For Ron Kucinski Jr. of Clarence, it was a dream that started as a kid growing up in the Silver Creek area. Fishing with his brother Jeff in the waters of Western New York, they explored the area’s liquid natural resources with rods in hand. Along the way, their father and grandfather passed along their angling knowledge, as well as a passion for fishing.
More than 40 years later, the two brothers were still enjoying this popular pastime together. However, they’ve added a little competition to the mix.
Ron Jr. recently caught the first-place fish – an 11.77-pound walleye, the largest he’s ever caught – in the Southtowns Walleye Association of WNY’s Walleye Tournament on Lake Erie to earn a check for $16,615 plus other gift certificates, a Jim Block fish mount and Cisco rod holders. That brought the total prize close to $18,000, the largest payday in the 34 years of the tournament.
Organizers increased the prizes to $81,000 in cash and $20,000 in other items to crack the $100,000 mark for the nine-day competition.
“I can’t put into words how exciting it is to win something like this,” Kucinski said after finally finding out his fish came in first place. “It was hard not to get emotional on the stage.
"This all brought back a flood of memories. Jeff has been my fishing partner for a long time and we’ve been fishing the Southtowns Walleye contest for 10-15 years. It was just recently that we started to get some confidence in our fishing and participated in some of the local tournaments besides this one.”
Their strategy was to target bigger resident fish that they believed would be hanging in deeper waters. They decided to fish in Canadian waters and had been fishing hard each weekend. On the final weekend on June 16, they headed out of Erie Basin Marina and pointed Kucinski's 24-foot North River Seahawk toward Point Abino.
The name of their fishing team is Team Got Glizdas, polish for nightcrawlers.
“We found a school of nice walleye in 40 to 60 feet of water and started to hit them from a variety of directions,” said Kucinski. “I fish the starboard side and Jeff rigs the port side of the boat. I decided to run three colors of lead core line 100 feet back using a Rapala Scatter Rap Minnow in perch color. When I finally hit a fish it was afternoon. I caught an 8.6 pound walleye that just destroyed the lure.
"Five minutes later, after replacing the lure with an identical copy, the big one hit. We netted it at 12:30 p.m. and brought it in the boat. We just stood there looking at it; we didn’t know what to do. We threw it on our scale and it showed 12.2 pounds.”
They fished a bit longer hoping to catch another big one, but made some phone calls to friends asking advice as to what they should do. Some said keep it alive, some said put it on ice. Others said get it into the scales. After talking it out, they decided to take it into the closest weigh station at Cattaraugus Creek. It would also second-guess other anglers as to exactly where they were fishing. On the way in, though, the potential winner coughed up two big gobies. Could that make the difference in losing the contest? By the time they hit the scales, it checked in at 11.77 pounds.
“Because the tournament committee kept everything so secretive, we didn’t know if we won or not,” said Ron. “I was a nervous wreck until they made the final announcement on June 30 at the Southtowns Walleye clubhouse. We didn’t even know after they gave us our polygraph tests for me and Jeff.
As far as what they were planning for the prize money, Kucinski said, “I have three daughters in college and we’re trying to help them out as much as possible.”
The second-place catch was every bit as impressive and memorable. Dave Levan of Hamburg was fishing with his 88-year-old father Jerry from Cheektowaga on the opening day of the tournament June 9. They decided to fish in the extreme eastern end of the lake from Dave’s 23-foot Pro Line boat named “End of the Line.”
“We always see some bigger fish taken from these waters this time of year,” Dave Levan said. “That was our strategy. I was running a custom-painted Renosky stickbait from Nick’s Sporting Goods in Kenmore behind three colors of lead core line in 32 feet of water about a mile from the round house when the big fish hit. It was a tremendous experience for my dad.”
It was the biggest walleye that they had ever caught and it came at a great time. The 11.44-pound fish earned them $12,050 in cash plus some additional merchandise thanks to a Bay Rat corporate sponsor prize.
Third place went to Kelly Bak of Dale/Warsaw with an 11.40-pound walleye, the biggest of her life, too. She was fishing with her husband, Christopher, and friend James Brooks of Pennsylvania. Fishing out of their 19-1/2-foot Starcraft named "Kelly’s Kings" in 40-50 feet of water east of Barcelona, the fish engulfed a purple Renosky stickbait behind two colors of lead core line. They caught it at 6 a.m. June 15, the first fish of the day. The trophy fish earned them $7,260 in cash plus some merchandise.
In the Youth Division, Wyatt Bartoo of Fredonia took top honors with an 8.51-pound walleye. He was fishing a perch-colored Renosky stickbait in 45 feet of water off Northeast, Pa., within a half-mile of where he caught his second-place fish last year. Six-year-old Samantha Skoczylas of Attica was second with 8.26 pounds (while fishing with her uncle, Capt. Jim Skoczylas). She caught it on an Ultimate Outdoors of WNY worm harness in 60 feet of water near Eagle Bay. Casey Black of Westfield was third with an 8.03-pound 'eye (her biggest ever) while fishing off Barcelona with a red-headed clown Renosky stickbait behind five colors of lead core line in 50-60 feet of water.
It was a successful contest this year with 820 registered anglers and 451 walleyes weighed in. The club again paid out the top 200 fish.
For more information on the Southtowns Walleye Association of WNY, check out www.southtownswalleye.org.