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Fishing New York's Great Lakes

The Good 'Ol Days are Now

(First printed in the New York Freshwater Fishing 2009-10 Official Regualtions Guide)

Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and their tributaries provide diverse, world-class fishing for a variety of species. Fishing opportunities for Great Lake's anglers include offshore open lake trolling for trophy-sized trout, salmon and walleye, as well as superb near-shore angling for smallmouth bass and panfish. These waters also provide wintertime ice fishing in protected embayments, shore and pier fishing, and outstanding seasonal tributary fishing for spawning concentrations of trout and salmon.

Lake Erie

Anglers holding a Lake Erie 8 lb smallmouth bass.

In Lake Erie, the walleye fishery opens in May with near-shore reefs from Barcelona to Buffalo providing prime locations for nighttime trolling using shallow running stick baits. As the lake waters warm during the summer months, walleye gradually move offshore and deeper. During this period walleye trollers typically use a combination of jet or dipsy divers, or downriggers coupled with worm harnesses and stickbaits to target 'eyes anywhere from 20-70 feet deep. Lake Erie yellow perch fishing also peaks during June and limit catches are not uncommon for fish ranging from 8 to 12 inches. The smallmouth bass fishery hits high gear during May and early June along nearshore reef areas, and this early season fishery is the best time to land a trophy bronzeback pushing the 6 pound mark or even larger. Offshore reefs, dropoffs, and rocky areas in depths of 20-50 feet provide the best bass fishing during the summer and fall months. With the onset of cooler weather, much of the fishing action on Lake Erie switches from the open lake to the tributaries. Steelhead begin running tributary streams in September with peak Fall runs occurring in October and November, and again in April. Cattaraugus Creek remains the most popular destination for many Lake Erie steelhead anglers due to its large size and mixture of wild and stocked fish, but other streams such as Chautauqua, Canadaway, and 18 Mile Creeks also provide excellent fishing opportunities.

Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario's 294 miles of shoreline from the lower Niagara River to the St. Lawrence, and the numerous boat launches and access sites, provide anglers with an endless variety of year-round fishing opportunities by boat, from shore, wading, or on the ice. The lake and its tributaries offer a year-round, world class trout and salmon fishery, supported through both stocking programs and natural reproduction. From spring to autumn, anglers can enjoy a day on the lake catching Chinook (King) salmon, coho salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, and Atlantic salmon. From autumn to spring, anglers can target trout and salmon in the tributaries. Lake Ontario is home to the largest salmon found in all the Great Lakes, and its watershed holds the NY state fishing records for 5 of its 6 trout and salmon species, burbot and freshwater drum. Embayment and near shore waters provide anglers with a variety and abundance of warmwater fishes. Smallmouth bass angling has been an important component of the Lake Ontario fishery for decades. In recent years anglers have experienced fantastic yellow perch fishing along much of the shoreline, in the embayments and through the ice. Walleye angling has been good and relatively stable in recent years and is expected to improve as a moderately strong year class recruits to the recreational fishery. Ice fishing in embayments and the Eastern Outlet Basin yields yellow perch, northern pike, and walleye. Whether fishing for bullheads, panfish or enormous trout and salmon, Lake Ontario is guaranteed to provide an unforgettable fishing experience.

Niagara and St. Lawrence River

The Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers also provide diverse and high quality sport fisheries. Northern pike, smallmouth bass, and walleye constitute the primary sport fish targeted by anglers in the upper Niagara River and St. Lawrence River. However, the wild muskellunge fisheries in these Great Lakes connecting channels provide an opportunity to catch a world class trophy, especially during the fall. In addition, the Lower Niagara provides a year-round sport fishery with a variety of angling opportunities, including Chinook (king), brown trout and lake trout fishing, and some of the very best steelhead fishing found in the Great Lakes.

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