Chris Cupples, assistant to the governor, shows off his first-ever walleye caught in Lake Erie on the annual Fish Ohio Day outing.
LAKESIDE - If you want a quick lesson on how to catch Lake Erie walleyes this time of year, learn from a savvy veteran guide like Rick Dunlap.
His primary advice is straightforward and simple: Don't give up.
Dunlap didn't give up on Monday, when he and 16 other guides donated time and services to the annual Governor's Lake Erie Fish Ohio Day, and it paid off handsomely with a fine catch of walleyes. Not to mention some of the usual suspects - chunky, feisty sheepshead, silvery and scrappy white bass, and purple-chinned white perch.
The walleye, of course, were what The Day was all about, but the bonus fish kept action and attention alive in between.
Dunlap had located fish for customers off Gull Reef, north of Kelleys Island, on Sunday and figured on a repeat for the governor's entourage next day. But the action was not happening there, no matter how he set up his 30-foot Sportcraft to drift the edges of the rockpiles, where walleye like to hold.
But Dunlap didn't waste the half-day of the fishing side of the promotional event by sitting in one place. He picked up and moved, down to some deep rockpiles east of Catawba Point. No one home. So he moved again.
Trying some rocky ledges and structure off the east side of South Bass Island, Dunlap's party struck pay dirt. Sliding along from 22 feet on into 10, someone on board seemed to pick up a fish every drift. Once three walleyes were on at the same time. After crossing the shallows and dropping off the back side into deeper water, each time Dunlap slowly would motor in wide circles back up the drift, changing angles slightly each time and each time picking up fish.
Only the event schedule forced an end to a fine morning. "They [the fish] were supposed to be off The Bird," he said, referring to Gull Reef. "What they are doing here [in calmer shallows off South Bass], only the fish know."
Indeed, no one thinks to fish shallow waters in high, late-morning or early-afternoon sun. Walleye supposedly do not like bright light, clearer water - as around rockpiles - or warmer water, which you also can expect in shallows.
Maybe walleye squint when they feed in bright lights. In any case the ones we caught didn't read the same fishing magazines. You might chalk it up to a hardy predatory species with a pea-brain that knows about only two questions to ask - What's that? Can I eat it?
Too, some anglers are starting to catch on that walleyes like to eat those pesky round gobies, the little invader pest-fish, and gobies can be found on the rocks. In the end, Dunlap kept trying until he found active fish, and he did not stick to just one program or area.
Favored for casting were Weapons, the hybrid lures that are meant to mimic an emerging adult mayfly and are a cross between a classic weight-forward spinner and a worm harness. Gold is the color. But in the shallows, 3/8-ounce weight-forwards such as the Erie Shiner, in gold, also worked wonders.
A couple of "dead men" - worm harnesses on three-ounce weights fished six cranks off the bottom, using soft rods stuck in rod-holders - also caught some fish.
"It's all about presentation," Dunlap noted, as he coached some less experienced anglers to their first walleyes. Overall, he added, 2007 has been a top year for fishing.
"I've been at it 38 years," he noted. "It's one of the best." The guide likened the steady action since spring to 1977 and 1978, when the walleye boom started, on into the heady, early 1980s. Most of the reason for the great fishing now is the mega-class of 2003, walleye of which are up to 20 inches or more. Dunlap is hoping for another megaclass this year, one that could carry his chartering on into retirement.
As for action right now in mid-July, Dunlap added, "they're biting. It's not the suicide bite it was this spring [in the jigging season]. But they're biting."
In the spring Dunlap worked both the reefs off Davis-Besse and those closer to his home base between the islands. One site - it is not marked, so don't ask - produced walleye catches on purple jigs and stingers alone, no bait.
The guide notes the mayfly hatches mostly are past. "The lion's share of them are done." So that should help keep local schools hungry, and the mid-week cold front should help by not continuing to heat up the lake.
Elsewhere, area baitshops were reporting decent catching off the Crane Creek area near Davis-Besse in 21 to 23 feet of water, and off the various cans around the outer Camp Perry Firing Zone.
About 500 catchable-size channel catfish, one to three pounds and 12 to 15 inches, were to be stocked in the pond at Pearson Metropark today by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2, said that the stocking is part of a program to provide quality fishing for young anglers in urban settings, much like the catchable trout stock that occurs across the region at select lakes and ponds in the spring.
"They're very popular with the kids, and they're pretty easy to catch," the biologist said. He noted that similar stocked-pond programs are very popular at the state fair.
A fish fry starting at 4 p.m. today leads off the annual Ladies Day Weekend at Canvasback Gun Club, 3801 West Dunbar Rd., Monroe, Mich.
A trapshoot follows at 6 p.m. Tomorrow's events include a team trapshoot 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., steak roast at 4 p.m., and a trapshoot at 5 p.m. Sunday events include a 3-D bowshoot at 9:30 a.m., with ladies shooting free, a trapshoot at 10 a.m., chicken dinners at noon, and an auction at 1 p.m. For other details call the club at 734-241-2875.