenario – the morbidly curious will get some deep insight into my psyche.
I am not going to give you definitive conclusions or even half-baked theories about some of these experiments. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m really using the correct word, “experiments.” Here it goes:
I think I first heard about cryotherapy on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast and since figuring out how to get used to the cold after returning from the jungle was on the to-do list, I started doing some research. It’s a relatively new thing some people are claiming has benefits for your mind and body. In fact, there are cryotherapy clinics popping up all over the place so there seems to be a demand.
I’m NOT a scientist and I DON’T have the time to do extensive research on cryotherapy. I AM a fishing guide with limited disposable income, and I DO have access to some extremely cold conditions. Plus, I’m always down to learn and experience new things.
While laying on the floor of my attic in front of an open window, I had a ton of time to think. Oh yeah, my attic isn’t insulated so it’s the perfect cryochamber…right? One of my revelations while lying there was that for me, being cold was like being angry.
It was a negative feeling that I could negotiate through relaxation and breathing exercises. There were times I was in near zero temperatures for over 30 minutes with nothing but a pair of gym shorts on. Don’t believe me? Ask my wife and daughter – the past few days confirmed their suspicions that I am insane.
What does this mean/what’s the value of this information? Not much…I guess that how we “decide” to perceive the world has some bearing on our reaction to it. The laws of physics, whatever they are, I’m sure apply/create limitations. I’m just not all that confident that we have the slightest clue what those limitations are.
Prior to starting this, I believed I’d freeze my ass of. Having finished it, I guess I’m better acclimated to the cold. Plus – I now know what it feels like to go from warm to near hypothermic and how it affects my mind/thoughts/physical ability/etc.
As a species, we evolved in harsh conditions that tested our mental and physical limits. Maybe those tests enhanced our connection to the natural world. Maybe those tests released hormones in our body that stimulated a survival response – one that made us think of ways to avoid feeling that way again. I think testing your own physical and mental limits, somewhat regularly, is valuable for getting in touch with something a bit more primordial than what we experience in our daily lives. Consider the alternative – acquiescence to the shack nasties/stagnation.
I was a supply chain manager and fiscal officer in the Marine Corps many years ago. I mention this because for years I’ve managed budgets big and small, complicated and simple – this includes my own. It’s in my nature to be curious about numbers so managing budgets is fun and interesting to me.
You might think the charter business budget is the most interesting for me to track considering it’s my livelihood. However, it’s still a very new data set and therefore difficult to get deep into determining trends. I maintain strict accountability of all earnings and expenses but for now, I’m still gathering and analyzing data.
In contrast to the business expenditures, our household spending trends are well documented across numerous years. What bothers me most is how much money we spend on food. We eat pretty clean around the Shea household and unfortunately, it seems to be expensive to do so.
I’m not going to get into the numbers but eating clean puts our monthly expenditures on food at an uncomfortably high percentage of our monthly income. Monthly expenditures for food, rent/mortgage, vehicle payments, investments, and healthcare are all nearly equal. This has been our “normal” for quite a few years now so I felt compelled to shock the system by fasting and not buying food until the entire fridge was empty (not including condiments).
The decision to do this was sudden. I looked at the budget last week and said, “Damn, I spent a ton of money at Federal Meats and Whole Foods the last few months. Did we need all that food?” So, without looking, I made the decision that I’d live exclusively off of what was in our refrigerator/freezer…until it was all gone…before going food shopping.
We don’t typically store a ton of food in our refrigerator/freezer so it only took 3 days to consume it all. However, I stretched the timeline by skipping meals and reducing quantities. Honestly, I could’ve finished off our stores in about a day.
Even though I reduced caloric intake during this period, I maintained excellent energy levels. I also got hungrier than I’ve been in recent memory but for some reason felt awesome at the same time.
Like the thoughts I had on cryotherapy – I think there’s value in subjecting your body and mind to adversity for all the same reasons. Try fasting sometime. Pay attention to when you’re hungry. What do you crave? Something sugary or fatty or salty? Look in the mirror – you’re an addict. How do you act? Getting cranky, can’t compose thoughts, tired? That sounds eerily like withdrawal.
Just like being cold, something as simple as what you eat and when you eat it can influence your mood. That’s probably something worth paying attention to or at least having some self-awareness about before engaging other humans…any activity for that matter.
It was interesting how much energy I had when I got over the mental hurdle of being/feeling hungry. Again, like being cold, there was a huge mental aspect to it. Sure, there is a physical limit – before performance decreases and general health declines. However, I’m still not sure I’ve ever been to that limit. Have you? You would think that once you determine how far/long you can go without sustenance, all you need to do is consume slightly more than that to optimize performance. For some reason, this is insanely hard to do today unless you make a concerted effort to do so.
Finally – forget about food for a second – what monthly cost can you “shock” just to see what happens? If food isn’t it, what about recreation, booze, drugs, investments, etc.? A good shock always creates opportunities to learn.
More Shack Nasty Avoidance Ideas
If you made it this far – thank you for reading. Hopefully it was a quick way to alleviate the shack nasties. Here are a few more experiments I messed around with:
Getting 8 hours of sleep every night – awesome! Gotta make this a priority.
Staring out the window – sometimes, I had to marvel at what was going on out there with the wind, cold, and snow. It was beautiful. I was also monitoring my driveway and trying to decide how often to shovel.
Checking in on the river – that was a daily thing. It’s been a mess but cool to see as a natural phenomenon.
Gearing up for the spring/summer – stocking up on bass and walleye supplies, purchasing new clothing and recycling old clothing.
Hope is in the Forecast
This will have been the longest string of days in the past 2 years that we haven’t fished. I pick up the new boat this week and will be on the water getting her slimed up as soon as it’s clear enough. The forecast looks promising. Although I learned quite a few things during this “polar vortex,” none more important than the fact that shack nasties aren’t inevitable if you have a plan. Especially if your plan involves making it a point to get out of your comfort zone. Give us a call – we have the perfect way to help you out!
Why can’t we hairless apes avoid the negative aspects of tribalism? Acting superior without thought or basis, rushing to judge, haplessly tossing labels around, etc. All that counterproductive, generally negative behavior even manifests in our recreational pursuits. As a community of anglers, we need to consider how all this inter-tribal rivalry looks from the non-angling population. Especially to those that are considering getting into fishing. We owe it to ourselves to work with one another/try to understand one another in order to demonstrate the overall benefits of this primordial pursuit to would-be future anglers. For the sake of the sport…for the sake of our environment.
What am I Talking About?
Where is all of this coming from? I’m not going to waste my time providing examples tribalism within the angling community. Every angler reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. There are what amounts to 3 large tribes in the angling community:
Within these 3 general groupings, there are thousands of sub-tribes with their own rivalries and distinct languages. Moreover, one could easily come up with a different, overall tribal grouping. An example could be catch-and-release anglers and harvesters. The names of the tribes and their associations don’t matter. The community of anglers is rife with tribalism. The argument that follows suits every level of inter- and intra- tribal behavior.
People get into fishing for many different reasons. Some enjoy it right away or at a minimum, find it interesting enough to decide to pursue the passion of angling as a personal endeavor. Maybe because their virgin angling experience involved great weather and a ton of fish. Maybe because that first time on the water opened their eyes to how fishing helps relieve stress. Whatever the reason, many people continue to fish for the rest of their life after that first time on the water.
Consider these budding anglers as a blank slate. Someone, or a small group of people, will form and shape that individual’s growth. Unfortunately, far too many beginning anglers start off with mentors that are deeply tribal, hell I’ll say it, radical and close minded in their beliefs. Perhaps a little naively, these new anglers adopt the ideals and beefs of the tribe with little to no thought.
Why Does this Happen?
Newcomers to a community want aid, encouragement, and mentorship at most and ambivalence at least from the other members. The act of associating with or considering oneself a part of a specific community/tribe implies a desire for some sort of acceptance. A pride of belonging. Such behavior is completely understandable. However, I am imploring all newcomers to think and ask questions before giving yourself a label.
Regardless of one’s reasons for deciding to get into angling, everyone wants to enjoy it. Tribal drama, both on and off the water, is an impediment to the enjoyment one should experience while fishing. If one engages in tribal drama, one will miss out on what should be an enriching and enjoyable activity.
Try to Rise Above the Fray
You can avoid tribalism and fishing, or be a casual observer of the behavior, by becoming a generalist. There is no “best” way to fish. There are hundreds of methods with hundreds of their own variations. All have advantages and disadvantages, and all have radical, tribal instigators.
Ignore anyone who claims, “it only counts if you catch a fish _____.” I’ve seen that statement many times on Instagram. Every time I do, I want to throw up. ONLY COUNTS TOWARDS WHAT?!?!? Here’s my message to anyone who uses a line like this:
Is your ego so frail that you have to make up some bullshit competition that only you can win because the other competitors don’t even know you’re playing a game? OR are you just copying a hashtag someone you admire used and now you’re doing it because you think it makes you “cool?”
New anglers should also avoid anyone who claims superiority of method. As I mentioned above – there is no best way to fish. The word best is completely subjective. What’s the definition of the word, “best?” Does best mean most effective? Most effective toward what end? Catching the most fish? Catching the biggest fish? Providing the greatest amount of fulfillment? Only the participant can answer that question and that question is best answered through exposure to a multitude of experiences.
There is a ton to learn in the pursuit of our quarry. Why not exchange best practices instead of putting someone down who does things differently? If you think this idea is too soft and sensitive, then just don’t engage. If your ego is so frail that you really need to hype yourself up, please try doing it in a way that doesn’t claim superiority. It’s easy – just set an exemplary example.
Where Does Brookdog Fishing Company Fall?
We started as generalists and remain generalists. A hunger to continue learning and developing relationships with fishy people keeps us motivated. We’re disgusted by tribal superiority complexes. We’re disturbed by hapless judgements and the casting of labels.
We just want to fish and have a good time. Sometimes we use fly tackle. Other times we use spinning tackle. We put casting gear to use. We troll. Every once in a blue moon we’ll bust out the Tenkara rods. We’ve also been known to fish under floats. It’s all fun. It all works. Sometimes one works better than the other. Sometimes they all work the same. Every time it’s a blast.
We don’t always, “keep ‘em wet” – we respect the hero shot for the memory of the experience it provides to our clients and friends. Besides, sometimes we eat the fish we catch so when we plan on doing so, why would we “keep-em-wet?” They are going right into the live well with severed gills moments after that photo and into the skillet a few hours after that. Sometimes, we’re voyeurs of nature that help people trick our quarry into eating what’s on the end of the line in order to experience a fight and/or connect to something wild.
Stay Drama Free
Label us and others however you want. It really doesn’t matter to us as we don’t pay too much attention to all the drama. However, occasionally, we feel compelled to offer our angling colleagues a different way of thinking when we notice a negative trend. So here is our take on tribalism and angling: avoid it…don’t align yourself with a tribe. Just be a person who wants to fish and enjoy drama free days on the water. Well…I guess that’s kind of a tribe of its own.
No…I am not going to go on another rant about avoiding the shack nasties. Hopefully, you understand our perspective on how remaining cooped up all winter is a recipe for a slow, yet assured, descent into depression…or worse. I would like to dedicate some time to challenging a few paradigms about charter fishing in the winter. I’m writing this in order to inform locals about a few natural wonders that go on in their back yard ONLY in winter. It’s also my hope that non-locals will read this and find it so interesting that they feel compelled to visit. Here we go…
That Initial Shock
In our previous blog, we discussed reasons why winter fishing is not crazy. In fact, we concluded that it’s completely sane. Here, I want to get to the root of why people seem to instinctually respond this way. Last week, a client remarked that he was surprised to see so many people fishing in the winter. The shoreline in Devils Hole and Art Park was lined with a strong number of anglers. The River was lined with numerous charter boats and recreational anglers.
To someone witnessing and participating in this for the first time, I can see why it seemed a little foreign. If I asked you to picture yourself skiing, even if you’ve never done it before, some image will likely pop into your mind. I think the popularity and presence in popular media make this possible. The same might be the case if I asked you to picture tailgating at a Bills game. Or ice fishing in a hut.
Winter sports and many other outdoor activities are popular in areas that experience freezing temperatures and snow. This is why it’s understandable that people can conjure images of these activities. However, if I asked you to picture yourself floating down the canyon of a river in a comfortable boat while catching big, beautiful, trout, you might start twitching. Your reaction would be like Harland Williams in There’s Something About Mary. You know – that scene when Ben Stiller shattered his and dreams during a discussion about the length of ab workout videos.
A Winter Fishing Charter is Completely Foreign…for Good Reason
I think the reason it’s so difficult to imagine something like this is because it’s only possible in a few places in the world. Think about this for a second. How many places can you think of where a massive strait is moving water from one inland/freshwater ocean to another? That’s an immense amount of water to consider. I had clients from Maine here last winter who were blown away and slightly frightened by the size of the Niagara. When there is that much water moving around, even though it gets incredibly cold, it keeps on flowing.
Water that cold takes on a greenish hue that’s difficult to describe. After Lake Erie freezes, it’ll run gin clear nearly every day. Sometimes, one can see steelhead, lake trout, and walleyes peeling away from the boat in over 20 ft of water. It’s kind of surreal.
It Makes Sense if You’re Concerned – but Get Over It
Aside from how foreign floating down a near frozen river in cold temperatures seems to one’s imagination, there is a rational fear or kind of a cringe in response to the idea. “Why would anyone in their right mind expose themselves to water when it’s cold outside?” I get it – but consider this:
Don’t Concern Yourself with the Thought of “Getting Wet”
One rarely, if ever, gets wet on a winter charter trip. The occasional light spray may occur but nothing that has any noticeable adverse effect. In other words – getting wet isn’t an issue. Think about it – when was the last time you heard about someone fishing from a boat in the winter that got hypothermia? If your charter captain knows what he/she is doing, the thought of getting wet passes within minutes of boarding the vessel and driving upstream.
It’s Likely You Already Have the Right Gear to Do This
Even though your chances of getting wet (in an uncomfortable way – hell, your hands better get wet after holding the fish you catch) are low, one still needs to respect Mother Nature and dress accordingly. Often times, this is the biggest obstacle. Many people believe they don’t have the clothing that will allow them to go fishing in the winter.
What you are really saying is that you don’t have clothing that will allow you to spend a few hours outdoors in the winter. Because that’s all it takes for you to go on a charter trip in the winter. If you don’t have that kind of clothing, well, that’s kind of crazy. If you live where freezing temperatures and snow storms are likely and you don’t have clothing that’ll allow you to spend a few hours outside, you need to rethink your situation. Any outfit you’d wear for a long walk outside will work. Warm socks, boots, layers for top and bottom, and a shell or coat that’ll shield you from the wind.
You may be imagining yourself, fully exposed, getting pelted with snow. Clear that image out. Generally, unless we have particularly hearty clients, we won’t fish when the snow is really coming down. Visibility becomes an issue as does deck safety. This is just another way of me saying that you’re likely more prepared to go on a charter fishing trip in the winter.
Consider this as well – the high yesterday was in the mid-20s. The “normal” reaction to that temperature is to think, “It’s too damn cold to go outside.” BUT…it was sunny, and snow was melting everywhere. If you bothered to walk around outside for a bit, you likely noticed that it was comfortable, even with minimal layering. In other words, you should challenge yourself to think differently about what weather conditions are pleasant and which ones are not this time of year.
You’ll Be Rewarded for Taking the Chance
If you overcome the mental obstacles to getting out there and you make a little wardrobe adjustment, you can reap an immense reward. You can experience catching large, beautiful trout, in spawning colors, in an incredibly beautiful setting. The upcoming cold-weather months are the only time of year you can see something like this.
From the perspective of most people who hire a charter captain for a trip, it’s just great to be out there, making memories with their friends. That’s the business my colleagues and I are in – creating an experience that will stay with you for a long time (we hope).
After all, winter is the season of the holidays. People tend to get together far more often and/or connect with family they haven’t seen in a long time. What are you going to do with your tribe? Sit around and watch TV? Eat some food? Go to a movie? Drink beer? Cool…I guess. For a couple days maybe. Even if that sounds incredible, break your days up a bit, get some fresh air, recharge the liver and fight some fish.
Consider a Winter Fishing Charter…That’s All We’re Asking
As residents of the region, we are aware that winter in Buffalo Niagara is rife with opportunities to have fun outdoors. If you already have a hobby/activity that eats up those few weekends where weather will allow you to get out there, you may not have time for a charter (although, we hope you can fit it in at some point).
If you don’t have a winter hobby but are considering getting into something instead of rotting indoors, I hope this article made you think about taking a charter fishing trip this winter. Let me rant really quick – I don’t care if you are hitting the gym daily throughout the winter, you’re still going to end up unhealthy if you don’t get outside – O.K., rant over.
I’m not going to bore you with numbers and statistics. I would like to encourage you to compare taking a few charter fishing trips this winter to some other options to get outside. I’m confident you’ll find that winter charter trips are an extremely economical, convenient, and extraordinarily enriching option. We hope you’ll give us a call or do some research to challenge or confirm this idea.
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!
It’s late summer people. Even I have to kick myself in the butt to shake the late summer lull. If you’re a resident of the great lakes region, you do everything you can to maximize your summer. Why do we behave this way you westerners and southerners may ask? Because our winters are harsh and some of us hibernate. The problem with this way of life is that many of us take it too hard during the first few months of summer. So hard that by now, mid-August, many of us are worn out. Shake off that late summer lull my friends. There’s still a few weeks of fun remaining.
A Recent Revelation
A couple days ago, I was tying leaders on my boat in my driveway when I felt something. It was something I haven’t experienced in quite some time – a chill. The breeze blew, clouds shrouded the sun, and I got a little chill down my spine. I experienced something similar yesterday when I was fishing with my daughter. It was warmer in the river than outside. Today – I wore a hoody during the morning commute to Lake Erie.
The morning and evening temperatures seem a bit cooler. Days are getting a bit shorter. It’s late summer alright. Do you feel it? Although many of us have had incredible summers thus far, a sense of urgency should be on the creep. There are only a few weeks left until the kids go back to school and schedules start getting a bit more complex. Now is the time to get a second (or third or fourth) wind and get the most out of this last month of summer.
These emotional peaks and valleys us great lakes folks experience define our culture in a way. We take pride in the fact that we can cram a ton of fun into a short period. We work hard and party harder. Delayed gratification is THE ONLY WAY to truly enjoy something. Having something to look forward to fuels our work ethic – I just gotta grind a bit more and then all will be well. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still – there’s one month left before we really start seeing some change and I want to maximize every bit of it.
It’s Late Summer – Steelhead…Really!?!
It’s been happening more and more lately. Although it’s late summer, social media has been simmering with TBTs and old pics of people gripping and grinning steelhead. There is a substantial faction of the angling community who are already thinking about the fall run. Unfortunately, these folks are missing out on some awesome, late summer angling, going on right now.
My friends, the stockers can wait. Don’t fret – the leaves will change, snow will fall, it’ll get cold, and steelhead will show up. They will also stay around for 7+months so you’ll be able to fill that emotional void and keep it full for quite some time. For now, get outside and enjoy our late summer action on the big water. Flip flops, a choice beverage, and a quick dip into the water to cool off every once in awhile. Don’t have a boat? Give us a call – we can help you out.
Observations from the Water
Smallmouth bass are starting to strap on the feedbags. Like us, they have been in a bit of a late summer lull but that’s changing. I’m guessing they sense that the days are getting shorter and that’s triggering them to pack on the pounds before the water gets cold and prey species become less available.
Higher water temperatures make them want to work a lot less for their food, so they are chowing down on easy meals around rocks and structure. Half-digested crawfish and gobys have been showing up on the deck of the boat – little donations from the stomachs of boated smalljaws.
We’ve also been doing a lot of walleye fishing. This is a new game for us but were getting it dialed in. From talking to my colleagues, this has been a banner year. Although I don’t have a frame of reference, it’s been fantastic. They are such an excellent eating fish. So much so that I’m going on a walleye only diet for a week. I’ll get ripped – watch!
I also went out with Matt Yablonski of Wet Net Charters for my first summer king trip. Those fish are incredibly strong – a different animal than the ones we’ll be catching in the lower river in about a month.
Plan for Next Week
Bookings are a bit light. That doesn’t matter though as we’ll be on the water anyway. Bass and walleye will continue to be the focus. The forecast looks excellent. Get out there and enjoy it while you still can. If you want to spend some of that time on the water – give us a call!
The adage that it is not about the destination it’s about the journey sounds cliché when you’re young. (Yeah – this is going to be another philosophical piece so if you want the fish porn, scroll to the bottom and check out the pics). Watch, someone will comment that I’m still young (I’m 40).
I may be young compared to many but I’m old in the eyes of my colleagues in their 20s and probably on the older side of the guide community. I digress…the point is that when I set goals when was in my 20s it was all about accomplishing them. As I’ve matured, I’m beginning to realize that the journey is much more important.
The Foundation vs the Journey
When I was in the military, I wore my accomplishments on my chest in the form of badges or medals. Few cared how I received them (I barely did) – it was typical male boastfulness on full display. Kind of like a male peacock spreading it’s feathers or a male brown trout with a huge kype jaw. The display was as much about impressing other dudes as it was to impress the opposite sex.
These days, it’s far less about boasting (I still have an ego – it’s just less dominating nowadays) and more about how I internalize the experiences the journey of life provides. In recent years, I’ve found that reflecting on the journey, living in the moment, makes life much more fulfilling.
The 50 before I Turn 50 Goal
Something like 15 years ago, when I first began fly fishing, I dove in head first. With typical male, testosterone laden thought, I wanted to prove to everyone I encountered that I wasn’t some chump. I wanted to prove that I could fish among the best anglers and make a name for myself.
Since I was in the military and I moved around a lot, the best way I could come up with to do this was to fish as many places as possible, learn as many techniques as possible, and catch as many species as possible. Admittedly, it was all about chalking states and bodies of water – something like earning medals in the military.
With chalking in mind, I began recording my endeavors in an excel spreadsheet – a brag sheet I could bust out like a resume if anyone challenged my abilities. Within a year or so, the idea of catching a fish on the fly in all 50 states before I turned 50 became a goal. It made sense – what better way to test my skills and learn a ton while doing so all while having a statement I could boast to people in conversation.
Goal Setting Isn’t Necessarily All Bad
This mindset had some benefits. It helped me plan trips every year. It kept me focused. It placed a timeline out there for which to hold myself accountable. All tenants of effective campaign planning in the military. However, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized that I was too focused on the goal and not what was happening before my eyes.
Every journey exposed me to new and interesting people. Each journey took me to new and wonderful slices of nature – all distinct yet the same in some ways. As I made myself reflect on these experiences, I realized how lucky I am to have a passion and to have the opportunity to meet others on their own journey that share the same passion.
Oh – I’m still going to accomplish that goal. Partially for some of the same reasons I set out to accomplish it back in my 20s. However, the journey has become my focus nowadays. The travel. The people. The fish. The environment. Hell, if that wasn’t genuinely my focus, the journey could end up being a grueling endeavor.
Case in Point
I was in Martha’s Vineyard this past weekend with my wife fishing with Abbie Schuster of Kismet Outfitters. How did I end up in Martha’s Vineyard? I was trying to chalk Massachusetts, of course…and what better way to do so than with a striper on the MA coast? The problem with using weekend bangers to chalk new water is that Mother Nature can foil your plans pretty easily.
As Abbie, Justin, my wife, and I fought big wind and rough seas trying to find fish, I found myself smiling – almost laughing out loud at the hand Mother Nature dealt us. The conversation flowed. We laughed at the situation. We exchanged stories and had a genuinely great time – with few fish to show for it. The journey was the center of attention – landing a blue fish on the fly and chalking MA was icing on the cake. If we skunked – whatevs – we would just come back next year. But we didn’t skunk, and I’ll be back anyway.
Observations from the Water (20180715 – 20180721)
The bass bite has been awesome lately. I don’t really need to say much more than that. They have been where they are supposed to be – deep buckets near shoals and on sandy bottom with good rocks. Both the river and eastern Lake Erie have been fishing extremely well. The bass have been packing on all the weight they lost during the spawn. I’ll let the pictures tell it.
Plan for This Week (20180722 – 20180728)
We’re booked every day. We will continue to fish Lake Erie with a little bit of the river mixed in. Give us a call if you want to get on the water. The bass action will continue to be excellent for the months to come.
Disclaimer: I’m not a spokesperson for all guides by any means. I am junior in this business with only a little over 2 years under my belt. Although I may be relatively new to this industry as a professional, I feel compelled to write about my observations…for posterity sake. It would be an added benefit if my colleagues actually read the content and provided meaningful commentary in response. Either way, I believe what will follow to be of sound logic and will resonate with most if not every guide out there. Here is the position: Our clients, the people around this country, are the reason we continue to do what we do.
What’s So Interesting About “The People?”
Even as a junior guide, I still spend a great deal of time on the water – a huge percentage of my conscious life. I’ve seen a lot of our local water and caught many fish around here. Some of what I see is part of routine. Other aspects emerge through exploration. Regardless of how the day unfolds, there are 3 common threads woven through every outing:
1. The People on your boat will likely catch fish or have some really close encounters (*for the musky anglers) 2. Mother Nature will throw some sort of obstacle in your way and you’ll instinctually work to overcome it, trying to do so without detection by the people on the boat. 3. Unless they are repeat clients, the people that hire a guide are all different and require different “techniques” to ensure their day is as awesome as possible.
Meeting whatever challenges emerge as part of threads 1 and 2 isn’t terribly difficult for guides. In fact, it’s probably something that occurs very “naturally” in the life of every guide. We’ve been fishing for much of our lives. We’ve caught many fish and have seen many fish caught. Point number 3 on the other hand isn’t necessarily an instinctual endeavor.
The complexities of meeting new people are highly engaging and differ with nearly every outing. For me, it’s the most exciting part of guiding. From the introductory handshake and the first look in the eye; to explaining what’s going on for the day; to building rapport; to seeing that look of panic on their first hook up; to maintaining rapport for the entire time on the water. It’s all a blast.
Report from the Last Couple Weeks (20180701 – 20180714)
In keeping with the theme of “the people,” I wanted to take a quick moment to write about the great clients we’ve had over the past couple weeks. If you just have to know about how the fishing has been – it’s been excellent. We’ll let the pictures tell it. Back to the people – every trip has been a ton of fun for it’s own reasons. The demography has been interesting:
Arizona Ontario Prince Edward Island Maryland Texas South Carolina Arkansas Massachusetts North Carolina Virginia Local
Lawyers Marketing Specialists Outdoor Industry Professionals Retirees Engineers Law Enforcement Realestate Department of Forestry
Get the idea? The diversity is immense in just these 2 demographics. How many professions do you know that put people, often complete strangers, into an intimate environment from which “escape” is somewhat difficult for 6+hours? I can’t think of any. I don’t know how many of my colleagues have considered this but to think that thoroughly enjoying this aspect of the job isn’t the central characteristic of why we do what we do is lunacy. We all love it (some more than others) but we all do LOVE IT – it’d be a rough go if we didn’t.
Plan for Next Week (20180715 – 20180721)
We have a few client trips early in the week and then my wife and I depart for a weekend angling getaway in Martha’s Vinyard. Stripers on the fly – new species, new state! Give us a call if you want to try to sneak in a last minute trip this month or get something on the calendar for August.
Late spring can be unpredictable around Buffalo Niagara and this year is no exception. Weird temperature swings, wild shifts in wind direction, and smallies transitioning to full spawn mode have slowed things down slightly. By slowed things down I mean instead of boating 40plus jaws in a day we’ve been hovering around the mid 20s. The smaller males have been defending their territory while the females have been on beds.
Fishing to the Beat of the Drum
The higher water temperatures of late spring also mark the arrival of the freshwater drum to shallower depths as they begin to spawn. Freshwater drum or sheepshead can be the bane of a smallmouth angler’s day on the water. They are voracious feeders and often beat smalljaws to what’s on the end of your line. I don’t mind them. They keep the action going and fight insanely hard. They have some cool spawning colors too.
Action Remains Consistent
Despite this late spring lull, we’ve been on the water daily – entertaining clients from Pennsylvania to Alabama to California to Buffalo. Although it’s our perception that things are a bit slow and the jaws have been a little on the small side lately – it’s definitely not theirs. Whether they are from the other side of the country or within eyesight of Lake Erie, people are consistently impressed with the size of our smallmouth bass. When this late spring lull passes – jaws will drop even further as we patrol the depth of the big water for big fish.
Observations from the Water (20180603 – 20180609)
As I stated above, the spring lull has been in effect. We’ve been catching a ton of drum, many small male smallmouths, and an entertaining number of big females. They’ve been eating emeralds, swim baits, and flies – all in good numbers. I’ll let the pictures tell it.
We had a few special guests this past week (well – all of our clients are awesome but these guests were part of a series of awesome networking opportunities) Amanda Bly, the genius behind the Buffalo Pizza Blog, and her boyfriend Evan fished with us for an evening. Rob Benigo, the artist behind Lakes Rivers and Streams, also joined us for an evening on the water. We also had the pleasure of guiding Rob and Frank of the Waterkeeper Alliance who were in town for a conference.
Plan for next week (20180610 – 20180616)
I’m taking a little vacation and headed up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with the Schultz Outfitters crew. It’s a long drive so I wanted to break it up and make a pit stop in the Detroit metro area. However, idle time isn’t my thing so while I “rest,” I’m going to wet a line with Eric Grajewski of Musk -E- Fly Fishing Adventures on Lake Sinclair. Musky, smalljaws, and white bass are in the docket for that stop. Then on to the UP for beast smallies on the fly. Looking forward to this week. Stay tuned!
We’re solidly booked for the next 2 months but still have a couple openings for anyone interested in pursuing big smallies. Plus – musky season opens next weekend and carp are showing up in big numbers on the flats. Give us a call if you want to get on the water!