New York’s portion of Lake Erie has a bright future in the sport fishing department. Several strong year classes of walleye are flooding local waters with fish. Smallmouth bass populations are recognized nationally through the efforts of Bassmasters, FLW and other bass organizations – bolstered by a record-tying smallmouth that was reeled in this summer. Add in an underrated trout fishery, several viable year classes of yellow perch on the horizon and a mix of other species and you can see that there’s the making of something special.
To help spread the word of this spectacular resource, the Erie and Chautauqua County Fishery Advisory Boards, in conjunction with the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association and the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau joined forces nine years ago to hold a Lake Erie Experience V.I.P. Fishing Day out of Chadwick Bay Marina in Dunkirk. The gathering was held last week (August 9), the biggest since its inception. When it came to a close for another year, the special day had 63 guests fishing on 21 boats. When you factor in 21 boat captains and their mates, the total number of people attending lunch (walleye dinner of course) at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club in Dunkirk was well over 100 people.
Invitations went out months ago to area politicians, tourism leaders and media folks. After some coffee and donuts at 6 a.m., boat assignments were made and the large group were sent out chasing walleye and bass. Of course, a few other species showed up by the end of the morning – lake trout, steelhead, sheepshead, smallmouth bass and silver bass. It definitely was showing off the diversity of the fishery. There were also quite a few smaller walleye reeled in, showing that the next few years will be keeping fishermen busy.
Since it was a V.I.P. Day, special arrangements were made to designate the event as a Free Fishing Day. No fishing license was required, reeling in some of the people that really weren’t familiar with fishing as a recreational pastime and as a tool for tourism promotion efforts. This was a good thing, educating area politicians such as legislators, Assembly people, Senators and Congressmen. Members of the tourism community were also on hand to experience this Great Lake, as well as members from DEC.
“It was a fantastic fishing trip on Lake Erie during this day,” said Mike Joyner of McGraw (near Syracuse). Mike is the president of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association. “The fisheries there are a grand example of what can be achieved in our State. It was a beautiful day of great fishing, camaraderie with fellow fisherman, county/state leaders and others that help promote a great place to fish and enjoy the natural resources the surrounding areas have to offer.”
“We started this 9 years ago with Dick Smith, Joe Jemiolo, Phil Swiatkowski and myself with 3 boats and about 10 people,” said Lance Ehrhardt of Sassafras Charters who organized the charter boats. “Now we’ve grown to over 100 people and 22 boats with people from all walks of life. We did this to introduce Lake Erie as a fishery to the public – our elected leaders, the tourism industry and outdoor media. The days of the smokestack industry are gone. Tourism is going to be a big part of the future of Western New York. We already have a three county effort going on between Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara with a hotspot fishing map and the new online version. We’ve opened a lot of eyes to the importance of this resource and we need to keep it that way for the next generation.” Two other people who should be mentioned: Joe Fischer and Zen Olow, respective fish board chairs in Erie and Chautauqua counties.
The actual fishing in the lake was a bit more difficult than planned. What was supposed to be a light breeze out of the southwest brought waves that gradually built to five footers. Some boats came in early when some passengers ill-prepared turned a bit squeamish. Our boat, a 26-foot Sea Ray Amberjack captained by Joel Ruggiero of Clarence, handled the waves just fine and we caught a mix of walleye and lake trout. Outdoor writers Steve Piatt and Wayne Brewer were on board, along with Julie Holland of Mayville, a member of the Chautauqua County tourism board. First mate was Jeff Rasmus of Dunkirk, a student of fish and fishing. Some say he can think like a fish.
While we had a great day on the water, the jinx was in early on when someone asked about sheepshead. “I can’t remember the last time we caught a sheepshead on this boat,” said Ruggiero. The next fish we caught? A sheepshead. That’s fishing.
The lunch at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club was outstanding. Frying of the walleye that had been caught prior to the special day was Capt. Phil Swiatkowski of Silver Creek, a position he has held since the event’s inception. Of course, he has a special coating that he refuses to share – a “secret” recipe of sorts. That all adds to the hospitality of the event.
Of course there were presentations immediately following lunch. Rich Davenport of Tonawanda, a member of the Erie County Fishery Board, talked about the importance of protecting this Great Lake. He made a comparison to the 2010 Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, releasing more than 300 million gallons of crude oil into the environment. “In the Great Lakes, the concern is raw sewage,” he said. “An estimated 24 to 42 billion gallons of raw sewage spills into these lakes every year. These biological contaminants create algae blooms, e. coli outbreaks and more. It impacts our community health. This is the source of our drinking water, too. We have to do a better job protecting our waters.”
“Although industrial pollution has been greatly reduced, the biological contamination continues to rise,” said Davenport. “Increased capacity and newer pipes in general, coupled with modernized treatment centers, is the only answer. There was also a presentation on the functionality of the new online fishing map.
Finally, the awards for the top fish catchers:
Largest walleye (media) – Leon Archer, Fulton, 6.20-pounds.
Largest walleye (elected rep.) – George Borrello, Chautauqua County Legislator, 5.22-pounds.
Largest Walleye (public) – Cliff Harris, Triple S Sporting Supplies, 7.22-pounds.
Largest Bass Overall – Dr. John Syracuse, Niagara County Legislator, 4.4-pounds.
Honorary Lifetime Members of the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association inducted at the event were Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua County Executive; John Mills, Erie County Legislator; and Gene Pauszek, outdoor writer with the Dunkirk Observer. They were honored for their dedication to the sport fishery, tourism and conservation of Lake Erie.