Families can enjoy safe access to fishing in an Adirondack-like setting at the Chestnut Ridge Park Lake. Photo by Forrest Fisher.
First time fishing trips are such fun! Mostly, of course, those first time trips are part of introducing our kids or grandkids into the wonderful world of the outdoors through the fun of fishing. It’s exciting and can be a great adventure!
Many folks are really not quite sure about a lot of things, the biggest hurdle is, where to go? The usual questions start with, “Is it safe?”, followed closely by, “What do I do?” Just be patient, keep your cool, keep it short (under an hour), take a small lunch and don’t try to do too much.
As a kid, I spent hours on end several days a week during the usual school vacation time of summer, trying to understand how to catch fish, mostly smallmouth bass, in Buffalo Creek near Blossom, New York.
Equipment was simple. A fishing rod and reel, a few sinkers and hooks, and a bobber. All of these things were special gifts from my mom’s dad, my grandfather, who was a great fisherman and caught blue pike in the Niagara River, in the olden days. My fishing lessons though, came from my dad, a WWII combat hero with medals that I never knew about until he recently passed away. That era never talked about their war experience.
My dad taught me all about fishing, but he also taught me much more about all the reasons why we fish at all. Number one on his list was the simple nourishment aspect, food for the kitchen and the family. After that, letting the small one’s go was paramount. I learned to NEVER be in a hurry when fishing.
My dad said, fish are usually easy to catch when they are hungry. I was trained to ask questions as kid, mostly because dad always set me up for the next perfect question. Of course, I asked, “How do we know when the fish are hungry?” He spoke softly with his deep voice most of the time and he simply answered me with, “We watch and let them tell us.” Naturally, I asked, “How do we do that dad?” “We sit and watch the ‘crik for a few minutes, that’s all,” he said.
That may have been the best advice anyone has ever given me in my entire life for how to catch fish. I still do it! As we watched the gentle current flow west from below the Blossom dam, beneath the Blossom Road bridge and towards Transit Road and Clinton Street, we watched little bugs hatch from the surface. It seemed everything was interested in them.
Little birds came zinging down from the trees for an instant meal, minnows and small fish splashed trying to snatch a meal for themselves, and every so often, a bigger fish swelled in after the smaller fish. Quite a lesson! Ecology and evolution all in one step.
Predators and prey are an essential part of learning to fish. Those survival rules apply to so many other things in life too, modern life today, for sure. We also watched hawks above, listened to owls on those days when we fished right before sunset, we heard pheasants crowing their songs in the farmer’s corn fields above the creek, watched deer cross the creek and every now and then, watched a duck, goose or blue heron join us fishing. They were a lot better at it!
Our bait was usually red worms from the family garden. We tied a hook to the end of the line and added a little weight, then cast the line out and hoped for a bite. I didn’t like to use bobbers, thinking that the fish would see them and know I was there, eliminating any surprise from our end.
Anyway, not long later I learned that using a bobber or not really makes no difference to the fish. Fish are not smart or dumb, they are simply cold-blooded critters that instinctively react to their need for food. Put that food in the right place, bang! Fish on! It’s pretty much that simple. Thing is, their metabolism is geared to the water temperature and they eat much more in summer, so it’s a great time to go fishing.
Besides that beloved section of Buffalo Creek, which is still a great place to fish today, smallmouth bass and many other fishes live there, including steelhead in winter time, there are a great many similar fun places to take your little one and discover your own fishing adventure. Don’t forget about those bonding moments that might not ever happen some other way, fishing offers a great opportunity into such adventure.
Small water fishing can be so much fun for kids and the entire family. Yes Lake Erie is a local, world class, premier fishing hotspot, but it’s okay to leave it be if the “big water” fishing, the big tackle, the expense of it all, the commercialization of marina’s and boat launches, is outside your interest of first time fishing trips!
There are dozens of creeks, ponds and small lakes where you can cast a line about half-way across the waterway, not that you need to do that to catch fish.
In Erie County, one of the newest and safest places open to the public is actually a place not so new. It is the 12-acre lake in the southeast corner of Chestnut Ridge Park built in the 1930’s as a Works Projects Administration (WPA) project that put unemployed people back to work after the Great Depression. Today, thanks to the efforts of the Western New York Safari Club, the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen and the Erie County Fish Advisory Board in formally requesting Erie County to open this once fenced-in waterway for FREE public fishing, the lake is now open for public use anytime the park is open during summer. Ice fishing is not allowed.
The lake holds black bass, crappie, sunfish, yellow-perch and also offers much other wildlife, including giant snapping turtles for view, a wide assortment of birds and waterfowl, salamanders and much other ground life. If you don’t like to walk the trail surrounding the lake, you might be happy to learn that the Safari Club and local Boy Scouts joined forces to build a huge fishing pier that measures 75 feet by 12 feet and projects itself into the lake from a T-shape entry walkway.
The fishing pier location is a good place to start exploring this magnificent, Adirondack-like resource. Located adjacent to a handicapped parking area very close to the water. A second large public parking area is not far from there. Look for the signs that lead you to the fire training tower in the park, the sign that identifies the lake access is nearby.
Best bait for newbies is a worm and bobber – use size 4 hooks, there are lots of bluegills and perch to satisfy that first fish challenge. Best bait for experienced anglers is a 6-inch plastic Senko worm fished wacky-style (hook the worm in the middle and cast it out) from a size 3/0 hook, for some of the nice-sized largemouth bass to be found there.
Happy summer days are here and there are fish, fun and adventure waiting for you!