LUNA PIER, Mich. - When you cross over to the Michigan side of western Lake Erie, you truly have entered Trolling Country.
While Michigan fishermen include a fair share of casting fans, walleye-catching there more often than not is hooked to boats that pull baits through the water, rather than to drifting and casting.
Lee Boyer, skipper of the Fishing Farmer, out of Luna Pier, agrees. He notes that only a handful of charter guides from Luna Pier to Brest Bay focus on casting for fish. The majority are trollers, including him.
It goes back to Michigan's 40-year heritage as a salmon fishing state. Many fishermen grew up on salmon trolling boats, like Boyer. So it was a natural progression to adapt trolling techniques to Lake Erie waters when walleye started coming on strong in the last 25 years.
Southview teachers Matt Fojtik, left, Steve Swaggerty and Terry Shadle show their limits of walleye after a Lake Erie trolling trip on the boat of Lee Boyer, known as the Fishing Farmer.
Boyer said that he typically does just a couple of casting trips a year, and those are for longtime customers who demand it. Most others mostly enjoy seeing a boxful of walleye, and trolling without question is the way to do that day in and day out.
Boyer actually is the Fishing Teacher. During the school year he teaches American government at Southview High School, where he also is track coach and assistant football coach. He was a linebacker at Bowling Green State University 1990 to 1994.
His late uncle, Gary Niederhouse, a Monclova farmer and fisherman, began the Fishing Farmer business in the salmon heydays on Lake Michigan, working out of Ludington. Boyer grew up helping him, and when his uncle died, he took over the business.
On a recent trip, Boyer signed on three fellow Southview teacher-coaches and yours truly to demonstrate Michigan-side trolling. The crew included Terry Shadle, varsity girls basketball assistant coach; Steve Swaggerty, junior varsity girls basketball coach, and Matt Fojtik, varsity girls golf coach.
After just a short run out of the Luna Pier Harbor Club, in 11 to 17 feet of water, Boyer set lines, clipping each to big double-ski planer boards. He uses Big Jon mini-divers and small, copper-backed Silver Streak spoons with an array of face-paints - browns, oranges, purples, and blues. Boyer also runs a couple of lines off Dipsy Divers. The walleye did not seem finicky.
One short downwind run to a point west of Turtle Island, then back up for a long pull from Toledo Beach to Turtle Island and we were done. It was a mite choppy that day and Boyer notes that it is much easier just making downwind trolls than beating upwind.
"If we don't get any three, four-day northeasters, I think these fish are going to hold in here," said Boyer. Most of the Michigan-side fish are the 2003-year-class in the 16 to 18-inch range, with a sprinkling of longer fish.
Our morning limit-run - we were done by 10:30 a.m. - included the release of a handful of "spikes," eight-inch walleye from the 2005 year-class. Lake biologists have not been excited over the '05 hatch, saying that at best it is only poor to fair. But seeing those spikes is encouraging in that at least some fish will be added to the fishery from last year's class.
Boyer said this week that Michigan-siders have been trolling up limits in two to three hours or as long as four to five hours, depending on the day. Trollers also are working a bit farther offshore, in 15 to 18 feet of water, between the E-Buoy off Toledo Beach and Turtle Island.
Swaggerty was on his first Lake Erie fishing foray, and wants to return for more. "It was a great time. It was a lot of fun. I've just gone casting on smaller lakes."
Trolling, he observes, "is an intricate process. I was impressed at how smooth things go." To which the Fishing "Farmer-Teacher" just adds: "When the weather cooperates and the fishing is great, you just can't beat the job."
He can be contacted at www.fishingfarmer.com or 419-878-3846.
On the Ohio side of the ake, the main walleye action has been well offshore, between Middle Sister and West Sister islands. An active pack of mainly '03 walleyes, with some larger fish lurking out and away from the motor noise, remains up near the Ohio-Ontario line.
Boats are running 10 to 13 miles from Maumee Bay-Cooley Canal marinas and 22 miles or more from Port Clinton-Marblehead marinas to reach the fishing action. If you are drifting and casting, your best bet is to tie on a hammered gold mayfly rig, dress it with just about a third of a nightcrawler, or less, and fish the "swing" on a 15 to 20-count.
Rick Catley, at Rickard's Bait on Catawba Island, said the action has been moving somewhat, "a little more east and south daily," from directly south of Middle Sister on the Canadian line to below G-Can and F-Can about a mile south of the line.
Larger walleye are being dug out by "rock-pickers" casting weigh-forward spinners around the islands and shoals. They also are being taken off Pelee Island on the Ontario side by trollers pulling worm harnesses.
In a recent Western Basin Sportfishing Association event, Michigan trollers Andrew Wilson and Trent Lee teamed up to win with five walleye weighing 38.08 pounds. They fished around Gull Island Shoal pulling worm harnesses.
Second place in the WBSA event went to David Hartman, of Columbus Grove, and his son, Travis Hartman, of Bellevue, who pulled spinners in the Gull Island area for 31.72 pounds of fish. Third place went to Dick Chicoine, of Port Clinton, and Bobby Johns, of Fremont, at 31 pounds.
Closer to shore, yellow perch action has been booming, said Dave Ray at Edgewater Bait in Point Place. He has been seeing limits daily of 7 to 10-inch perch taken from around the Toledo Harbor Light, farther out along the Toledo Ship Channel, and around the Toledo Water Intake. "It's been fabulous. The fish are nice and meaty."
The Ohio Division of Wildlife also reports good perch activity around Ballast Island and east of Kelleys Island.