Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — CARLTON — The salmon making their way through the Oak Orchard River had a tall task if they didn’t want to end up as a trophy catch or a dinner entree Monday, as dozens of fisherman flocked to the shallow and slow-moving river to take advantage of the holiday and a great opportunity to land the big one.
Outside of the St. Mary’s Archery Club, it was clear that the popularity of Orleans and Niagara waterways as fishing destinations does extend far beyond our counties. Cars bearing licenses plates from states across the northeast filled the road to a shallow water fishing spot where anglers positioned themselves on both sides of the river every ten feet or so.
The same is true on the lower Niagara River, inside the Olcott and Wilson harbors and at Sandy Creek and nearby lakes, where the spawning season for king and coho salmon, steelheads and rainbow trout has drawn an overload of attention — and for good reason.
“There’s so much variety in the fish and fishing opportunities,” Orleans County Tourism Sportfishing Coordinator Mike Waterhouse said. “From the boat you have trawling from shore, some guys on the point are throwing spoons and stick baits, guys on bridges doing rattle traps, guys on the rivers are fly fishing, center pin or spin casting ... there’s people that come up just for chinooks for a few weeks. People that want brown trout and steelheads ... a broad variety of fish all in the same waters.”
The popularity of the not-so-secret fishing spots might be a bit of a nuisance for anglers who want the water all to themselves, but officials in both counties are hoping to pull in more people to their shores.
“We have a world-class fishing resource,” Bill Hilts Jr., the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation’s outdoor sports specialist said. “We have to promote it — this is a big economic driver.”
Among the efforts to expand notice is an I Love NY program that promotes the local fishing spots in the United Kingdom, where more than 3 million fishermen are stuck on an island where most fishable rivers are surrounded by privately owned land. The push picked up a couple of ambassadors this week, as North Londoners Ed Burgass and Bryony Allan enjoyed a long weekend of fishing in Niagara and Orleans counties bookended by trips to Niagara Falls and New York City after winning an online contest sponsored by I Love NY and the Wychwood Fish and Tackle Company.
Burgass found out he had won the online contest while he and Allan were on their way to the athletics competition at the London Olympics.
“He had a grin for two months,” Allan said.
Their “trip of a lifetime” touched down Wednesday in New York City, where the couple caught their first baseball game — a pennant clinching victory for the Yankees — before heading west for a day of sightseeing in Niagara Falls and sampling of local wines.
“Everyone has heard about the falls, but they are amazing,” said Allan, who sells the rights to television programs for online and international broadcasts. “We really enjoyed the wine, of course, he had to try the one called Salmon Run.”
They began a five-day fishing odyssey Friday in the 18 Mile Creek and continued Saturday on the powerful Lower Niagara River. With the help of Hilts and charter boat captains Dan Evans and Joe Marra, Burgass and Allan pulled in a few big catches.
“We went to the Devil’s Hole and had a big battle with a salmon — I won,” boasted Burgass, who runs flyfishingmap.com, an online resource for information about fishing destinations, as a hobby. “It’s just for fun now, but it’s growing.”
The trip and the big catches continued Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with Waterhouse and charter captain Jason Franz showing off the fly fishing experience on the Oak Orchard River and in Sandy Creek.
Alongside the river Monday, the Londoners were impressed by the sea change in fishing philosophies.
“It’s really strange to see so many people fishing,” Burgass said. “(In the U.K.) it’s more exclusive ... it can cost about $1,500 a day for the best rivers, but you’d have it to yourself.”
“I like that you can go around and stop where you want,” said Allan, who caught a “fighting fit” rainbow trout in Sandy Creek to go along with the 25 lb. king salmon Burgass nabbed. “There’s more people, but there’s an etiquette. And the scenery is beautiful.”
Despite the differences, the act of fishing and the reasons to do it are the same. No matter where you came from the meditative experience of trying to get on the same wavelength as the fish your seeking is one to enjoy.
“People do it to get away from it all, you concentrating on the fish,” Burgass said.Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.