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Rod, Gun & Game: Revitalizing the WNY musky fishery in good hands

BIG MUSKY — Scott McKee, president of the Niagara Musky Association, displays a 48-inch long Niagara River musky he caught on a 12-inch Legend lure, using 80-pound test Power Pro line. McKee and members of Niagara Musky Association release all musky they catch to help revitalize the local trophy musky fishery.
Last winter, for the first time in a long time, I was privileged to attend a fundraising and awards banquet with an organization that was new to me — the Niagara Musky Association (NMA).

Erie County Federation of Sportsmen (ECFS) president Chuck Godfrey invited me to join him to represent ECFS at this event and I accepted for two reasons. The first, these “monster-big” local fish (40 to 60 inches long, 20 to 50-plus pounds each) have always fascinated everyone, and the second, because these fish are generally hard to catch and the word was out that some guys in the NMA catch several dozen musky each year. I was hoping to meet some of the big fish mentors and learn more about fishing techniques.

The banquet was more than I expected. With a club membership of more than 100 anglers, there were about 200 folks at the event and all seemed so very knowledgeable about, not just musky fishing, but fishing conservation, water quality, Niagara River projects, history and they were also very big on one thing: humbly sharing their wealth of fishing knowledge. They also shared stories about broken tackle.

They told us about big fishing reels, sturdy ocean-style fishing rods, foot-long lures, some with shark sized hooks, steel leaders and 80-pound test line — and we swim in these monster fish waters.

My wife and I never stopped talking fishing with NMA members from the time we entered the banquet room until we left about five or six hours later. We learned that this group is diverse and impressive. While every group has strong and not-so-strong members, with proper leadership, members bond, set goals, accomplish objectives, while at the same time, have fun and swap big fish tales and meager secrets.

It’s the later (fish tales and secrets) that keeps folks always coming back to any fishing group and on that account, NMA president Scott KcKee, gets the “paramount nod” as chief cook and bottle washer, and principal story-teller with his editor role of the monthly NMA newsletter that more closely resembles a national musky fishing magazine.

In fact, in my humble and conservative opinion, the NMA monthly newsletter is not only informative, each edition is new and totally more complete with details than any other musky magazine in the country, and I get around.

When I was just a little boy in the 1950’s, I would read the Breem’s Forrest outdoor column in the Courier Express, noting that “musky fishermen from Chet Bowman’s livery at the foot of Sheridan would score on big muskies off Strawberry Island.” I was always fascinated by the size of the fish shown in the newspaper pictures — some 50 pounders, so these big fish have always had my attention.

In those days, anglers would brag about the great taste of musky, which was really not all that good, but they were bragging more about their big fish catch. Musky is what many of the anglers caught back then. Today, educated anglers know more, they understand the fishery for giant fish is limited to preserving and maintaining the smaller fish and NMA is passing on that master plan when it comes to musky — catch and release.

I will admit to the joy and surprise of landing 12 or 13 of these monsters while fishing for walleye and bass over the years. Each time I have noticed the eyes of the hooked musky are actually focused and turning to observe the anglers with the rod or the net in the boat.

As the fish moves around the boat during the landing process, the eyeballs and pupils of the fish turn with every fish change of movement. Yes, it is fascinating, but a bit spooky, too. Exciting to be sure. We have always carefully released them because we value our fingers and because they are such a magnificent, handsome fish. But they are freshwater sharks, lots of teeth. Respect them if you hook one.

To assess how the musky revitalization effort is going each year, NMA members track and report every musky they catch in the Niagara River, Buffalo Harbor and Lake Erie to their release director, retired attorney and avid musky angler, Tony Scime. Each member maintains a personal log for every fish caught and the log sheet is turned in to Scime at the end of every season.

NMA anglers track date of catch, length from tail tip to nose, the time of catch, fishing method (troll, cast or jig), if trolling, then the trolling speed is recorded as slow (under three miles per hour), medium (3-3.9), fast (4.0- 4.9), vfast (plus-5). Also tracked are the depth of water fish was caught, water clarity in terms of visibility depth and recorded as clear, stained, cloudy or muddy, then location is recorded using a coded DEC Angler Diary Study Map with location/position noted.

Then lastly, fish marks noted, including any scars or injuries, old tags, and comments: kept fish, sex if known, etc. While this type of data is kept by many walleye and bass anglers, too, for musky, in which far fewer fish are caught by comparison, this data is priceless to the continuing DEC study of the local musky fishery.

The NMA meetings occur every first Tuesday of the month, March 4, at 7 p.m., at the Eldridge Club, 17 Broad St., in North Tonawanda. NMA conservation director John Jarosz, said, “At our upcoming meeting, NYSDEC Tim DePriest will discuss the Strawberry Island Restoration and Habitat Improvement Project and provide an update on the Frog Island Rebuild Project. DePriest will also address the low young-of-the-year musky count in the Niagara River/ Buffalo Harbor and the slack water species in Strawberry Bay.

Anyone that would like to meet this group is welcome to join them at their annual banquet to be held this year on Saturday, April 5 at the Pearl Street Grill. For information or tickets, call McKee at 225-3816.

Outdoor calendar:

– Feb. 27: Erie County Federation of Sportsmen, monthly meeting, discussion of outdoor issues/legislation/fish and game regulations, free dinner, George Washington Club, 2805 Niagara St., Buffalo, 7:30 p.m., call 440-6995.

– Feb. 28: Indoor Winter 3D Archery, West Falls Conservation, 55 Bridge St., Friday fun shoot, 7 p.m., all archers welcome, small fee, call Mike Cummings 337-0126.

– Feb. 28-March 2: Rochester Sportsmen’s Expo, 789 Elmgrove Rd., Bldg. 4, for info visit rochestersportsmenexpo.com.

– March 1: WNY Winter 3D League Shoot, West Falls Conservation, open to public, 7 a.m.-2 p.m., breakfast and lunch offerings, call Mike Cummins at 432-6035

– March 1-2: Niagara Frontier Gun Show, Erie County Fairgrounds, 5820 South Park, Hamburg, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Erie County handgun clerks in attendance, visit nfgshows.com.

– March 6-9: WNY Sport and Travel Outdoor Show, Erie County Fairgrounds Agri-center Building Complex.

Send outdoor information to Forrest Fisher, 10 days in advance, at nugdor@yahoo.com.
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