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FAIRPORT HARBOR, Ohio - We jokingly called it Fish Ohio Day - East, but the cooler full of big, chunky walleye looked longingly like the good-old western Lake Erie heydays of the '80s.
Jeff Frischkorn, outdoors writer for the News-Herald in Lake County, called together a boatload of fellow writers this week to sample what Ohio's "other Lake Erie" has to offer, walleye-wise. It was an unofficial sequel to the recent 31st annual Governor's Fish Ohio Day, a local and state-sponsored promotion.
At Tuesday's unofficial "event," each thump of a six and seven-pound fish into the cooler aboard Ron Johnson's boat - aptly named Thumper - spoke for itself. That many big fish in mid-July would have blown the roof off festivities at the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center West on a Fish Ohio Day.
Bigger walleye seem to gravitate to the baitfish schools "down east" after spawning on the western reefs in the spring. Johnson has found walleye 16 miles offshore in 60 feet of water. "That's where the smelt are at," he explained. He added that he has taken "really nice fish."
Such offshore, deepwater circumstances tip you off that this is a trolling scene. Casting for walleyes, still a favorite though not exclusively in the west end, is not in the cards here.
Most of the walleyes taken out here are from the remaining ranks of the 2003 mega-class, though occasionally smaller but legal [well over 15 inches] fish are taken. Johnson uses 50-foot Jet Divers and Stinger spoons, mostly copper with bright doo-dad color patterns, set anywhere from 130 to 150 feet back.
A bonus comes with fishing down east - steelhead trout, which roam these deeper, cooler stretches of the central basin in fishable numbers.
Ed Moody, of Louisville, Ohio, landed a dandy "silver bullet" this trip. Some trips, Johnson catches as many steelies as walleyes.
He said he has had a good year. But the economy has chipped away at bookings; the clients at times are unable to fill out a six-pack charter and thus cancel.
"At least gas isn't $4.20 like it was last year," Johnson said. He uses 45 to 65 gallons a trip on his twin 31-foot Tiara.
Bob Ulas, executive director of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, who hosted the day and joined the crew for a post-angling lunch, noted at times the fishery and touring amenities and offerings east of Cleveland may be a mite overlooked.
But what cannot be overlooked is a box full of fat walleyes. We didn't count but figured we landed 16 or so fish in a six-hour trip that included two hours of running time.
Skipper Marv DeGreen, who runs the Evil Eye, also plied smelt schools near Thumper and his party hung 27 lunkers - proof of the notion that these big-fish waters are no fluke.
For details on fishing and other regional offerings down east, contact Ulas' shop at 1-800-368-LAKE or visit lakevisit.com. Johnson can be reached at 440-487-0002 or at thumpercharter.com.
In Erie fishing close to home, another muskellunge report has surfaced, this time a 30-incher caught, photographed, and released by Walbridge angler R.C. Renaux.
He was fishing north of West Sister Island on the boat of Greg Wagener of Monclova. John Schoenlein of Perrysburg, who took a snapshot, said Renaux was casting a gold Erie Dearie when the muskie struck.
In the western basin, walleye action has been good around West Sister Island, near shore off Crane Creek, around K-Can of the Camp Perry Firing Range, around Niagara Reef, west of West Reef, and on the Canadian line east of Kelleys Island, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait in Jerusalem Township said that size has been mixed, with a fairly good number of undersized 13 and 14- inch fish and even some of last year's, at 7 inches or so, having to be sorted and released.
Ferguson noted state wildlife officers have made some arrests recently for undersized fish; the legal minimum is 15 inches. He said anglers might be well advised to make sure their fish at 15 1/4 to 15 1/2 inches just to be sure.
Rick Catley at Rickard's Bait on Catawba Island said that water off West Reef is producing walleye from 17 feet and deeper, and off Northwest Reef also has been good, with trollers doing well off Gull Island Shoal.
"A lot of the fish are up," Catley advised. "If you get under them you get into white perch."
Yellow perch fishing reports were limited. Catley said the action was decent but grade of perch was mixed off the southwest corners of Rattlesnake and Green Islands and in 29 feet off Ballast Island.
Perch action was very good well east, as in off Conneaut, where writer-angler Mike Tontimonia of Ravenna said he has taken measured 13-inchers.
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We jokingly called it Fish Ohio Day - East, but the cooler full of big, chunky walleye looked longingly like the good-old western Lake Erie heydays of the '80s.