By Will Elliott
NEWS OUTDOORS WRITER
“That’s the way it’s been all season,” said Capt. Matt Yablonsky, winning BassEye charter captain, when describing how pleasing and perplexing fishing for bass and walleye has been so far this season at the eastern end of Lake Erie.
Yablonsky and his crew of Jim Schmit, Mike Keller and Fred Scia topped all 36 teams in the 14th Annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s BassEye Challenge competition held at and out of Buffalo Harbor State Park.
This was a repeat performance for Yablonsky and the team, which won top honors in the 2014 Challenge. Added to accolades this year, team member Schmit finished with the highest total points for bass caught by an individual. He accepted the Grand Champion Angler award for his high score.
Margaret Beth Grieshober, Rich Products accountant, put in another repeat performance, amassing enough total points to capture the same Grand Champion Female Angler award that she won in 2014.
Mark Halter, fishing with Capt. Mike Mogensen, took the Most Bass Releases award with his 18 smallmouths caught, measured and returned to Lake Erie.
Individual biggest-fish honors went to Dick Hill, fishing with Capt. Chris Cinelli, for his 29.5-inch walleye. Cinelli took Hill and their team to the upper Niagara River, where they hooked into numerous bass along with Hill’s biggest ’eye that took the Largest Walleye award.
Many a 20-inch smallmouth bass had been measured throughout the day, but it was a 21-inch bronzeback brought up by Lockport angler Mike Mahoney that garnered the Largest Walleye award. Mahoney was fishing with Capt. Jeff Draper.
Our crew, which Capt. Tim Duffy navigated to a series of enjoyable catches, included a father-son team of Ron Sultemeier of Delaware North and son Tyler. Duffy, a six-year veteran of BassEye competitions, has had solid successes at amassing walleye at the start of the day in previous contests, followed by so-so bass catches later in the day.
“Let’s try for bass first while the bait is fresh,” he said over a bucket of bass chubs and crayfish as we headed west and began drifting the east side of Myers Reef. Tyler had recently caught a nice largemouth in a local pond and looked forward to hooking a walleye along with some nice smallmouths.
Smallmouths were in big supply. We booted a few, but by the 2 p.m. end of the challenge, we three had brought in and measured 19 smallies that were returned to Erie’s open waters.
Ron topped all with an eight-fish total of bass, but Tyler finished the day with a 20-incher that just missed big-fish honors. As with so many anglers at all levels of skill and familiarity with this year’s bass and walleye fisheries, we did not boat – or even hook – a fish that could be identified as a “yellow pike.”
When we returned to Buffalo Harbor it took queries with more than 10 usually successful charter captains before chatting with one successful at catching walleyes. Yablonsky’s crew amassed an impressive five ’eyes for their win. In contrast, their bass total was a much-more impressive 25 smallmouths.
Hence Yablonsky’s “the way it’s been” remark about walleye fishing so far this season says it all. After the May 2 opener, walleye anglers saw a nighttime abundance of fish along the Buffalo-Lackawanna shore and the Dunkirk-Van Buren stretch of shore. Dayside drifters and trollers began seeing good runs of ’eyes in assorted sizes by mid-May, but a vicious, prolonged set of northeast storms in early June put even the most savvy of walleye workers out of work.
Guides and regulars who brought in limit catches before and after the 2014 BassEye Challenge now have to ply and push around to pull a few prize ’eyes so far this season.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation BassEye fishing was challenging, but the outcome for bass, walleye and the foundation’s efforts and goals were served well. Executive Director Gia Coone noted that the annual events have amassed $1.5 million in 14 years.
Emcee Jonathan Dandes announced that as a result of the dinner/auction on Thursday evening and the crew-sponsor donations during the fishing, a total of $140,000 was raised for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation this year.
For more details on this year’s BassEye events, visit basseye.org. For more information about the strides made in improving and lengthening the lives of those suffering with cystic fibrosis and for ways to assist in the foundations’s efforts, visit cff.org.