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In today’s age, musky anglers practice catch-and-release method

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My generation has seen a dramatic change in musky fishing. Even though current anglers may fish the same areas and utilize the same techniques as anglers 40 years ago, today’s musky anglers have a different attitude.

For example, four decades ago when minimum-length requirements were in the 30- to 40-inch range, musky anglers routinely kept all of their legal catches. Those fish were likely eaten, and if the fish was a larger one, it was taken to a local marina to be weighed and photographed, with the picture appearing on the front page of the following day’s local paper.

In contrast to this catch-and-keep practice of the past, today’s musky angler practices catch and release. Such an angler nets or cradles his catch at boat side and unhooks the fish while his partner assists and readies the camera.

The angler then lifts the musky out of the water for a quick photo or two before returning the fish to the water where the angler supports it until the musky is sufficiently revived to swim away on its own.

Niagara River MusKy History

Nowhere has the change in musky-angler attitude been more dramatic than on the Niagara River where musky fishing came into its own in the mid-1960s when Hank Kurowski took over Chet’s Boat and Bait and renamed the business Hank’s Boat Livery.

Hank’s Livery became the gathering spot for the river’s growing number of musky anglers and growing number of musky competitions. Evidence of the catch-and-keep practice of the time is reflected in Hank’s 1977 records, revealing anglers kept 598 muskies.

One of the river’s more skilled anglers documented his boating of more than 1,200 muskies during the catch-and-keep era.

In contrast to the days of Hank’s Boat Livery, the driving force in Niagara River musky fishing today is the Niagara Musky Association (NMA). Founded in 1994, NMA has the mission statement of protecting, preserving, and enhancing Niagara River, Lake Erie, and Buffalo Harbor muskellunge fishery.

Since its inception, NMA has worked with DEC and other state, federal, and local government agencies to increase size limits, preserve musky spawning habitat, conduct musky research, and increase angler access. NMA played a role in increasing the minimum-length requirement for muskies to 48 inches on the Niagara River and to 54 inches on Lake Erie and the Buffalo Harbor.

The organization also had an instrumental role in the Strawberry Island protection project, which will protect and enhance musky spawning and nursery areas.

NMA participates in children’s fishing programs, and the organization awards plaques to any member under the age of 16 who catches and releases a musky.

For more information on NMA, visit www.niagaramuskyassociation.ning.com where the homepage proudly states.

Fishing the Niagara River

Over the years, I have fished the Niagara River a number of times and have had good luck with smallmouth bass, lake trout, steelhead, and Chinook salmon, but I never musky fished until two weeks ago when I spent two mornings on the Upper River.

That first morning fellow outdoors writer, Charles Witek of West Babylon, and I fished with Scott Kitchen, an officer in NMA. We fished the waters above and below the bridge connecting Grand Island to Niagara Falls.

We began the day trolling diving plugs along weed edges in 18 feet of water. In contrast to St. Lawrence River trolling techniques, we ran short lines of 40 feet, and our boat speeds were 4.5 mph with the current and 2.5 mph against the current.

Because floating weeds constantly fouled our lures, we switched to casting plastic swim baits along weed lines. When the plastics produced no action, we headed to shallower areas where we cast shallow-running crank baits.

Our best action occurred at the head of Carorundum Reef where we had a musky follow the lure to the boat and where we caught a 3.5-pound smallmouth. Unfortunately, the safety zone line above Niagara Falls itself crossed Caborundum Reef so we could fish only the head of the reef.

The next day fellow outdoor writers, Mike Kelly of Marcellus and Wayne Brewer of Seneca Falls, and I joined Captain Chris Cinelli for a morning of drifting live shiners in the waters above Strawberry Island.

Using a 3-way swivel rig with enough weight to get to bottom and a 6-foot leader to the bait, we drifted with the current and concentrated our efforts on mid-river humps. Incredibly, our first three drifts produced three muskies ranging in size from an estimated 15-24 pounds. The following drift brought another musky to the boat, but that fish was holding onto the shiner and didn’t have the size 1/0 hook in its mouth.

At that point our luck changed as a strong front came through bringing north winds and rain. Despite a number of drifts through the same and different areas, we were unable to lure another musky to strike.

Cinelli has more than 30 years of experience fishing the Niagara River, and information on his guide service is available at www.cinellisniagarafishingguides.com.

OUTDOORS CALENDAR

Dec. 2: Regular Deer Season closes in Northern Zone.

Dec. 3-9: Late Muzzleloading Season in WMUs 6A, 6C, 6G, 6H, 5A, 5G, and 5J.

Dec. 9: Regular Deer Season closes in Southern Zone.

Dec. 15: Canada Goose Season closes in Northeast Goose Hunting Area.

Dec. 16: Duck Season closes in Northeast Zone.

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