Summer never left for post-Labor Day anglers looking for typical signs of early-fall fishing patterns.
Trout and salmon seekers have seen some bizarre stream moves in waters well above the 70-degree mark. Lake waters have held at mid- to late-summer highs at and just below surfaces, but less light each day has brought subtle changes in the moves of warm-water species (bass, walleye, etc.) as well as shifts in salmonid sallying.
Bass experts say to check around weeds more closely than usually covered during the heat of summer. Walleye watchers, on trolling treks or drifting drags, have gone to darker colors on spinner blades and longer runs to find schooling 'eyes.
As for panfish, much of the bottom-hugging bait has been consumed and any bug or minnie will do right now.
You know the panfish parade is in full strut when perch eyes work well on deep-water perch schools cruising around Lake Erie, Oneida Lake and many of the larger Finger Lakes in between.
Lake Erie
Perch put more boaters onto Erie's New York State waters than walleye and bass right now. Trollers, particularly west of Cattaraugus Creek, have had head-on heydays with big 'eyes virtually every day riggers can get on the water.
Walleye schools have scattered somewhat, but many a big mama shows up at varying depths and distances from shore. Trollers have run less than a mile from shore west of Dunkirk Harbor to hit into bruiser-sized fish, often weighing in well above 10 pounds.
Closer to Buffalo, the night bite has been a bit better than dayside trolling or drifting runs.
Catches may not reach daily limits of five walleye, but sizes often bring surprises.
Creel note: Starting Monday, Oct. 1, the daily limit goes from five to six walleyes for all of Lake Erie. When planning a trip thereafter, be sure to renew that state license for the rest of the boating season.
The bass bite is just right. Either live baits or any darker-colored jig (tube, buck-tail, Twister, or Finesse-type) can pull smallies off rocky ledges and drop-off edges. Seneca Shoals, Myers Reef, Evans-Angola Bar, and points west all attract smallmouths moving in for their early-fall foraging forays.
From Hamburg to east Dunkirk Harbor, boaters come in with piles of perch taken at depths of 62 to 64 feet.
As far east as Pinehurst and as far west as Eagle Bay off Silver Creek, anchored boaters have hit into hefty schools of ringbacks that often feed several feet off bottom.
Of course, along with these success stories come repeated reconnaissance runs that often take up much of the starting time. Sizzling hot spots from the day before can often turn ice cold today. Moving bait schools and (perhaps) thermal shifts push these perch packs like aquatic cattle drives. But anglers don't have the valleys and narrow plains to work these drives.
Too often, perch packs will set up over flat areas, with no visible structures or bottom features that should attract schooling fish.
As in the "olden" days, when the winds are right, try a gentle drift over so-so perch waters before dropping anchor. On many a trip in recent years, fish that would not appear while motoring over an area would show up on the sonar screen during a drift.
Niagara River
The bass bite has slowed somewhat but continues in much of the upper river. Most boaters have headed out to the lake, where the reef bite has started.
Lower river salmon are making the run past the power plant fishing platform. Casters send out a variety of spoons, spinners and heavier jigs to hook Chinook. Bass bite just about everywhere in the lower river (Artpark to Fort Niagara), with walleye showing better when working closer to the mouth.
Live bait works better on bass; crayfish can be hard to find. "The good news is that they [bass] seem to be switching to their fall bite and minnows work well now," said charter captain Frank Campbell.
Lake Ontario
Olcott is hot. Boaters and shore casters out of all ports in Western New York can catch fish, but the shallow-water king run has begun.
Casters at Olcott Pier can reach salmon during early-morning and evening hours; trollers set up over less than 50 feet to hit into slammin' salmon.
"Most guys [trollers] are bumping bottom with flasher-and-fly rigs or J-Plugs and moving fast for salmon and some brown trout," said Wes Walker at Slipper Sinker Bait & Tackle in Olcott.
Some kings have shown below Burt Dam on Eighteen Mile Creek, but, with 70-degree waters and levels well below normal, the stream run for this and other major feeders along Ontario has yet to hit high gear.
Boaters looking for nice, eater-sized "teeners" (two-year-old) salmon have a band of biters cruising at mid-depths over 100 to 190 feet off most ports from Fort Niagara to well east of Point Breeze.