I've lived in the Fingerlakes since the summer of 1995. I'm closing in on 20 years down here and moving here was the best move I ever made. I love it here and I ain't going anywhere! But I spent most of my youth in Penfield NY - a suburb of Rochester (which is on Lake Ontario.) I grew up about a mile away from Irondequoit Creek's Linear Park. We moved there during the summer of 1972. (Now the park has a different name for reasons I don't know - probably having to do with money and donations.) I can still vividly remember my friend Jeff running down the hallway in 6th grade incredulous that someone had caught an "8lb Rainbow Trout" in Irondequoit Creek. Since those early steelhead and salmon runs, a lot has changed.
It was always about stocking back then. It was widely thought that Pacific salmon didn't reproduce much, if at all. When the Altmar Hatchery went online it was like a New Year's Eve party for us avid anglers. I was primarily a stream angler, though I'd go up to Lake Ontario and cast off the piers when I got the chance. As I got older and started driving, my range expanded. But it was all about the stocking. When the mussels showed up (and as a result of the lake cleaning up,) baitfish numbers dropped precipitously. I remember smelt dipping around Russell Station and Webster Park in the early 1980s. That fishery didn't last long.
In the 1980s nearly every Great Lake was a terrific salmon fishery. Lake Michigan got the jump on us and I'd hear stories in the early 80s about river fishing in Michigan with "50 salmon in front of you, 25 in the pool below and 25 above." By the mid 1980s we were experiencing the same great fishing right in our proverbial backyards. It was fantastic.
In the early 1990s, Fisheries Departments started cutting back on stocking due to the forage drops. The rumors starting flying. "Those @#$#%&s in Albany are diverting the fishery money to NYC!" "There's miles of bait out there." I always thought it was funny that a Charter Captain thought he knew more than the Biologists that created this fantastic fishery. How would Captains know the difference between 500 metric tons of alewives and 350 metric tons of alewives? By their Furano Electronics???
Many of these Captains didn't know a Coho from a Chinook until things got going in Lake Ontario. They were clueless but became instant experts in fisheries science because they fished a lot. I've flown a lot over the past few years, but I'll be damned if I'm going to tell my pilot how to fly the aircraft!!! Of course some guys were knowledgable and rose to the top of their craft.
I went to some "State of the Lake" meetings over the past 10 years. After all the facts were layed out about the invasives, and their decimating effect on the baitfish populations and salmonid conditions, my jaw would drop when a guy would raise his hand and ask "Can we stock more fish?" They just didn't get it.
Hard to believe, but Lake Ontario is it now. Lake Huron's salmon fishery crashed. Lake Erie never really developed one and Lake Superior didn't either. The writing is on the wall for Lake Michigan and things are going to be very interesting over the next few years. But the fishermen are finally listening to the experts. Never in my life did I ever think I'd here this, but Stakeholders in Lake Michigan actually proposed a 100% cutback on Chinook Salmon stocking!!! They want ZERO stocking! DNR doesn't think those drastic measures are needed, but I guess the crash in Lake Huron woke some anglers up to the serious threat that invasive species and rampant natural reproduction is posing.
In 20 years it's possible that the terrific Pacific Salmon fisheries in the Great Lakes will be a bygone memory. But no matter what happens, ecosystems are resilient and we'll have some kind of great fishery on Lake Ontario, whether it's Atlantic Salmon, browns, steelhead, walleyes or bass. Some specie(s) will be thriving. Maybe an invasive will show up that will reverse the trends we see now. But all anyone can say is "my how times have changed!"
Check this out, especially around 7:10 if you don't want to sit through the presentation. Interesting that stocking one chinook is the equivalent of stocking 2 browns or even more rainbows. The Kings are pigs that put incredible pressure on the forage base. I'd much rather see them and Cohos gone - just stock Atlantics, Steelhead/Rainbows, Lakers and Browns. Problem solved - at least for awhile.