Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell

Fishing bug is catching, but not the walleye

Was that a serious bite, or just the hook dragging on the floor of Lake Erie? To the amateur sportsman trying not to act like the most stupid person on board the fishing boat, any nudge on the line holds promise. But after you have pulled up a few zebra mussels and a clamshell, the idea begins to sink in: Fishing is not that easy. You have to be very, very patient for the big chomp on the line, and the bigger the chomp, the bigger the fish.

Seconds after a fresh worm was applied to the hook, the big pull on the line happened. Wow! It was a real fight to reel in whatever was hungry for the worm on my line. I almost cried for help from one of the other four people on the Saturday morning trip, until I heard one of them say, “Don't help her, she can do it.”

Thanks to Lake Erie's muddy water, the catch remains a mystery until it's almost out of the water, which adds some to the excitement. But soon we see that the15-inch fish that surfaces is not a walleye that could be cleaned, battered, and deep-fried for some of the best eating in the United States.

My catch was a sheephead.

For the information of other amateur fishermen, sheepheads are not kept by Lake Erie fishermen. They are thrown back so that another walleye enthusiast can snag them. I suppose it would be possible for the same sheephead to be caught and tossed back 10 or more times.

Not all sheepheads live to be caught a second time, however. Those that swallow the hook deep in their gullet don't recover when the hook is removed with pliers.

This is no fish story. My second sheephead - yes, I caught a second one - was floating, not swimming, when I last saw it. I felt sorry for it when the seagulls swooped down to check it out for lunch. Nature's feeding customs are sometimes hard to take.

Surely, in some cultures sheepheads must be a delicacy. There was talk in our group that if the meat is cut into strips and boiled in salt water, it tastes like shrimp. That's probably like talking yourself into thinking mock crab tastes like real crab.

Sheepheads got in the way of our hopes for walleye because they are neighbors. Both are bottom feeders, as Dale Adams, my informant and hook-baiter, said. Both are considered game fish that prefer worms to minnows. Perch prefer minnows.

How many times have I said I am not into fishing because I lack the patience it requires, plus there's always the chance that you will be lucky and then have to face the cleaning ordeal.

But there's more to fishing than fishing. There's the relaxation that being on the water gives.

Old Lake Erie was quite rough that day, or at least it was compared to Posey Lake. As Dick Youngpeter captained his 24-foot craft into the lake from its Long Beach mooring, the picture of our beautiful Great Lakes region began to take shape. I quit after counting 30 boats on the horizon, which made a lovely picture on a sunny day. It's quiet on the big lake, compared to the small recreation lakes swarming with high-speed, noisy boats and jet skis.

The word from the lady who sells worms at the Turtle Creek Campground on Route 2 was that the walleye were near the shore. Still we went out a mile, which in Lake Erie talk is near shore. It seemed like a good distance to me. We did not drop anchor but drifted, propelled by the waves and the wind. That the lines were dropped in nine to 10 feet of water is an indication of how shallow Lake Erie is.

Moving the boat twice didn't increase our luck. It wasn't for lack of good equipment that I failed Fishing 101. The borrowed rod and reel was a $350 O. Loomis.

We continued to pull up tiny zebra mussels clinging to stones and shells, one small gobe, and more sheepheads.

Now that I have the bug, if not the fish, I just may give Posey Lake a trial run. Worms from the gardens are as free as the weeds, compared to the nearly $2 a dozen paid by my friends. My 14-foot outboard is in the water. The battery runs and the gas tank is full. Digby loves to ride in the boat beside me as co-pilot. The good news may be that indeed Posey has been stocked with walleye that have grown into adulthood and they will have a taste for worms.

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