For all of us grown-up anglers in Western New York, it is already over one week into the favored walleye fishing season and because of all the rain, not many have been able to fish. At least not the way we like to fish for spring walleyes in early May – trolling stickbaits at night between Buffalo and Sturgeon Point. Wind and rain can nullify efforts when good intentions to fish are high. Yep, it’s a bummer, but that’s weather and we can’t change it.
What to do? Get smart and join in the fun of fishing in the mud for bullheads and huge channel catfish. There’s a reason why those little whiskers on their bottom jaw are not for shaving after breakfast, the whiskers have a purpose. These are species that don’t care if the water is muddy, they find their food by scent. They eat worms, nightcrawlers, minnows, chicken livers, venison steak chunks, leftover turkey, sliced hot dog slivers and such. Guess they’re not particular
Where to go? Anyplace that has muddy, flowing water right after sunset – and you can fish from shore or boat.
From shore, we like 18-Mile Creek near the NYS parking area and under the bridge on Lakeshore Road, the south shore of Cattaraugus Creek about 100 yards downstream of the state boat launch where the protective high pier wall starts at Sunset Bay, and the canals and creeks at Chautauqua Lake – especially near Vukote on the south shore.
From a boat, the tributary outflows of any of our Great Lakes streams draw schools of baitfish and predator fish that hold in these areas. The predator fish feed until they have been satisfied. After a rainstorm, the channel catfish have a gargantuan appetite and that puts boat anglers looking for big catfish in the right spot.
There are a hundred secret bait and scent formulas for catching bullheads and catfish, but over the many years my dad taught me as a boy, our favorite was determined by something that dad said at least twice a day, “Don’t waste any food!” We raised our own chickens and grew our own garden vegetables, so there was a direct effect. One thing we bought that was considered a special supper meal back then (early 1950s) was fresh hot dogs from a local butcher. Dad let me prepare and light the fire in the charcoal grill to cook these and inevitably, too much talking left one or two of these burned a bit more than mom liked them. Dad said, “That’s OK, we can use those for bait tomorrow.” My heartbeat quickened at the thought!
The next day after dad came home from work, we headed to Buffalo Creek near Blossom. He called me over to show me how to slice the burned hot dog skin so it was about ½ inch thick, then he slid it through the burned skin parts and past the retaining barbs of a size 4 Eagle Claw bait-keeper hook. “This is a secret bait,” he whispered to me. The sun is almost down and you have school tomorrow, so we have 30 minutes and then we have to go home.
“Cast it out,” he said with an understanding tone. I was only 8-years-old, but I was pretty good at casting that old Bronson casting reel with braided 20-pound test and a ½ ounce weight. It hit the water and went to bottom, it was about four feet deep. It had rained the previous two days and the creek water was muddy. Less than three or four minutes later, the line was pulled taut and there he was, a nice 2-pound bullhead. We caught 2 more before we left. “Let’s go,” Dad said. “Really?” I winced, “But they’re biting dad.” He added, “They’ll be biting next time it rains too, pack it up.”
Lessons to be remembered are always hard to savor. I never forgot that one. It still works today (leave the kids wanting) and my dad would be proud that I’m sharing this one with you (the bait). I swear he is still standing next to me when I fish in certain places today. The burned hot dog bait trick works wherever there are bullheads or catfish.
Secret Spot Wisdom-Sharing: Chestnut Ridge Park Lake offers easy fishing access for first-time angler families. It’s a great spot to teach kids, as the lake access area features a walk-on fishing pier (safety), lots of fish to catch and easy parking. Grab a can of garden worms and a few kids for some fishing fun. It is located in the southeast corner of the park behind the fire training tower. There are bullheads in there too! ‘Nuff said.