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Will Elliott’s Outdoors: Veterans treated to fish-filled day

They came, they caught fish and they enjoyed the bounty of a Lake Erie trolling trip out of Barcelona Harbor mainly for walleye on July 18 as part of a Fish with Heroes gathering July 17 to 19.

Capt. Fred Forsythe of Castaway Charters has staged this event honoring military veterans for the past four summer seasons. It includes a chicken barbeque and fish dinner gathering on Friday evening, fishing on Saturday, an awards dinner on Saturday evening and a Chautauqua Lake breakfast send-off on Sunday morning.

The Saturday fish outing at Barcelona Harbor is a peak part of the event. Each year, the weather gods deliver conditions varying from Eden to evil. One year the fishing trip had to be transferred inland to Chautauqua Lake because of satanic 6- to 8-foot waves crashing onto Erie’s shoreline.

This year’s outing came as close to Eden-like as possible. Gentle breezes crossed old-roller waves that had been kicked up during high winds the previous day. Water clarity had settled after runoff from heavy rains earlier in the week stained waters out to where walleyes were schooling at and beyond depths of 60 feet.

Threatening rain clouds overhead blew away and warming, not hot, sunlight began to show Saturday morning as Capt. Jim Tunney, of Looney Tunes Charters, pulled out of Barcelona Harbor with four veterans and me for Tunney’s fifth year of volunteering a Fishing with Heroes charter.

The veteran crew aboard this day consisted of three Army vets from Pennsylvania: Grant Fritz and Ray Smith from Danville and Larry Speer of Sunbury. The fourth member and most veteran of the crew was Bill Pihl, 87, who lives on Cheney Point in Ashville on Chautauqua Lake.

As every Lake Erie walleye watcher knows, schools are in sessions at different times and places each day. Tunney fishes mainly out of Cattaraugus Creek and points closer to Buffalo, but he had some good reads about areas at and west of Brockton Shoals east of Barcelona Harbor and so did many other boaters that day.

Boat traffic became heavy at the start over 60-foot depths and the sonar showed some nice marks, but no fish hit Tunney’s grand assortment of lures; blips and blobs on the screen could be anything from a lake trout to a sheepshead, but none bit.

So after a session of just screen watching and lure washing, Tunney pulled the line rigs and headed west, traveling closer to the Pennsylvania state line than Barcelona Harbor. It worked. From 11:20 a.m. to 2 p.m. they pulled more than 20 fish, nine of which were nice walleyes.

The four veterans took turns when releases went off and most honors went to Speer, who boated the first, last and biggest walleye along the way. Ray Smith had a handle on catching sheepshead, but he finally pulled a 26-inch ’eye at 1:30 p.m., just before the close of trolling. Smith also boated the smallest catch of the day; that fish garnered an honor during the awards dinner.

Grant Fritz took a 20-inch walleye early and his second fish topped Smith’s 26-incher by an inch.

More than half of the take turned out to be silver (white) bass or sheepshead, but Speer seemed to have the grand hand; each time up the bite turned out to be a walleye. He took a total of four, including the largest walleye, measuring 29.5 inches, which missed by a half inch as the largest of the 33 walleyes all four charter boaters brought in that day.

Bill Pihl also took a nice 20-incher just before 1 p.m. Pihl kept an eye on bait sequences and noted that a yellow/gold stickbait with a red head was taking most of the right fish. It remains hot right now.

The Tunney crew did not take honors for big fish caught, but Ray Smith’s efforts to retain a 1-inch round goby caught on a lure hook resulted in a Most Unusual Catch award that Saturday evening. As always, all veterans, coordinators and volunteers are award-winning folk before during and after this annual gathering.

Forsythe is already planning for the sixth annual Fishing with Heroes event set for the third July weekend in 2016. To volunteer or contribute to this effort, call him at 560-2916 or visit Tunney runs charters throughout the Lake Erie walleye season. For an update on options, call him at 609-2990.