Hank Kurowski, the proprietor at Hank’s Boat Livery offers some mighty interesting tales of musky fishing and history near Strawberry Island in the Upper Niagara River.
There are several fish species which attract most of the attention from nearly one-million licensed participants in New York state.
For Western New York, the species of high interest include walleye, black bass, muskellunge and yellow perch, with passionate anglers to be found in each of these separate fish species categories.
For Lake Erie, the walleye season opened on the first Saturday in May and will run through March 15 next year with a six per day creel limit and 15-inch minimum size, the black bass and musky seasons opened last week – the third Saturday in June. For black bass, both largemouth and smallmouth sub-species, minimum size limit is 12 inches with a five per day daily creel allowed; for musky, in Lake Erie there is a 54-inch minimum size in Lake Erie and the Upper Niagara River – yep, they get really big here, with a one fish per day creel limit. For yellow perch, argumentatively the most palatable of all the species named so far, there is no closed season and no minimum size limit, but there is a 50 fish per day creel limit. That leaves plenty on the table!
The large size limit for our world renowned Niagara musky was recently implemented to assure that the famed Niagara River Musky resource is relatively protected, making this species a trophy-only catch category. The regulation makes our Lake Erie and Upper Niagara River musky fishery a regulated catch and release fishery. Members of the Niagara River Musky Association strongly adopt this regulation as a good regulation. They advocate taking a picture of the big fish, assessing length and girth from a net measurement and releasing all musky.
In the old days, in the 1950s and 60s, when I was more of a fishing nut than a kid, Chet Bowman’s boat livery at the foot of Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda was the headquarters for musky action. Each column of the Breem’s Forrest outdoor news in the Courier Express, or with Bill Hilts Sr., in the Niagara Falls Gazette, they tallied a most recent count and catch for musky, including the name of the most prolific musky catchers.
As time went on, Bowman turned over the reins of the boat livery to another musky-man, his name was Hank Kurowski. A younger man then, Kurowski is healthy and in his mid-90s today, and still makes his appearance at the boat livery every day. Even in winter, he has a tiny trailer there next to the covered boat docks, a wood stove keeps him warm and he welcomes ice fishermen and roving police patrols to stop in, warm up and share stories with him.
Kurowski is quite a talker and can spin the yarn with a fishing tale as well as any angler anywhere, but he has a knack for accuracy in all walks of his life, including golf, where he has recorded several holes-in-one over his lifetime. I tend to be “all ears” when Hank talks, sharing methods and tactics for catching the elusive Niagara musky, if you ask him. He’ll smile a bit at first, then you can see his sparkling blue eyes begin to widen and glisten as he scans his history of knowledge and identifies the best way to answer your question.
While I met Kurowski many years ago as a small boy with my dad, I recently went back with my good fishing friend, Herb Schultz – another fishing legend, to talk with Hank. He has not changed much, there is still this incredible sparkling laugh and healthy, humble, voice of a man that obviously has enjoyed every single day of his life on the Niagara River. I consider Kurowski a legend of a man for Western New York, though I can guarantee that he will never admit to anything even close to that description.
All of that considered, it was great to see Tim DePriest from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation discuss plans and improvements for Strawberry Island, Frog Island and Motor Island last week at the NYSDEC Lake Erie – Upper Niagara River Angler Outreach seminar at Woodlawn Beach State Park. DePriest, a new fisheries biologist in our Region 9, discussed the history and future for the very places in the Niagara River that are directly across from Hank’s Boat Livery with much said about the focus of all those musky men of yesteryear. Today, these dwindling islands harbor the future of the Upper Niagara River musky spawning habitat and are very important for rejuvenating and restoring the musky resource.
DiPriest presented short and long term objectives for the river islands area, these included erosion protection, habitat improvements and restoration of wildlife and fish species reproduction areas to their former appearance. Studies have been ongoing for several years and funding has been designated from local, state and federal sources to continue with restoration. All a good thing for the fishermen and everyone else too.
Kurowski shared stories of walleye and perch success from years past, too. He said, “Back in those days, our best yellow pike fisherman might have caught eight or 10 walleye in a day at the head of the river, but all the fish were in the 4 to 8 pound size. There was only one or two walleye baits back then, they were fished on a three-way rig with a sinker of 2 to 3 ounces to sink an X-5 size flatfish of yellow color with red and black dots, or to a yellow sally spinner to the bottom for a drift run. To either of these a half worm was added, not a whole worm, since you didn’t want the fish to pick off the tail and leave you with a bare hook. We caught ‘em!”
If you have a chance, you might want to stop in and talk to the old musky master and fish history buff, Hank Kurowski, and get his autograph. If you are an avid angler, that is a collector’s item for all time!
Tight lines to all.
New Outdoor TV Show
Bill Hilts Jr. is an outdoorsman-wonder, he exhibits endless energy directing so many fishing projects, tournaments and general activities for our friends in Niagara County to the north, that he sets the good example of how to promote fishing in WNY. Even with so many activities already in full swing in his life, Billy Hilts Jr. has taken on yet another role to promote our region to the rest of the country, as a TV Show host.
The new outdoor show called “The Outdoor Beat,” is featured on LCTV in Lockport, part of the Time Warner system on Channel 22 each week. While still a new venture, the show has run for about six weeks now and is complete with on-air guests and current outdoor news. The show runs live on Wednesday at 4 p.m. and is simulcast on 90.5 FM radio and www.lctv.net, where the show can also be recalled on-demand. To call in and ask a question or present new information, telephone Billy at 434-1733 while he is on the air. Hats off to Bill Hilts Jr. and Niagara County!
Waterfowl Hunting Dates Set
The tentative NYS western zone waterfowl season dates were released by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation last week in an effort to help hunters plan ahead.
For ducks, coots and mergansers, the youth waterfowl season is Oct. 4-5 this year, the dates for the regular season are Oct. 18 to Dec. 2, with the late season from Dec. 27 to Jan. 9. Snow goose season runs straight through from Oct. 1 to April 15. Brant season is Oct. 4 to Nov. 22.
For Canada geese, the nuisance season will run Sept. 1 to 25, for the south zone, the regular goose season will run Oct. 25 to Jan. 1, the late season is planned for Feb. 28 to March 10. For other zones, check the NYSDEC website as dates are finalized through the summer.
June 26: Erie County Federation of Sportsmen, monthly meeting on current issue of outdoor interest, Glen Coe Conservation, 9869 Foote Road, Glenwood, 7:30 p.m. Info: 440-6995.
June 26-27: BASSEYE event, benefit for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Info: 204-2535.
June 28: Teach-Me-To-Fish family fishing clinic, Chestnut Ridge Park, 9:30 a.m. start, noon lunch, free. Call 597-4081 for info.
June 28: Sportsman Education COMBO Class, Erie County Conservation Society, 13319 Miller Ave., Chaffee, Cheryl Schenne and Pete Cherico instructors. Must pre-register at 655-2328.
July 1-26: NYS Trapping Education Class, Elma Conservation, 600 Creek Road, 7-8 p.m. on July 1, and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. on July 26. Register online at register-ed.com/programs/new york.
Send outdoors info to Forrest Fisher 10 days in advance, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org