I hadn't heard anything like this since I was hitch-hiking across Australia on the big Mac trucks, back in the early CB radio days of the 70's. Fascinating, but this was no truck, this was a Lake Erie muskie boat and the radio was just one of it's built-in toys.
The radios on the Lake Erie muskie boats are not just cosmetic accessories. They are essential. Sometimes boats may be five miles from each other yet will stay in touch by radio constantly. These guys respect the very real dangers that exist out here. The weather can turn swiftly, converting this placid lake into a watery hell. A lot of muskie fishing is carried out in the hours of darkness, so every aid to safety is considered an essential. Bright orange 'survival' floatation suits are a common sight on muskie anglers boats. When the weather is really cold these suits are important - a man in the water can stay alive seven minutes longer wearing kit like this. That seven minutes will make the difference. If he wears a survival suit then he can expect to catch more muskies. If not, then no more muskies. No more anything come to that.
Muskie, or Muskilinge to give their full name, are not quite the same as our pike. While 'our' pike ( called the 'Northern' pike hereabouts) are also found in these parts they are not quite so highly rated by the local anglers as the muskies are. Muskies grow bigger. A five foot specimen of Esox Masquinongy weighs 70lb, but five footers are the stuff of dreams. A really big one these days is a 50 incher - length being more important than weight in these parts - but 100lb muskies are not unknown. Add this to the fact that muskies are jumpers when hooked and you can see why Esox Lucius is considered the poor relation in these parts.
The big muskies spend the greater part of the year out in the main lake but when October comes around they begin to follow their food supply into the shallower, warmer waters. These are the sheltered waters off Buffalo where power stations warm the water and smaller fish, the muskies food source, can be counted by the billion. These baitfish form up into enormous shoals, great balls of living fish often forty foot in diameter. At times the baitfish can be so thick that the electronics on the muskie hunters boats can get confused. My guide told me "Sometimes I can look at the fishfinder and it tells me that I'm in just three feet of water - but I know it's thirty feet deep! The baitfish shoals are that thick".
My tutor on this muskie hunt was Al 'Battlescars' Budash. Al has been catching muskie on the Niagara river and Lake Erie for years and has just one ambition, to catch even more of them! Al, an ardent member of the Niagara Muskie Association (motto: 'all other fish are just bait') has a boat that is purpose built for muskie hunting, as has his friend Tony. Both hunt muskie but with subtle differences. Whereas Tony uses wire line (yep, real wire!) Al uses a lead core line in the belief that the trolled lures follow around the curves better. Interesting line this stuff. It's a different colour every thirty foot, one minute it's orange, the next green. This enables the angler to know at a glance exactly how much line is out, and so is a solid visible indicator even when the weather conditions are at their most inclement.
We troll lures. And these are lures the like of which you have never seen before. They are truly huge, some even dwarfing Marlin lures. There's a photo here of one lure which is as long as my leg from knee to heel, and it's no joke. These things are used. But not today. We were using smaller lures which Al prefers as these resemble the walleye on which the really big muskie feed. They still looked huge to me! I explained to Al my theories about using lures. I'm never quite at home using them. I feel they all have the shortcoming that, being plastic, they have no taste or flavour to entice a fish. I much prefer to troll a deadbait on a wobbling rig. Al showed me how the muskie anglers overcome the 'shortcomings' of plastic. From a hidden pocket a large tube was produced and the contents spread liberally over the lure. Taste and flavour are now not a problem. There's a new trick to try at home!
To try to catch a monster muskie to order is not something that can be guaranteed. We tried, but on that day we failed. I needed more time. Al promised me that if I returned the next evening he could take me to a part of the Niagara river which was thick with thirty inch muskie, but that's not really what Al was after. He is a specimen hunter of the old order, he fishes for BIG fish, fifty inch plus monsters. That would probably be around about 60lb to you and I in old money. Unfortunately the clock was ticking and I had to be off in the morning so I never did catch my muskie. I guess I can safely leave that one till the next trip.
In the morning we were on the road again, heading back towards New Jersey and an aeroplane. Just a few days to go, I had to try to cram in as much experience as possible. First stop - Ithaca Falls.
Our route led us though an area of outstanding beauty known as the 'Fingerlakes'. A glance at the map shows how the name originated. There must be more water in those lakes alone than in all England, yet I had never before even heard of them. There is just so much water here. Water, water everywhere, all full of fish and all free fishing, other than a ú10 per year state licence. God, it must be hateful to be stranded here. Without a rod.
I had an appointment a couple of hours south with another angler who had been present at the NEC last year, Paul Tater. Paul is a university professor who has far more interest in catching fish than he does in academia. He is currently setting up a guiding service for fishing the fingerlakes area and expects to be a full time guide within a very short time. We had exchanged a few emails and I was to act as a mailman - to drop off a Relum collapsible landing net to him, for him to show around the salmon boat anglers in the area. Amazing I know, in such a forward thinking country they don't use collapsible nets! (And they have the reel handles on the wrong side too, or did I already mention that?)
Paul was going to be busy on the day I was to pass through Ithaca but arranged for me to meet up with Shahab, a young American of Irish/Iranian stock who told me he discovered fly fishing five years ago. Since then he has spent around 250 days a year fly-fishing and on top of this he's also managed to set up a youth community program dedicated to keeping kids off drugs and educating them about the environment, which means more fly-fishing. The whole thing is a non-profit making educational project called the Community Fly-Fisher. And on top of all this, if that wasn't enough, he is 'the man' when it comes to fly-tying. Shahab is what you might call passionate!
He and a couple of his friends met up with us and took us first to a nearby creek. Shahab told us that the salmon were clearly visible ' it's like an aquarium' but unfortunately we were unlikely to catch as the fish had not been feeding. He had fished this spot just the day before and had his every offering refused, so we were not expecting too much success. Well, my hosts weren't. I took one look at the fish and got over-confident.
"If a cats-whisker won't take a fish here then a Dogs Ear will". As soon as I uttered the words I regretted them. Now, Shahab, naturally, ties his own flies and it was only a matter of time before he asked the question I had been dreading.
"D'you tie your own Geoff, because I've never heard of a Dogs Ear".
My muttered response was not sufficient. I produced a white cats whisker and donated it to the Anglo-American cause. Not enough. Uh Oh! Nothing for it. I shamefacedly produced the Dogs Ear/Max Killer, the only fly I have ever tied - and it's absolutely lethal. Regular readers will recognise it as it's, erů umů
"That is the ugliest damn thing I ever saw in my entire life" proclaimed my host. He was right of course, compared to the works of art that Shahab had in his flybox, it would never win any beauty contests but, I would bet it could score here! So I did. I know it was stupid.
Me and my big mouth. I had done it again. Now national pride was at stake, I had to redeem myself for producing such a monstrosity. Fortunately, the Max Killer works its charms in the USA just as well as it does in our home waters. My first cast produced a take which I missed; the second cast, a take with which I connected. A small salmon launched itself airborne and I had vindicated myself. Phew! Shahab landed the fish by hand for me and returned my fly, still shaking his head at the ugliness before his eyes. The fly that is, not me. At least, I hope not!
My hosts were openly incredulous of my success, however one young lady compared my fly with a 'Wooly Bugger' and immediately tied one on. I recast and within ten minutes I was in again, as was the young lady. Ha! The fish had come back on the feed and, to be honest, I don't think it made any difference what fly we used, we would have caught. Just don't tell Shahab!
With the creek behind us and an hour or two still to spare, we then made our way to a car-park on a fairly busy road, not too far from the centre of town. Across the street was some woodland and in here was the magic diamond in the crown of New York State. Ithaca Falls is beautiful. Take it from me. The pool at the foot of the waterfalls is absolutely magic, the river kept well stocked with prime Sebaco salmon by the State of New York. These are not the creatures of legend they have become in our own country but a fish that anyone can catch at anytime. Take one home every day if you want to! I really wish I could have stayed longer but the itinerary was crammed, dragging me down-state.
That was my last day's productive fishing in New York State. I did manage a couple of hours fishing a bass pool the next morning. Oh, and I had a morning casting at striper bass from a beach in New Jersey - with the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop! Both trips were to no avail fishwise, but you have to try these things if you get the chance, don't you? After all, as they say over here - You're gonna be a long time dead!
Yo Bruther! (What does that mean, I wonder?)
Paul Tater Ithaca NY can be contacted at : Fishnprof@aol.com
Shahab Farzanegan - email@example.com
Community Fly-Fisher Website - http://www.cce.cornell.edu/tomkins
NY State Fishing Regulations Guide: www.dec.state.ny.us
Jim Hanleys website is at:
Talking Phone Book Hot Line Report is 716 844 1111 ext. 4142
Jim's business line for charters etc. is 716 312 0418
A copy of a map of the areas we fished is available to view on line at www.erie.gov
Our Guide on the Niagara River:
A couple of extra do's and don'ts
Tackle: Take tackle that you will be comfortable using. Not too much of it as it is all very inexpensive in the states and you'll want to bring stuff back with you. You should take your own float-fishing tackle if that's how you like to fish as no shops sell it here.
Take US dollars and credit cards. Cash bills other than US$ are unacceptable even by many major banks. Personally I would even avoid Travellers Cheques
Take empty bags and full wallets. The value for money in the USA is second to none.