Lake Erie’s walleye fishery got another good test and passed with high grades during the annual Fishing with Heroes event.
Capt. Fred Forsythe and his able wife, Darlene, started the event six years ago and annually put together a weekend program for military veterans of all credentials -- retired, disabled, male and female. No woman soldier attended this year’s gathering, but an impressive mix of 10 younger and older, injured and/or retired veterans got a break in Lake Erie wave action July 16.
The evening before, soldiers enjoyed a fish fry and chicken roast at the Blue Water Beach Campground, where anglers were assigned outings with one of four charter captains the next day. Trees were swaying and few boaters were on the lake that Friday, as winds close to 30 mph whipped Erie waves into peaks of 6 to 8 feet.
Those northwest breezes subsided by breakfast time at Jack’s in Barcelona Harbor, but all four charter captains headed east to get upwind from the wave action set up the day before. Capt. Lou Budik and Capt. Jim Tunney took headings closer to shore as Capt. Forsythe went deeper in search of bigger walleyes for entry in an informal tournament set up for the day.
Deeper meant beyond 100 feet, where lake trout haunt depths with prize ‘eyes off the Dunkirk to Barcelona Harbor shoreline. It happened. First guy taking the first fish release was retired Marine pilot Allen “Dusty” Paul of East Aurora. And his catch was a respectable 10- or 11-pound laker caught shortly after trolling lines were put in place over depths either side of 125 feet.
Dusty’s trout looked good but wasn’t a target for this day’s competition, and Forsythe released it to swim and perhaps fight another day.
As Forsythe moved closer to shore, he connected with Budik and Tunney, who were working shallower waters west of Brockton Shoals. “I didn’t have to go deeper than 75 feet,” Budik said after the contest. He fishes this area shortly after the walleye season opener during evening/night runs and tracks walleye schools as best a boater can throughout the late-spring and early summer seasons.
Our trio aboard Forsythe’s Castaway Charters boat began taking turns on walleye catches shortly before noon at depths either side of 75 feet. Between bouts with silver (white) bass and sheepshead, Paul, along with Javier Rivera from San Antonio, Texas, and Bill Back of Elizabethtown, Pa., did fairly well, catching fish of increasing sizes.
Back pulled in the first keeper-sized ‘eye, measuring 18 inches. Back, a devoted turkey hunter, has chased gobblers in several states and many Canadian provinces. His insights on hunts from southern Florida to northern Canada could enhance a feature article in any major hunting publication.
But his distinguished harvesting on this outing came near the 2 p.m. finish of the outing. Back reeled in a walleye that missed the legal length limit of 15 inches. But at 14.5 inches, he received the “Smallest Walleye Award” during a dinner at Olive’s Restaurant in Mayville on Saturday evening.
Rivera, severely injured in an Afghanistan bombing in 2007, handled reeling with ease and brought in a nice, 4-pounder at noon. Dusty topped all takes aboard our vessel with a 6-pound walleye an hour before fishing ended.
Old-roller waves helped lure movement below water, accounting for some nice catches, but anglers aboard Ken Johnston’s boat took sick at sea and after just one impressive steelhead trout catch that vessel steamed down wind to Barcelona Harbor.
Budik and his crew did best for numbers, boating 15 walleyes of all sizes above 15 inches, including a good number of the mid-range (4-6 pound) keepers. Capt. Jim Tunney aboard Looney Tunes Charters boxed a total of seven fish, including Big Fish honors. Joe Knight of Erie, Pa., boated an 8-pound, 3-ounce ‘eye at 10 a.m. that went for a Challenger lure set at mid depths.
As always, this Fishing with Heroes provides an enjoyable Lake Erie walleye competition and a yardstick to measure the walleye bite in Erie’s open waters. The winning begins the instant soldiers see harbor waters and the sun rising over the Allegany Mountain hillcrests.
Stories are told (all true and accurate), fish are caught (all trophies no matter the size) and new friendships are made. That’s fishing.