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Published: Sunday, 5/16/2004

Fun key to Florida success

To get invited to fish in the prestigious Rolex/IGFA Inshore Championships in the Florida Keys, all you have to do is win a Lake Erie walleye tournament.

At least that s the formula used by Len Partin of Port Clinton. It was his chance to run with the big dogs.

“It s more luck on my part,” he said of his 23rd-place finish in a field of 42 Rolex/IGFA anglers, many of them world-class, hardball competitors.

“Some of those boys are there just to win.”

Partin, on the other hand, took the higher path. He was there to enjoy himself. “I had a wonderful time. I d like to go again.”

A real estate broker and auctioneer, not to mention a savvy Lake Erie walleye fisherman, Partin signed on last June for the second annual Mercury Redbone @ Large Key Bank Lake Erie Classic. The event benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

He won the event, which gave him an invitation to the fourth annual Rolex/International Game Fish Association tournament held earlier this month.

“It was my home turf and I did really well in it,” Partin said of the Erie Classic. The field included about 40 anglers, featuring catch-and-release walleye fishing with guides to keep track of size and number.

Based at Islamorada, Fla., the Rolex/IGFA is a three-day event, fishing for tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook and redfish. Each of the 42 anglers in the field had won at least one of 50 qualifying tournaments staged in 22 states and four continents.

Anglers could earn points based on choice of fly fishing, artificial lure, or baitcasting preferences, fishing with a different guide at random each day.

Partin chose to fish with live bait and baitcasting gear, and caught two bonefish, one of them about nine pounds, and an 80-pound tarpon.

Tarpon are the mad dogs of the sea, as Partin learned. “When I was done with that, I was whupped.”

His middle-of-the-pack finish was, for him, a thrill, given the hard-core competition.

The grand champion was Mitch Howell of Plantation, Fla., who landed all five species. He is a securities investment advisor.

Howell and runner-up Sharon Ellenwood, a Tavernier, Fla., florist who also landed five species, were each awarded a Rolex timepiece.

Partin said he had such a good time that he is entering the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation s third annual Mercury Redbone Lake Erie Classic this year. It is set for June 17 and 18 at the Catawba Island Club.

For details contact Shannon Harris, director of special events, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Rainbow Chapter, 5001 Mayfield Rd., Suite 111, Lyndhurst, OH 44124. Or call 216-382-8295, or toll-free in Ohio, 1-800-368-2150.

Of course, anyone who thinks he or she is going to waltz in and snap up the Redbone win and go on to next spring s Rolex/IGFA Inshore is going to have to go through Partin. He s in it for another try, but he is not hot and bothered about it.

“If I don t do it, I hope whoever wins has as much fun at the Rolex/IGFA as I did.”

Hundreds, if not thousands of motor vehicles scuttle across the U.S. 20 bridge over the Portage River in downtown Woodville every day.

Just downstream, huge, rumbling trains doing business with the local lime plants clatter and squeal across a railroad bridge over the river.

Who thinks of such a humble stretch of stream as a smallmouth bass heaven?

Four fishing teenagers do, for starters. So must the bass.

How about an 18-inch smallmouth? Or a 22-inch northern pike?

Jacob Hepler knows the fish are for real. He caught them. He released the big bass - notable in Lake Erie and a monster for a little stream - but he kept the pike to show his grandfather, Jerry Kepus, an avid outdoorsman and inveterate elk hunter.

“Every free moment he s out there,” said Pat Hepler, Jacob s dad. “He s my outdoorsman.”

Hepler s 15-year-old son will work the holes, casting spinnerbaits of several colors, all bright, in search of the smallies.

Earlier he and his buddies were catching white bass as well. The buddies include Nathan Weichman, Dennis Dudrow and Andy LaBrier.

The teen anglers typically catch five to seven fish apiece in a couple of hours of wading and casting, the elder Hepler said.

Not bad for a humble stream simply glanced at, if not overlooked, by passing motorists and trainmen.

Lake Erie water levels currently are four inches higher than a year ago and are expected to remain so until at least mid June, according to the Ohio Division of Water.

By late summer, however, the lake level is expected to be four inches below a year ago. Levels generally are higher in spring and early summer but they evaporate by late summer and fall.

So boaters and fishermen, take heed - and take a set of charts on lake excursions. In additional to navigation charts, watercraft authorities caution boaters to observe the “rules of the road” when encountering buoys and markers.

Lake levels remain slightly below long-term averages since 1918. But weather patterns in the Great lakes basin can change quickly and unpredictably and alter even the most educated of preseason predictions, said Dick Bartz, state water division chief.

Prolonged, heavy downpours or extended dry spells in the upper Great Lakes directly and primarily impact Lake Erie levels, and those events may defy forecasts. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of the water in Lake Erie comes from the upper lakes via the Detroit River.

“Most recreational boating will not be affected by low water levels across most of Lake Erie, but boaters must continue to exert care, especially around the western reef complex and other areas where depth are more shallow,” said Ken Alvey, chief of the Ohio Division of Watercraft.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068



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