“To everything turn, turn, turn

There is a season turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under Heaven”

So goes the popular song by The Byrds. As we begin a new year, it’s time to reflect on a year gone by – some saying not soon enough and others saying much too quickly. Let’s look at the top stories the last 12 months as it relates to our outdoor world, in no specific order.

* It was a big year for bass and bass fishing, as far as Western New York and the Empire State goes. New York stood tall in the bass fishing world when rookie Jay Przekurat of Wisconsin scored more than 100 pounds of smallmouth bass to win a Bassmaster Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River in July. Cory Johnston did it, too, at the same event, and placed second. Who would have thought?

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* A few months later, the Bassmasters Top 100 Lakes list came out for 2022, and the St. Lawrence River/Eastern Lake Ontario was tops in the country. Eastern Lake Erie and Buffalo (including the Niagara River) ranked a solid eighth place overall … in the country.

* Some big bass were caught this year, too. On Nov. 3, the father-son fishing duo of Gregg and Grant Gallagher of Fremont, Ohio, caught a fish of a lifetime while casting in Province of Ontario waters in the Western Basin of Lake Erie. They managed to establish an official weight on a certified scale – 10.15 pounds – to break a 68-year-old Ontario record. It’s the largest smallmouth ever caught in the Great Lakes.

* A state-record smallmouth bass was caught June 15, now the opening day for black bass across the state. Thomas Russell of Albion was fishing a tournament on Cayuga Lake and he caught an 8-pound, 6-ounce fish that bested the old mark of 8 pounds, 4 ounces. A record channel catfish was caught May 8, when Bailey Williams reeled in a 35-pound, 12-ounce Black River fish. Both state-record fish were caught and released.

* The Lake Erie walleye fishing continues to stand out in the fishing world, and it received a bold exclamation point when the National Walleye Tour held its championship out of Dunkirk in August.

The National Walleye Tour Championship went off without a hitch, and the weather allowed for three consecutive days of angling action. John Hoyer of Orono, Minn., boated away with nearly $130,000 in cash and prizes after hauling in 102.33 pounds of walleye based on only five fish each day. The amazing thing is that he caught them casting in shallow water – not trolling in deep water, what the area is best known for in the summer. His electronics made the difference, and it might change the way we fish in the future.

Another walleye focal point involved local New York anglers Craig Sleeman of Victor and Mike Yarema of Phoenix. Not only was it a goal of theirs to get Sleeman to the NWT championship when they found it was going to be in Dunkirk, a bonus was that Yarema made it, as well, as a co-angler in the championship. And both reached the Top 10 to compete on the final day of the walleye contest. Sleeman finished in seventh place with 75.39 pounds of ‘eyes, while Yarema placed eighth with 72.80 pounds as a co-angler.

* While the final tally for 2022 has not set, Lake Erie fishing overall had already surpassed last year’s effort by more than 80,000 angler hours before the lake creel census was completed at the end of October. Dr. Jason Robinson, Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit leader, said 2022 will likely end up as the second-highest fishing effort in the last 20 years. The walleye, yellow perch and smallmouth bass fisheries all performed well in ‘22, with catch rates for each of these species at or better than the long-term average. The walleye fishery was exceptional again, with the catch rate nearly double the average and fourth best in the time-series. 

* One of the big Lake Erie success stories involved lake trout. The year 2021 saw the first documented natural production in New York waters in more than 60 years. In 2022, fish biologists documented natural reproduction yet again – great news for the future.

“A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones

A time to gather stones together”

* We certainly did our share of mourning in 2022, me included. Losing my father in December had a huge impact on family and friends. Gone but not forgotten, for sure. Things seem to happen in threes, and in addition to Bill Hilts Sr., we lost former Buffalo News nature writer Dr. Gerry Rising, who died at 95 last month. Former Newfane Town Supervisor Tim Horanburg left us, as well, last week at age 73, a great friend of fishermen in Olcott and Newfane. 

Charter captains Dave Elliott, Paul Czarnecki and Mark McGranahan all passed on to a better place. They were friends who helped to build personal memories in the outdoors. Former Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs president Greg Tessman and Three-F Club standout Dale Shank left us much too early.

We also lost young Harry Hazlett of Olcott, a junior angler with a passion for fishing … and life. We came to know Harry through the Catching Dreams Charters program run by Capt. Ned Librock of Pendleton. Sometimes things just aren’t fair or don’t make sense. We are better people for knowing all these individuals.

* Lake Ontario salmon trollers and (some) tributary fishermen were excited late last year when the Lake Ontario Unit of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Fisheries announced Chinook salmon stocking increases planned for 2022. These would be the first increases following three stocking adjustments that were made in the lake since 2016 due to concerns over the forage base.

Researchers were back on the lake performing spring trawls in April, a time when baitfish are most susceptible to this kind of trawl survey. We have seen an increase in the forage base, great news for the future of the lake.

* Weather impacts for big-game hunters were some of the worst this state has ever seen. Opening day of the regular season Nov. 19 was a lake-effect storm for the ages. The encore performance occurred just before the start of the second annual Holiday Deer Hunt that ends Jan. 1. The good news that was announced early last year was a record-low number of hunting incidents in 2021-22.  

* Local clays shooter Ashley Butcher of Lockport had another good year, including a sixth-place ranking in the national championships in October in the open division of sporting clays against 212 women. She couldn’t attend enough events to take a run at Team USA. Let’s hope she moves up in the standings in 2023.

“A time to gain, a time to lose

A time to rain, a time of sow

A time for love, a time for hate

A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late”