Walleye are like sharks - fishy predators with teeth that like to slip up into shallows after dark in pursuit of something to eat.
You get to understand that in no uncertain terms when you leave the dock sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. or so - carefully, with a searchlight for the channel - and make your way out to the western Lake Erie near-shore reefs. Today's GPS navigation can put you on a dime out there, without getting you into trouble.
Ideally, it is calm, or nearly so. That way you can drift very slowly up one side of a reef, across the top, then down the backside. All the while you and your buddies - go with veterans you can trust - are casting plastic crankbaits that dive and wiggle and vibrate.
The idea is to infuriate a walleye into smacking the plastic prey. It works. Just such a fish-before-dawn trip worked to perfection a year ago and a recently staged sequel was no bummer, either. It was Toledoan Dan Tucker's fault.
Honest Dan, as he is called, had just gotten back his beloved Erie Sport - a classic old 27-foot Sportcraft, the one-time standard on the lake - after most of a summer in repair dock. He wanted to break her back in right.
It did not take much arm-twisting to assemble Jerry Meatpole Meyers Sr., Tom "Turtle Man" Frisch, and me for an oh-dark-thirty departure from Turtle Creek Marina near Davis-Besse.
It is something to be Out There at night, alone with the lake and the Milky Way overhead. It is the stuff you can write pretty books about.
This sequel trip would have been ideal had it not been for a mite too much northwest wind, which caused us to drift too fast for comfort and required repeated circling of the reefs we targeted to set up new drifts.
Still, we all caught walleyes, mostly the reliable and nicely chunky 2003s. Big-lipped cranks worked best in the two to four-foot waves. Bring an assortment of favorites.
By the time that big red ball broke the eastern horizon, we were well on our way to a limit. Tucker and Meyers - who on other days guides from his own 27-Sport, Water Witch - were both sure we might have been done for the day solely on crankbaits, and no later than 8 or 9 a.m., had the wind cooperated.
As it was, we finished out with gold-bladed mayfly rigs and nightcrawlers and were at the dock by lunchtime. But about two-thirds of our fish fell to crankbaits in the darkened shallows.
Next time, Tucker said, how about a sunset till midnight run? Same deal, drifting reeftops with crankbaits. Sounds like a plan.
Speaking of walleyes and sharks and teeth, 9-year-old Andrea Cromley was not sure what to think when she hooked and landed a 29-inch walleye on a recent family vacation trip on Lake Erie.
The young angler, daughter of Gary and Terri Cromley of Bowling Green, smiled prettily for the photograph, but her big brother, Mitch, 12, had to scoot down behind her and hold up the big walleye's head.
"She didn't like the teeth on that thing," said her dad, who had to add, "35 years of fishing on Lake Erie, and I have yet to take a Fish Ohio 'eye. My 9-year-old daughter beat me to it."
Cromley said they had been on vacation at a lakeside condo for a week and fished off and on with poor action. "Last day of vacation - we had to be out by 1 p.m. - she hooked this 'gator on an Ugly Stick with six-pound line, casting a gold-on-gold Weapon hand-tied by Captain Don the Buffalo Lowther." It all happened off A-Can in just a two-hour, last-minute trip, Cromley said.
The family took the fish to Jim's Taxidermy in Port Clinton to be made into a lasting memory. It checked in at 8 pounds, 12 ounces. "She fell victim to a little cooler shrinkage, but still a wonderful fish for this time of year," Cromley said. Indeed.
Elsewhere on the lake, walleye action overall has been slow and winds at midweek made getting out a problem. The best reports when conditions permit have been about a mile south of Northwest Reef and near C-Can on the international line below and east of Ontario's Middle Island, according to Rick Catley at Rickard's Bait on Catawba Island.
In other news, the Michigan Division of the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League visits the Detroit River at Trenton on Aug. 30 for the fourth of five season events. Up to 200 boaters and 200 co-anglers can compete for a pot of up to $45,000, including a top prize of $6,000.
Anglers can register to fish online at FLWOutdoors.com or by calling 270-252-1000. On-site registration is set for Aug. 29, 4 to 7 p.m., at the Wal-Mart store, 23800 Allen Rd. in Woodhaven. Elizabeth Park Marina in Trenton is the take-off/weigh-in site at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively.
Elsewhere, salmon fishing on western Lake Ontario "is still pretty good," notes Waterville guide Keith Poland, who annually trucks his Snow Pirate to Point Breeze, N.Y., in pursuit of big kings from mid July to mid September.
His boat scored big-time yesterday when a client, Chuck Duvendack of Oregon, landed a 42-inch king that weighed a whopping 32 pounds, 7 ounces.
"We had 17 or 18 bites, 10 fish in the boat, and were ready to quit when this big one buried the rod," Poland said.
A 16-month investigation into illegal fishing has resulted in 119 charges against three Windsor, Ont., area individuals and a Windsor business, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources said.
In May, OMNR conservation officers searched residences in the Town of LaSalle and a Windsor commercial business, seizing two vehicles, a boat, fish processing equipment, fishing gear, and a quantity of fish.
Charges range from taking more than the limit, buying and selling fish illegally, illegal transport, and illegal possession of a gill net and hook line. The OMNR said the fishing offenses were between April, 2007, and May, 2008, in the Detroit River and in Lake Erie off Essex County.
In related news, two Ontario commercial fishing boat captains have been fined for net-
Lino Cabral, 51, of Wheatley was fined $2,500 for not reporting fish over quota and for discarding dead fish into the lake rather than turning them over to the OMNR. Cabral allegedly dumped about 150 pounds of yellow perch overboard off
Chatham-Kent while trawling for smelt, this after previously taking his perch quota, according to the ministry.
Cabral pleaded guilty to the charges in the Ontario Court of Justice in Windsor.
Similarly, Emilio Maurico, 48, a Leamington skipper of the MI-Mark, pleaded guilty and was fined $2,320 in court in Chatham for failing to submit an accurate daily report, fishing outside permitted fishing grounds, and allowing about 200 pounds of yellow perch to spoil and become unfit to eat. The violations occurred while MI-Mark was fishing out of Erieau.
The 26th annual Lake Erie Waterfowlers Festival is set for tomorrow and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, 13229 West State Rt. 2, Oak Harbor.
Among an array of activities is the annual decoy contest set for Sunday and sponsored by the Maumee Bay Carvers, one of several festival sponsors. Decoy registration is set for 8 to 10 a.m.. Waterfowl singles are at 10 a.m., waterfowl rigs at 11 a.m., free-standing decoys at 11:30 a.m., and working class decoys at noon. For details, call Bob Lund 419-874-3671.
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