Autumn In Western New York: Part I- Chasing Steel

As the moon’s hue begins to glow above the skyline earlier and the chilly morning-dew coats our work shoes, the Western New York outdoorsman knows that these are signs that the sweet smell of autumn is on its way in Western New York. This past week or so, WNY experienced some late-August temperatures that dropped into the low 50’s. While many people were devastated by the thought that summer is coming to an end, the other half slapped on their hoodies and jeans and either daydreamed about what is yet to come or panicked about not having enough time left to get their gear ready for the remarkable fishing and hunting seasons that are ahead of them.

Autumn is a stunning season and definitely something to look forward to in the Northeast. There is a special kind of beauty about the painted foliage or the aroma of concord grapes wafting through the air while the bucks begin to size up their competition, the steelhead make their way to the Lake Erie tributaries, the jumbo yellow perch gather in tight schools, and the waterfowl dump into the lakes as if they are putting on an air show. For us, this is by far the finest time of year. Here are some tips based on what we do to enjoy the next few months to the fullest.

September                                                                           

September is when it all begins. The Canadian goose season opens, the perch bite is on, and the steelhead are staging at the creek mouths getting ready to make their annual journey up the Lake Erie tributaries. Although many sportsmen in September are unloading on geese like a war film, we are usually filling up buckets of perch or letting some steelhead peel some line off our spinning reels.

Steelhead

Matt Postle with a fresh steelhead caught by trolling Little Cleos at the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek.
Matt Postle with a fresh steelhead caught by trolling Little Cleos at the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek.

Fishing for steelhead in September can be loads of fun and is my favorite time of year to target them. I do love wading through the streams throwing flies and floating corks, but it is difficult to compare that to the feeling of an unsullied steelhead slamming your graphite rod as you troll over the cool, deep green water.  We like to troll the mouths of the local Lake Erie tributaries on our 14’ aluminum boat equipped with a Minn Kota electric trolling motor, although casting off of break walls and piers can also get the job done.

Our set-up:

Little Cleo spoons. These four colors typically produce very well for us.
Little Cleo spoons. These four colors typically produce very well for us.

• 7’ Medium-Action Ugly Stik Lite Pro
Spinning Reel with smooth drag system
 • 10lb Spiderwire E-Z Mono Line
Ball bearing Snap Swivel (To prevent line twist)
Little Cleo Spoon (Various Sizes) (Varying Colors)

A trolling speed of about 2-2.5mph will usually produce the best results. It is important to change speeds often as we catch fish when our lure is ticking bottom or when it is swimming freely through the water column. Another factor to experiment with is how much line you let out. This will change as you troll over different depths. Also, be sure to purchase various colors and sizes of Little Cleos; a certain size and color might be hot one day and might produce nothing the next. Keep a good stock of colors and don’t be afraid to change often. It is also a good idea to keep some Rapala stick baits around for a change of pace.
We really enjoy this set-up while trolling for steelhead because it is very simple yet highly effective.

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Jermaine Kenner with his first steelhead ever. He still talks about this one!
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Chris and Jamie DeGeorge with a colorful September Steelhead.

Yellow Perch

September is also a great time to seek out Lake Erie’s astounding yellow perch.  They call them “jumbos” for a reason, folks.  After a long hot summer, the perch action on Lake Erie picks up from August through October.  The perch congregate into very large schools and bring along a favorable appetite.  The best part about perch fishing is that almost any angler can pull some into the boat if the school is below them; however, they can sometimes be difficult to entice.  Here are some tips that we have learned from our experiences that can help you go from a nice little fish fry to a freezer-full of tasty fillets.

Crappie Rig (Top) Spreader (Bottom)
Crappie Rig (Top)
Spreaders (Bottom)

Our set-up:

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Tom Postle III, with a jumbo ringback on Lake Erie.

Perhaps the most difficult part of perch fishing on Lake Erie is finding the fish.  Sometimes you can get away with finding the fleet of boats and catching fish right off the bat, but most of the time that’s not the case.  We often depend on our Lowrance Elite 4x DSI sonar to help us locate schools of perch on the bottom of the lake.  Once we find some fish, we set the anchor and start fishing.  One crucial point that we have learned over the years is that perch bite differently from day to day…or even one hour to the next, so it is crucial to be patient and try various approaches while, at the same time, being careful not to waste too much time on one spot that isn’t producing.  We usually have a few things we keep in mind until we move to another school of fish:

  1. Are we still marking fish on the sonar?

2. Have we tried various jigging techniques?

  • A basic “up and down, pause, up and down, pause…”
  • A dead-stick approach where you just let the rod rest in a rod-holder or on the side of the boat
  • A slow lift up to about 5′-6′, then hold it there for a couple of seconds
  • Drop your bait on the bottom with some slack in your line, then slowly lift it up
  • An erratic, non-stop shake and pause

3. Has one rig been working better than another?

4. How many fish have we caught compared to the time we’ve spent at this spot?

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Chris Postle with a nice September Lake Erie perch.

Even if you caught a couple of fish here and there, don’t be afraid to mark the GPS coordinates on your graph and then move to another location in an attempt to find a bigger and better school; you can always go back to that spot if you need to.  The biggest mistake we have seen is watching anglers sit at the same spot all day hoping that the fish will move to them.  Most of the time, the perch are where they are because they are on a pile of bait-fish.  If that pile of bait doesn’t move, neither do the perch.  We have also had experiences when we moved the boat only 50 yards which resulted in success.  Perch fishing can be extremely simple on Lake Erie at times, but it also has the ability to puzzle even the best anglers.  With patience, persistence, and knowledge, you will give yourself a better chance to treat your guests to some Lake Erie perch as you cheer on your Buffalo Bills.

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Autumn

While most of the boaters in Western New York start to winterize their vessels shortly after Labor Day, we are charging up the batteries and touching up the camo for our piece of aluminum’s busiest time of year.  Autumn in Western New York brings about numerous fishing and hunting opportunities and we are anxious to get out and create new memories that will last us a lifetime.  September is only the beginning and there is much more to look forward to before the snow flies.  Stay tuned for the next blog post, “Autumn In Western New York: Part II- Deer, Ducks, & Decisions”.

Written by Chris Postle of Postletown Woods and Water

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Nice post. I like those Little Cleos a lot as well. The all plain nickel and the nickel and blue have done best for me. Things are just heating up in Ohio for Steelhead and I am anxious for my first hookup of the fall season!

    Liked by 1 person

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