Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 7, 2013

HILTS: Border water concerns affecting resource usage

By Bill Hilts Jr.
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Enforcement issues on both sides of the border are starting to not only impact the people who enjoy the natural resources we share, but it’s also impacting some businesses that tie into the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. It’s getting crazy out there and it’s starting to keep people away from a relaxing day of fishing or boating.

Let’s take the plight of a Rochester angler who enjoys what the Great Lakes have to offer in our back yard. He had hoped to fish up on Lake Erie but the winds chased him off. “Let’s head down to the lower Niagara River for a few hours of action,” was his immediate reply, a great safety valve for anglers when the need for a quick dose of fishing is required to get your head on straight again.

After a few hours of fishing, they were getting ready to call it a day when one of the guys on the boat suggested that they take a quick drift on the Queenston Back Drift. They had Canadian licenses and wanted to see if they could hit anything with their fish offerings. Almost immediately, they could hear shouting along the shoreline. As they drifted closer, it was Canadian immigration officials ordering them to pull into the shoreline.

“We see that you have called in before when fishing in Province of Ontario waters, but not this time,” they said. “Your boat is in our system. We are going to have to confiscate your boat.”

As the Rochester angler stood there in disbelief, the Canadian agency announced that they would be returning the boat back to them, but they would be required to call into the Canadian Border Services Agency any time that they would be entering in Canadian waters in the future – or a heavy fine would be applied, starting at $2,500. This was followed up with a letter from the Canadian agency. Be forewarned that they mean business!

If you’ve been boating in the upper Niagara River, that’s one of the reasons you are probably seeing increased traffic in the East River. The West River around Grand Island is almost entirely in Canadian waters.

Not to be outdone, U.S. Coast Guard in the lower Niagara River has been harassing boats of late, performing time-consuming safety checks – even when none are required. Area charter captains, recognizing that this could affect their fishing operations, will often put their boats through voluntary safety checks early in the season so that they won’t be hassled with customers on board. The boat is given a safety sticker to show that it passed inspection and that everything is in order.

Unfortunately, a few of the local Coast Guard patrols want to still wield their power and have been pulling over boats – some of which have been checked and approved by Coast Guard people in the past two weeks – to perform safety checks. As a result, the word is out around the boating community and it is keeping people off the water. The Harbor Master at the Village of Lewiston launch ramp was quoted as saying “It’s like a ghost town down there!”

We will have more on this in the future as some meetings are being set up with the local Coast Guard station. In the meantime, make sure you have the proper safety equipment on board and don’t be surprised if you get pulled over for no reason at all. Word is that they are required to pull over a certain number of boats and if local traffic is down, that will increase the odds to getting boarded.

Hooked on the Tonawandas a success

The Third Annual Hooked on the Tonawandas Tournament was held June 29-30 out of Gateway Harbor in North Tonawanda. According to local organizer Kurt Alverson, the tournament enjoyed some great success as far as numbers of competing registrants. Over 125 adults registered for the two-day event, as well as nearly 60 kids in the free junior division – double what they had last year when it was just a tagged fish contest. More than $2,000 in prize money was handed out – but it should have been double that. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a say in what was happening out there.

After the tremendous rains last Friday, the Erie Canal waters were muddied up significantly. No walleye were caught and only one Northern pike was brought to the scales. Anglers were restricted to a one mile stretch of Erie Canal that is contained within the city limits of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, so it made it even more difficult. When the event finally closed, the catch of the day was a 6.4-pound largemouth bass reeled in by Shawn Krull of Williamsville. Matt Steffan of North Tonawanda was the top carp catcher with a 14.92-pound fish. First place in the Pike division was a 2.7-pound fish caught at the end of the contest by Sean Olejniczak of West Seneca. First place perch was a 0.4-pound fish reeled in by Michael Richbart of Sanborn.

Canal fishing fanatics can continue to enjoy some friendly fishing action through this coming Sunday for the 23rd Annual Erie Canal Fishing Derby. Check out www.eriecanalderby.com for details. Open waters for this event are from Albion to the Niagara River at North Tonawanda.

NRAA bass contest set

If you are a serious bass fisherman (or woman), mark July 27 on your calendars. That’s the date of the Annual Niagara River Anglers Smallmouth Bass Classic, and for the second year in a row it’s winner-take-all for the best two smallmouth in total weight. First place is for bragging rights and a check for $1,000. You don’t have to be an NRAA member (www.niagarariveranglers.com) to be eligible for the top prize, but you do have to be if you’d like to win the $200 check for the biggest fish caught by a member. However, there is an optional entry fee for big fish overall (both NRAA and non-NRAA members).

Capt. Steve Drabczyk of Lewiston is the chairman of this event once again, and he runs this contest a little differently. The contest is held on the Lower Niagara River, Lake Ontario and its tributaries (including Canadian waters). You must launch your boat from Lewiston or Fort Niagara and check in with the launch attendant before heading out, unless you are fishing from shore. Weigh in will take place at Lewiston Landing between 1-2 p.m. Scales close at 2 p.m. sharp!

Following the weigh in, everyone is invited to attend a hot dog and hamburger picnic starting around 3 p.m. at the NRAA Nature Preserve in the Town of Porter.

There are three ways to register for this bass contest. One is online at the NRAA website; a second is in person at Creek Road Bait and Tackle, 4419 Creek Road, Lewiston; and the third is through the mail to the NRAA post office box located at POB 203, LaSalle Station, Niagara Falls, 14304. Print the application off the website or stop in to Creek Road to pick one up.

Speaking of bass contests, it might be time to think about coming up with a new format for holding these competitions. Rather than an individual fee, maybe tournament organizers should consider a boat entry fee. In most cases, the best two fish from a boat is what gets entered into the contest anyway – an advantage over the shore fishermen. The question would be how to handle the shore guys and gals?

In addition, we might want to try and stress catch and release. If this was practiced more, you would probably see additional participation from the bass clubs in the area who already have that as part of their own format(s). Bass populations are suffering a bit on Lake Ontario and DEC is attempting to coordinate a diary study out of Region 8 to the east for the entire New York shoreline. However, getting information out of DEC is not an easy process with all questions flowing through the Albany press office. You are better off contacting the Region 8 fisheries biologist yourself by calling 585-226-2246. The restrictions are only on press. Ask for Matt Sanderson if you are interested in getting involved.

This Week's Outdoor Calendar Today • The Erie Canal Fishing Derby continues through Sunday. For details, visit www.eriecanalderby.com or call 830-8434. • Lake Ontario Counties Trout and Salmon Derby continues through July 28. Log on to www.loc.org for more details or call 888-REEL-2-IN. • Deadline for signing up for the Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association (LOTSA) picnic and fishing tournament on Saturday. Registration info at www.lotsa.org. Tuesday • Niagara Frontier 3-D Archery League shoot at LaSalle Sportsmen's Club, 2445 Tuscarora Rd., Niagara Falls. Registration is 3-6 p.m. Contact Mike Martin for more info at 583-2561. • Hook on Fishing Tournament Recap meeting at 7 p.m. at the Gastown Sportsmen's Club, 154 E. Niagara St., Tonawanda. Wednesday • Iroquois Arms Collectors Assn. will hold their monthly meeting at 8 p.m. at the Frontier Fire Hall, Liberty Drive, Niagara Falls. For more info call Don Clark at 791-4628. • Rapids Rod & Gun Club general membership meeting at 7 p.m. at the Rapids Volunteer Fire Hall, Rapids Rd., Lockport. Thursday • Hartland Conservationists Club, Orangeport Rd., Gasport will hold their monthly general membership meeting at 7 p.m. • Wilson Conservation Club, 2934 Cambria-Wilson Rd., Wilson will hold their monthly general membership meeting at 8 p.m. • Lake Ontario Trout & Salmon Association general membership meeting at 7 p.m at the 4-H Building of Cornell Cooperative Extension, 4487 Lake Avenue (Route 78), Lockport. Guest speaker will be Capt. Don Ruppert on Lake Erie walleye fishing. Check out www.lotsa.org for more details. Friday • Captain's Meeting for the Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament out of Oswego County. For more info go to www.lakeontarioproam.net. • 3rd annual Curt Meddaugh Memorial Tournament out of the Town of Newfane Marina from anytime in the morning until 1 p.m. Free for boats fishing the LOTSA King Salmon Tournament on Saturday. Check out www.lotsa.org for details. • Poison Ivy education from 6-8 p.m. at Evangola State Park. Call 549-1050 for information and registration. Saturday • Day one of the Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament out of Oswego County from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Visit www.lakeontarioproam.net for details. • 10th Annual Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Assn. King Salmon Tournament and Picnic. Fishing is 6 a.m.-noon. Picnic starts at 2 p.m. Weigh-in at 3 p.m. All participants must be valid LOTSA members. $50 per boat. 100 percent payback. Register at www.lotsa.org. Everyone on board must be a member. • Devil's Hole Trail Hike from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Call 282-5154 for information and registration. • Ameri-Can Walleye Classic out of Chadwick Bay Marina, Dunkirk. For more info call 875-8148. • King of the Oak 3-Fish Tournament out of Point Breeze, Orleans County. Best three salmon and trout caught for the day. For more info call Mike Waterhouse at 585-589-3103.

Bill Hilts Jr. is an outdoor writer with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. Contact him at billhiltsjr@gmail.com.