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Will Elliott Outdoors column: Veterans, anglers do Erie walleye drill

Lake Erie’s walleye fishery flourishes this summer season and two weekend events again proved how the lake produces good-sized walleyes for anglers in competitions and pleasure fisherman.

The Fourth Annual Fishing with Heroes gathering brought together an enjoyable mix of active and retired service personnel. The program, begun as a part of the Wounded Warriors effort, has established itself as a fishery fixture each summer on Lake Erie.

Capt. Fred Forsythe of Castaway Charters has enjoyed bountiful catches mainly of walleye out of Barcelona Harbor over the years. He decided to share that bounty with deserving military personnel.

About five years ago Forsythe asked area charter captains and businesses to assist in an on-the-water fishing weekend for recuperating soldiers from the Fort Drum Support Center. The response was outstanding from the start.

This year, Forsythe and his wife Darlene added retired veterans from the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie to the angler throng. The bite was somewhat slight, but the results were remarkable.

Typical for so many planned fishing trips, the old saw “you should have been here yesterday” prevailed for the five charter boats during Saturday’s fishing. On Friday, entrants and friends fished Barcelona waters and found nice schools directly off the harbor and slightly east. But a warm northerly breeze, which should be good for walleye trolling, moved boats over areas showing few fish and bait schools through most of the morning and early afternoon.

Nonetheless, Capt. Jim Tunney of Looney Tunes Charters volunteered again this year to donate a charter and took three anglers from the Soldier and Sailors Home — Clyde Walker, Dwight Wiebold and Vince Niedzielski. Walker chose to navigate rather than fish-catch, enjoying a sunny day.

An informal contest between boating teams awarded the top walleye, best (most variety) catch, and the smallest walleye. Our team caught all kinds of fish in between.

The first four catches were different species: Walleye, white perch, white (silver) bass and yellow perch. The rest of the day was spent trying to catch the smallest walleye, one that came closest to the 15-inch minimum legal size for ‘eyes. We came close with an 18-inch and a 17-inch catch, which fell short by a half inch.

During an awards dinner at ZeBro’s Restaurant in Barcelona, Kyle James of Syracuse took top honors for the Smallest Walleye award with a 16-incher and Jamie Noyes from Jamestown finished second with a 16.5-inch entry.

Curiously, the Largest Walleye winner fell more than a pound below the biggest brown trout. Marcus Rodriguez of Syracuse weighed in a 7.7-pound walleye for that trophy.

Mel Kramer of Russell, Pa. caught the greatest variety, including an 8.9-pound brown trout to take the Best Catch award.

All enjoyed this annual weekend outing and the Forsythes plan to hold this event on the same weekend in 2014, no matter where walleye schools are swimming.

Elsewhere, teams entered in the 20th annual New York Walleye Association’s Amara-Can Walleye Classic had to head east for most of their big-fish action.

“Most of the good fishing is still east of Sturgeon Point right now,” said Capt. Don Ruppert the day after that competition. He captained the team that finished with the top 10 fish total of 87.2 pounds when the two-day competition ended on July 14.

With first mate Scott Wind, his brother Art and John Schultz as a four-angler team, Ruppert trolled side planers mainly with Renosky hard baits to amass their massive total and first-place team win. Not only did the Ruppert team take top honors for total weight, the team posted Big Fish entries both days: A 10.38-pound entry for second place on Saturday and an 11.24 pounder for first place on Sunday.

“That money fish was the clincher,” Ruppert said of the big fish that came in as the last catch at the end of the competition; the team had to make a 20-mile run to get back in time for the weigh-in at Dunkirk Harbor.

The top 10 teams posted totals that averaged nearly eight pounds per fish. The team of Capt. Brad Milleville weighed in 84.7 pounds to take second place and Capt. Daryll McNeil’s team finished a close third with 83.48 pounds.

The next seven places went to familiar names at Lake Erie walleye competitions. In order, fourth- to 10th-place, team captains posted these total weights: Dan Campbell, 81.72 pounds; Mike Fletcher, 80.62 pounds, George Jensen, 80.24; Joe Jemiolo III, 78.92 pounds; Dan Bogner, 79.74; Hunter Peterson, 79.34; and Russ Criddle, 79.12.

Other Big Fish winners included a Saturday first-place entry for Mike Fletcher at 10.46 pounds and Wesley Bartoo’s third-place 10.1-pound Walleye. On Sunday, Richard J. Kacuirski took second place with a 10.4 pounder and Gary McCracken was third with a 10.06-pound entry.