G. SAM PIATT
This past Wednesday, about 9:30 a.m., this old body was filled with the exuberance of youth again, thanks to Lake Erie and an as-yet-unseen fish that was threatening to tear the reel and rod right out of my hands.
“Don’t pump the rod. Just keep a steady retrieve,” coached Captain Steve Davis.
It had been “my turn” when we saw one of the rods on the starboard side, its line attached by a clothespin and rubber band to the line leading out to the planer board, start dancing.
I grabbed the rod from its holder, gave a sharp yank to free its line from the clothespin, then staggered to the stern to begin the fight.
There were five of us on board Davis’ “Hatcheman” as we pulled out of East Harbor State Park Marina about 7:30 that morning. The 30-foot Sportcraft made a 30-minute run north to fish the 30-foot waters to the east of the Bass Islands.
Instead of a hatchet, we hoped to use a fillet knife on some tasty walleye.
The other four were Susan Howard, with the Ohio Division of Wildlife; Jeremy Rine and Kali Parmley, both officers with the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance; and Steve Pollick, long-time outdoors editor of the Toledo Blade until six months ago, when he called it quits in the face of changing editorial attitudes.
The occasion that brought us together was the annual Governor’s Fish Ohio Day, sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau.
There were about 15 charter boat captains who volunteered their boats to take the approximately 75 participants out fishing.
Ohio’s 69th governor, John Richard Kasich, 60, reportedly caught the only two walleye taken by his boat.
Afterwards, at a luncheon for writers and others held at the Lake Erie Islands Regional Welcome Center on Catawba Island, Kasich signed an order banning off-shore oil or gas drilling in Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie.
There is something below the surface of Lake Erie that’s more valuable than oil.
That would be the hard-fighting, good-eating walleye, along with smallmouth bass, yellow perch and several other species of sought-after game fishes.
Anglers, according to information supplied by the American Sportfishing Association, spend $300 million a year in the Lake Erie Shores & Islands region on fishing related expenditures.
This money supports local jobs and wages, along with hotels and cottages, marinas, charter boat services, restaurants, grocery stores, and bait and tackle shops, spurring a $1.1 billion sport fishing industry along Lake Erie and creating more than 20,000 jobs.
More than 70,000 fishing licenses are sold in the area annually. In 2007 there were 800 licensed charter boat captains offering fishing trips onto the lake.
Anglers fill their coolers with 1 to 2 million walleye each season. The daily creel limit is six per angler per day with a minimum size limit of 15 inches. The walleye population of the lake is estimated at 22 million fish of catchable size (two years old or older).
It was another Ohio governor, James A. Rhodes, who, at the Fish Ohio Day 1980, coined the term “Walleye Capital of the World” to describe the quality of Lake Erie’s fishery.
The water on Wednesday was as calm as you’ll ever see Lake Erie. We trolled with planer boards about 100 feet out on both sides of the boat, with five rods, lines set at varying lengths, on each side.
We trolled small spoons and inline spinners baited with a live nightcrawler.
There was enough action to keep everyone busy, letting out line, attaching lines to the planer board lines, and fighting fish.
Things got especially hectic when we trolled through a school of white bass and several poles were set to dancing at the same time.
We caught half a dozen walleye along with white perch and…yes, the ever-present, unwanted sheepshead – though not in numbers that I’ve caught them in the past.
I recall one trip in which it seemed like we caught about 10 sheepshead to each walleye.
But what about the big fish I was battling in the first paragraph of this report, you ask?
Well, it weighed 8.4 pounds on Wednesday, and as I write this on Saturday morning, he’s up to 10 pounds!
As Steve Pollick said, that’s the beauty of the one that gets away: it can be whatever size you want it to be.
I never got to see the fish. When I had reeled him to within bout 20 feet of the boat, he was still fighting just as hard as he did when first hooked. Then the hook tore loose from its mouth and he was gone.
What’s that? Could have been a big ol’ Broad-sided sheepshead, you say?
Naw. Not a chance. A sheepshead gives up the fight before you ever get him within 20 feet of the boat. A walleye fights until he’s in the net,
All walleye caught were brought back, taken off somewhere and cleaned and put in plastic bags, then brought back to the Welcome Center to be divided up among participants and their coolers.
Soc Clay and I had made the five-hour drive to Lake Erie on Tuesday, checking into our cabin at Phil Whitt’s Beach Cliff Lodge on the northern tip of Catawba Island that afternoon.
The cabins and motel rooms are reasonably priced. The beds are comfortable. There’s a fish-cleaning station and free freezer space for your walleye fillets. The Catawba State Park Boat Ramp is nearby. The Catawba Ferry to South Bass Island is just a block away.
For reservations, or for a brochure and rate sheet, call (419) 797-4553, or write Beach Cliff Lodge, 4189 N.W. Catawba Road, Port Clinton, OH 43452. The website is www.beachclifflodge.com.
Capt. Davis’ boat can accommodate up to six people. A full day (8.5 hours) for walleye $510, or $85 per angler if there are six of you.
For booking or information, call toll-free 1-888-497-3474. The website is www.hatchetmancharters.com.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.