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Author Archives: Chris Kwapich

Small Walleye Dominating Lake Erie Waters

The good news is the recent boon in walleye hatches are out in full force feeding, taking full advantage of the mayfly run, and going after angler lures in the Western Basin. The bad news is. . . well, there really isn’t any bad news about this. Fishermen may find it somewhat annoying feeding their night crawlers to the hatch and fatiguing their reeling wrists on the small ‘eye that have taken over the June waters of the shallow end of Lake Erie. Charter boat captains may be inconvenienced by having to tote along extra bait and having to go through the extra gas to go out to deeper waters  to  find the larger fish that their clients can legally put in their coolers and wells. But the payoff is going to be worth it.

Next year, those small fish are going to be legal size, just as hungry and will be a reminder of what makes Lake Erie walleye fishing great. Right now, it’s merely an exercise in patience. And attitude. This hatch is an investment in the lake’s future. And there are still legal-sized walleyes out there in this dragnet of juveniles. It may be a pain to find them, but they do still exist.

Let Those Small Lake Erie Walleye Grow

As much as it pains us to go home with a lighter cooler, as tempted as we are to keep those damn-near-legal fish, we need to let them go with a tip of the hat and a see you next year. I may be a bit of a sentimental when in comes to fishing, but to me it’s all about releasing stock back into the lake for future years–and a respect for the sport. We have size-limitations and number limits for a reason. Over harvesting can knock a lake and its sport fishing to its knees.

If that isn’t  enough incentive, I noticed the DNR officers are more active. In the marina I was docked at this last weekend, one particular DNR official had boats lined up in the channel and was inspecting coolers. He didn’t hesitate in handing out tickets for undersized fish to the tune of $30.00 a pop. This could make for an expensive fishing trip to those not diligent with their measuring sticks.

River Walleye in the Maumee

River Walleye in the Maumee

We’d spent a lot of time fishing in the Maumee, hitting the catfish hole and, of course, the Spring walleye run. We even fished the salmon run in late Fall, something that, until we saw a chinook in our landing net, we didn’t think existed.

If there’s anything we learned, it was that the Maumee was never short of surprises. One day, as we walked along a park on the river, Dad and I spied two people fishing with bobbers along the bank. Naturally, we asked them how they were doing what they were fishing for.

“Walleye,” they said. Which amused us at first. It was June. They walleye run was long over. But then they lifted a stringer with two jacks on it.

It wasn’t something we’d really considered, walleye that actually lived in the river. For all we knew, they were bound to the waters of Lake Erie when they weren’t on their spawn run. It was something worth investigating. It was, after all, walleye.

We’d seen boats anchored near the tip of an island off the park, just before a series of rapids. This seemed  strange to us at first, but in light of our new-found information, it started to make sense. So, we went home, packed up the aluminum boat and  headed back to the park.

After a quarter-mile trip from the boat ramp, we rounded the bend off the tip of the island. After struggling to get the anchors just right, we cast out or bobbers and waited. It wasn’t long until we had our first strike, the bobber disappearing below the waterline. Then we tried to set the hook. Nothing. Another hit, another nothing. This went on for a while before we discovered the tactic to land what was hitting our bait. Then we started to catch, lo and behold, river walleye.

And not just a few. As we discovered, there were a lot of river walleye. On one expedition, three of us caught a total of fifty-something walleye (it boiled down to catch-and-release when we hit our limits–just fishing and having a hell of a time) in the matter of a few hours.

This went  on all summer, and well into the next year. Then, as all good things, it came to and end. As quiet as we tried to keep this newfound secret, more boats started to appear. Maybe it was because the fishing spot was so visible from the highway. But word spread, and eventually the honey hole dried up.

It was fun while it lasted. And part of the fun was the learning curve of this type of walleye fishing. Here’s some of the things we l;earned.

Fish That Hole

One of the reasons that that particular fishing spot was so effective, was it was he perfect storm of locations. First off, it was at the base of the rapids. Secondly, it was in a hole with a sharp drop, or shelf, that walleye like so much. Make sure you position yourself upstream from the hole and let the bobbers drift above it.

Anchoring the Boat

You just couldn’t toss out and anchor and fish. Being near the rapids, the current was rather strong. And in order to have more than one person fish with a bobber comfortably, you should use two anchors–one off the bow and one off the stern–so that you can sit perpendicular to the current.

 

river-walleye-fishing

Go upstream from the area you want to fish and drop anchor, the bow tip still pointed upstream.  The current will then  do its job and start sweeping your bow downstream. Immediately drop another anchor off the bow and control the bow movement by releasing rope by hand until you are perpendicular to the current. Then tie it off.

Sometimes this takes more than one attempt. Especially if you are trying to get aligned with a specific hole. And even more so if  you’re in a strong current. The anchor won’t always catch when you want it to.

Disclaimer: DON’T do this if the current is too strong.  Throwing out an anchor in a strong current is never a good idea if you value keeping your boat afloat.

Catching Walleye on a Bobber Rig with Nightcrawlers

Yes it is possible. And effective under the right conditions. When we fished for the river walleye, this is the main method we used. But is a bit different than normal bobber fishing.

When you bait the hook, leave a fairly good tail of nightcrawler that’s not on the hook. The walleye find this more enticing.

When the bobber goes down, wait. We missed fish after fish until we learned that we were just jerking the bait right out of the walleyes’ mouths. When walleyes go after the bait in this manner, they have a tendency to be non-committal at taking the bait right off the bat. Resist that instinct to set the hook right after the bobber goes under the surface. Wait. Hold the pole in your hand, and feel for when they’ve decided they like the bait.

An Inflatable Raft

An Inflatable Raft

Trips to Lake Erie weren’t uncommon for my family. Sunday trips on the boat, yearly weekly vacations, regular fishing trips. We rented cottages where we docked. It was an area I knew well, its channels, the shorelines. The channels, its cocoa-colored waters that smelled of dead fish and gasoline. The channels were lined with docked boats, some of which quietly leaked fluids. The fish didn’t seem to mind, though. I still caught them there: bullhead, sheephead, perch and the occasional crappie. And I didn’t mind, either. I grew to kind of like the smells–well, what came with them.

We’d go on vacation, I’d fish. If I went with Dad to work on the boat, I’d fish. I’d fish among the canvased boats with their leaking and promises of expeditions. Sometimes between them, sometimes accidentally casting on top of them. All the while, knowing that I would one day have a boat of my own. Even after seeing the struggles my dad and uncle went through to keep them running–afloat, even.

But that wouldn’t be for some time, I knew. At least until my mid-teens when I’d acquired a paper route and found other means of getting money, such as mowing lawns and caddying. Making my own money allowed things to be more in my reach. Including a boat. Of sorts.

One day, I spied an inflatable two man raft in a catalog. The picture showed someone paddling in it in some sort of chlorinated water. It seemed a boring thing, putzing around a pool in such a thing. I could think of a hundred better uses. But I only needed one. As I looked at the price, things all fell into place. A boat. I could afford it. And it was portable, to boot!

I remember opening the box, the smell of new rubber, putting together the plastic oars. But most of all, I recall the excitement of opportunity. And the next time we went to the lake, I took it.

As an adult, I know the foolishness of fishing in an inflatable raft. One stray hook could mean a long swim back to shore and possibly my fishing gear. Hell, I knew that back then. But that was a thought that had no bearing on my decision. The raft came with a handy little foot pump, which my lungs were grateful for. I could have taken it for a spin in the channels, just to test it out. That thought crossed my mind, as well. But I took it straight into the lake itself.

Calling it a two man raft was a stretch. It had just enough room for me and my tackle box. I had no idea how two grown men could squeeze into it–at least without a surgical alteration or two. One-and-a-half man raft sounded more accurate. And I hadn’t inflated it quite enough: the loops that I slipped the oars through were loose and bowed down dangerously close to the water as I rowed. But row, I did. I could correct it another time.

After the first twenty feet or so, I felt exhilarated. I wasn’t even sure why. Perhaps it was the whiff of independence. The waves rolled under the raft, it bowed with them, on top of them. Nothing like the stiff resistance of my Dad’s Lyman. I’d never been on a waterbed before, but was certain that was what it would feel like.

I didn’t go too far out–not by boat standards. Maybe a couple hundred yards. Just far enough to know I was free from the shoreline. I cast my line, rigged with a hook and sinker, into the lake and leaned back.

I sat for a while, gently floating, my reel ticking gently when I had to compensate for slack. Leaning back, the lap of the waves was close to my ears. The sky was a bit bluer that day, the air a bit fresher. And I was 200 yards closer to adulthood.

Then something hit my line with a fury.

Setting the hook was now instinctive, having done so hundreds and hundreds of times before. I sat up in my boat, feeling the weight of the pounding fish on the other end. The excitement of a big catch. The anticipation of the fight and finally seeing what kind it was. But then realizing something I hadn’t taken into account. The boat was moving. And at a fairly good clip. I didn’t have the rigidness of shoreline, or the weight of a wooden boat below me. Just myself and air-filled rubber.

I did the only thing I could, keep reeling; all the while at the mercy of the fish on the other end. A thought crossed my mind. That of the legendary sturgeon that once swam the waters of Lake Erie, and supposedly did on rare occasion. As my raft was whisked away further from the shore, I could only think of what would happen if I landed one of those beasts on my lightweight watercraft: I would never see home.

The fish was no sturgeon. It was, however, big enough to take me where it would. And it did for a while, until I was eventually able to reel enough to get it close to the boat.

Then it broke water, I saw it, a large catfish. A great christening for my one-and-a-half-man raft.

But then another thought: catfish fins. Sharp, bone-hard. Little knitting needles that were the bane of all things inflatable. I’d handled many of them; learned to hold them with their fins between my fingers so I wouldn’t get poked. There was little I could do, however, when their bodies thrashed about.

I extended my pole out from the boat, to try to keep the catfish at bay. I had to lean over the side to reach it, then. My weight on the side of the boat, it gave. Water poured in. I backed off of it. Don’t under-inflate raft. Check.

The front of the boat was fatter, had better support. I leaned over that, pulling the big cat that way. But it was wider, and I had to lean over it further to keep the fish away from the boat. There, hung perilously over the front of the boat, the raft’s tow handle buried in my chest, I grabbed for the cat. It thrashed. I winced, pulling it away from the side. Then it settled. Another attempt, another series of thrashing, another wince.

The third attempt, I had him, a solid grip just below his head. I set the pole down and wrenched the hook free of his mouth. Then, relief. One last look. One last moment to admire my catch. That’s what fishermen do. Then I let it go.

I took a moment or two to settle myself. I could have destroyed my new boat. It could have sank and I would have lost my gear. But I hadn’t. Me, my tackle and boat were all still here.

I glanced at the shoreline. 300 yards out now. 300 yards further. 300 yards closer.

I baited my hook and cast my line.

 

My First Lunker

My First Lunker

Lake Erie in the ’70’s. Lake Erie’s triumphant return from the pollutive meddling of the previous decades. The lake was just getting her lungs back, and on this day, the walleye were still making their slow march to resurrect sport fishing in the Western Basin. But not fully. So that day, we were fishing for catfish.

Pollution or no, Dad had to have a boat. Seems almost a crying shame, a fisherman with a Great Lake on his back stoop, and no boat. This day it was a small, fiberglass number. The model eludes me, but my family dubbed it “The Little Red Boat.” Which sounds like a fine model name to me.

My dad. brothers and I headed a couple miles off shore and cast our lines in the water. Sinkers and night crawlers, that was the tackle for the day. Plenty enough to catch the occasional catfish with a sheephead or two on the side. I was using an older pole with a Zebco 101 bait casting reel which worked just fine when it wanted to (which was just about half the time). If I had wanted the line to go beyond 20 feet, I’d have to help it along, pulling it out from an eternal tangle in its mechanism. And the cap was stripped, taking a bit a bit of trickery to keep it to stay on.

I had gotten a couple of catfish, which despite my reel’s protests, I was able to bring in. But then I had a whopper of a hit. My pole bent nearly in half and rattled against the side of the boat. I jerked it to set the hook, but the rod barely moved. Which probably didn’t matter much– the fish, it seemed, had set it itself. If it was a fish. It felt to my young arms as if I’d snagged the entire bottom of the lake.

But it was a fish, and as I pulled, it gave. Tiny, electric pulses zipped down my spine. My hands reeled with fury. “Take your time,” Dad said. I knew that. I’d caught fish before. I knew to take my time. Little snippets of such advice like that had been burned into me by Dad:  “Set the hook,” “Put it down, he’ll be back,” “We’ll leave after this next beer.” But this fish was different. This wasn’t a casual catch. This was something to boast about later. A fish with an air of importance.

I slowed down as best I could, kept the rod tip up (remembered that one all on my own). Which was the  only thing I could do. If the battered reel had ever had drag, it had long forgotten what the hell it was. The dial to set the drag was sunken into the reel, driven in there by collisions with rocks and ground; dirt from the shoreline of dozens of fishing expeditions were mashed into its innards. There were times when I’d turn the handle and the line wouldn’t advance. But that was from a failing in the reel’s workings, not the sing of drag. The fish pulled the tenuous lifeline of nylon string between it and the boat. These times are when panicked questions pop into your head: When was the last time I changed the line? What pound test was it? I was young, but I knew the perils of old fishing line– by personal experience.

The closer the fish came, the more the reel failed. I turned and turned. Every now and again, the line would catch and bring the fish inches closer. But then, it eventually stopped. Too much for the old Zebco. I turned and turned the reel, hoping that the tired closed faced would gain traction, but it just couldn’t.

Then disaster.

The lid popped off with a quiet shouck. If anyone knows anything about the old Zebcos, they know that the only thing keeping the reel’s insides in was the cap. The internal mechanism fell out. The tiny nub that caught the line and kept it from spilling forward now useless, the line gave way. I grabbed what I could. The reel’s guts in my hand, I pinched the fishing line and stopped it from unwinding. But that was all I could do. I couldn’t bring the fish in anymore. I could only sit and feel the slow, powerful tug tug tug of the leviathan on the end of my rig.

Then Dad was on the side of the boat, leaning over and grabbing the line. He pulled the string by manually, wrapping it over his hands. And without a landing net, he hoisted it out of the water: to my youthful eyes, one of the biggest shovelhead catfish I had ever seen. It was a marvel. Its nearly blue-hued skin, glistening and smooth in  the summer sun. And I had caught it. Well, mostly. Dad had technically landed it. But then wasn’t the time for particulars.

And it was in the boat. That made it officially official. I had caught my first lunker.

I’d like to think I’d learned a lesson that day: something about the importance of keeping your gear in shape; keeping your line strung evenly and fresh. But that was about the last thought in my head. That kind of thinking was for later days, more mature and refined, when logic was less important than the rush of new experiences. A time when little else was as satisfying as hearing the thud of a prized catch thumping around your cooler.

 

 

 

Lake Erie Fisherman Site Progress

The story so far…

The site is up and the  basic structure is down. I’ve added the marine forecasts for the different basins. Because Lake Erie is so long, I even divided each basin into three parts (they should be self-explanatory). You can see them by going to the top menu under Marine Forecasts.

I added a bunch of bait shops for the Western Basin. I have just  the name, address and phone number. But clicking on the phone number on a smart phone seems to work. It gives the option to call the number. You can see the list here.

I’ve also added a Featured Photo on the home page. Eventually, people will be able to submit images and have a chance to have one featured.

The backbone of the forums is in. I just need to tweak them and get them running.