Father's Day delivered a $4,000 present at 9:30 a.m. for angler Tom Nelson, 44, of Hamburg.
Nelson, fishing with his in-laws off the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek and east toward Myers Reef, reeled in an 11.88-pound, 32-inch walleye to win the top prize in the 23rd Annual Southtowns Walleye Association (SWA) Tournament.
His big 'eye went for a watermelon-finished Renosky, a slender, minnow-type bait, trolled off a planer board over 50-foot depths. His catch came on the morning of the last day of the tournament.
"The winds started to pick up that morning and we headed in to the weigh station at Sturgeon Point at about 11," Nelson said.
His efforts resulted in the money winnings and trophy status, but he credits his in-laws and family for his fishing pursuits and successes.
Nelson has fished in competitions only for the past two years.
"I got into fishing about six, seven years ago with my brother-in-law Daryll MacNeil and father-in-law Paul MacNeil," he said. "Those two have been fishing together for decades; I'm a late bloomer."
Along with his in-laws, Nelson fished with nephew Derek MacNeil, 16, on the day of his trophy catch.
Various members of the family fished all week, with Daryll serving as boat captain each outing. Nelson's son Tom, 21, also fished most days but missed the winning-fish outing.
"Fishing was good throughout the tournament," Nelson said, "and we averaged four,five fish each day, with nine or 10 coming in on Saturday."
Previously, Daryll took third place in the 1997 Southtowns Tourney. Daryll and Nelson won first place in the Amara-Can out of Dunkirk in 2005, one of Nelson's first serious contest entries.
Farther west, SWA competitors saw greater numbers but fewer top fish. In all, 20 walleye weighed in over the 10-pound mark, said Sue Guenther, tourney coordinator.
Close to 1,200 anglers entered the contest, about the same as last year, but weigh-ins above eight pounds -- required for entry -- were down slightly.
An abundance of 2003-year class fish, now in the two-to-three-pound range and measuring in the low 20 inches, kept anglers busy catching numbers but less active at weighing in for one of the 200 prizes offered.
Nelson took his winning fish close to Buffalo on the last day of competition, but as the nine-day tournament progressed, serious entrants began moving west to hook up with the eastward movement of walleye in Lake Erie.
"By midweek, many of the boaters were heading to Barcelona," said Vince Piasecki, granddad of Brandon Piasecki, 15, winner of the Youth Division of the SWA Tournament.
Like the Nelson-MacNeil family, the Piasecki pack fished each day of the tourney, averaging 10 fish a day. Granddad Vince, a devoted Barcelona Harbor 'eye catcher, works all kinds of rigs to get down to the right depths with the right lure stuff for connecting with lunker walleye.
"Brandon got his 10.17-pound fish on a silver Renosky on a lead-core line; the Renosky had that older finish, not the new (prism) finish," Vince said.
For Brandon, a Florida resident who visits with granddad during SWA tourneys, this was his third, and last, Youth Division first-place finish.
"Next year he'll have to fish the Adult Division," Vince said. But grandson Bob Ruzewski, 9, of Pittsburgh, will be back to fish the Youth Division for another six years. Bob took ninth in the Youth Division this year.
"They all (grandkids and nephews) can set up all the rigs; they don't need me out there to run lines," granddad Vince said of the family fishing clan.
Guenther has already begun plans for the 24th Annual SWA tourney, but catch results from this year's contest indicate a good summer walleye season for both the lunker-class fish and the abundant 2003-year-class 'eyes.
Tourney trollers generally cruised over less than 60 feet. This past week, hot days and warm nights have pushed bait and feeding walleye out to deeper depths, but Buffalo-area anglers see schools setting up at the head of the river and around nearby shoals, Seneca Shoal, Myers Reef, Waverly Shoals and along the Canadian shoreline.
All SWA tourney trophies and prizes have been awarded. Now, serious 'eye guys (and women anglers) work Erie's eastern water in search of good schooling that might provide winners of New York Walleye Association's Amara-Can Tourney, set for July 14 and 15 out of Chadwick Bay Marina in Dunkirk Harbor.
For tournament details, call George Boice (874-2522), Jim Borucki (897-1522), or Dayton Kane (875-8872).