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Rod, Gun and Game: Musky, bass fishing seasons well underway on Lake Erie

Hank Kurowski, considered a local Upper Niagara River musky-fishing legend, is 95 years old. The proprietor at Hank’s Boat Livery located at the foot of Sheridan Drive still offers some mighty interesting tales of musky fishing and history near Strawberry Island in the Upper Niagara River.
There are several fish species which attract most of the attention from nearly one-million licensed participants in New York State.

For Western New York, the species of high interest include walleye, black bass, muskellunge and yellow perch, with passionate anglers to be found in each of these separate fish species categories.

For Lake Erie, the walleye season opened on the first Saturday in May and will run through March 15 next year with a six per day creel limit and 15-inch minimum size, the black bass and musky seasons opened last week Saturday – the third Saturday in June. For black bass (both largemouth and smallmouth sub-species), minimum size limit is 12 inches with a five per day daily creel allowed; for musky, in Lake Erie there is a 54-inch minimum size in Lake Erie and the Upper Niagara River – yep, they get really big here, with a one fish per day creel limit. For yellow perch, argumentatively the most palatable of all the species named so far, there is no closed season and no minimum size limit, but there is a 50 fish per day creel limit. That leaves plenty or the table!

The large size limit for our world renowned Niagara musky was recently implemented to assure that the famed Niagara River Musky resource is relatively protected, making this species a trophy-only catch category. The regulation makes our Lake Erie and Upper Niagara River musky fishery a regulated catch and release fishery. Members of the Niagara River Musky Association strongly adopt this regulation as a good regulation. They advocate taking a picture of the big fish, assessing length and girth from a net measurement and releasing all musky.

In the old days, in the 1950’s and 60’s, when I was more of a fishing nut than a kid, Chet Bowman’s boat livery at the foot of Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda was the headquarters for musky action. Each column of the Breem’s Forrest outdoor news in the Courier Express, or with Bill Hilts (senior) in the Niagara Falls Gazette, they tallied a most recent count and catch for musky, including the name of the most prolific musky catchers.

As time went on, Chet Bowman turned over the reins of the boat livery located across the street from the Tonawanda Chevy Plant to another musky-man took, his name was Hank Kurowski. A younger man then, Hank is healthy and in his mid-90’s today, and still makes his appearance at the boat livery every day. Even in winter, he has a tiny trailer there next to the covered boat docks, a wood stove keeps him warm and he welcomes ice fishermen and roving police patrols to stop in, warm up and share stories with him.

Kurowski is quite a talker and can spin the yarn with a fishing tale as well as any angler anywhere, but he has a knack for accuracy in all walks of his life, including golf, where he has recorded several holes-in-one over his lifetime. I tend to be “all ears” when Hank talks, sharing methods and tactics for catching the elusive Niagara musky, if you ask him. He’ll smile a bit at first, then you can see his sparkling blue eyes begin to widen and glisten as he scans his history of knowledge and identifies the best way to answer your question.

While I met Kurowski many years ago as a small boy with my dad, I recently went back with my good fishing friend, Herb Schultz – another fishing legend, to talk with Hank. He has not changed much, except he has aged, but you know something, there is still this incredible sparkling laugh and healthy, humble, voice of a man that obviously has enjoyed every single day of his life on the Niagara River. I consider Kurowski a legend of a man for WNY, though I can guarantee that he will never admit to anything even close to that description.

All of that considered, it was great to see Tim DePriest from the NYSDEC discuss plans and improvements for Strawberry Island, Frog Island and Motor Island last week at the NYSDEC Lake Erie – Upper Niagara River Angler Outreach seminar at Woodlawn Beach State Park. DePriest, a new fisheries biologist in our Region 9, discussed the history and future for the very places in the Niagara River that are directly across from Hank’s Boat Livery with much said about the focus of all those musky men of yesteryear. Today, these dwindling islands harbor the future of the Upper Niagara River musky spawning habitat and are very important for rejuvenating and restoring the musky resource.

DiPriest presented short term and long term objectives for the river islands area, these included erosion protection, habitat improvements and restoration of wildlife and fish species reproduction areas to their former appearance. Studies have been ongoing for several years and funding has been designated from local, state and federal sources to continue with restoration. All a good thing for the fishermen and everyone else too.

Kurowski shared stories of walleye and perch success from yesterday too. He said, “Back in those days, our best yellow pike (walleye) fisherman might have caught eight or 10 walleye in a day at the head of the river, but all the fish were in the four to eight pound size. There was only one or two walleye baits back then, they were fished on a three-way rig with a sinker of 2 to 3 ounces to sink a X-5 size flatfish of yellow color with red and black dots, or to a yellow sally spinner to the bottom for a drift run. To either of these a half worm was added, not a whole worm, since you didn’t want the fish to pick off the tail and leave you with a bare hook. We caught ‘em!”

If you have a chance, you might want to stop in and talk to the old musky master and fish history buff, Hank Kurowski, and get his autograph. If you are an avid angler, that is a collector’s item for all time!

Tight lines to all.


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