It’s a great time to be a tournament walleye fisherman on Lake Erie. Just ask the Mid-River Fishing Team led by Jeff Bognar of Grand Island, Roy Hryckowian of North Buffalo and brothers Andrew and Eric Pytlik of Buffalo. The foursome brought in their best five walleyes to the Dunkirk scales last Saturday, weighing in 42.70 pounds of fish, to win the 5th Annual Rayzor’s Big Dawg Walleye Classic.
Five years ago, former Buffalo Sabres tough guy Rob Ray of Amherst (AKA Rayzor) and Mark Mohr of Springville thought a fishing tournament would be a good idea. They were already business partners in Rayzor’s Dawg House, at the time located in Springville. The restaurant has since moved to Eden. The walleye fishing tournament runs out of Dunkirk the first Saturday of July but they will be moving it a week later in 2019 so as to not compete with the holiday week.
“We’ve got some of the best fishing in the country right here in Western New York,” says Ray who tries to sample it every chance he gets. In fact, his 9 year old son Robert has also been bitten by the outdoor bug and he enjoys both fishing and hunting. “We have both quality and quantity for so many fish species. I have friends coming in from all over the country specifically to sample our outdoor resources, both fishing and hunting.”
“We have a great bunch of guys fishing our tournament,” says Mohr who coordinates much of the tournament details. “It might not be the biggest tournament but we like it. Working with Rob is always a pleasure.” There were 25 boats that fished in the contest this year, held July 7 out of Chadwick Bay Marina in Dunkirk with a Big Fish Friday contest on July 6.
Tournament fishing is a game of strategy, a bit like a chess match. Each move is very calculated. However, a little bit of luck always seems to be involved, too. Fishing out of Bognar’s 27-foot Tiara, the Mid-River team actually found some fish and a decent pattern on July 4.
“We used custom worm harnesses from our shop (Nick’s Sporting Goods, Buffalo), run off 10 and 20 Jet Divers in 14 to 35 feet of water along the Canadian shoreline,” said Roy Hryckowian. “Best color blades were pink antifreeze, a nuclear mixed veggie and a lady bug. We caught 25 to 30 fish and managed to put together 5 nice ones for the tournament win.” Their big fish for the day was 9.26 pounds. In all, the team earned around $5,000.
Second place was not far behind. Denny Kenny of Grand Island normally had the team “One More” in the past but when Dan Bognar (Jeff’s cousin) opted not to fish with them, Kenny changed the team name to “One Less.” Instead, Kenny had his 15-year-old son Blake fishing on the team with Mike Nicosia of Niagara Falls. Their 5-fish limited checked in at 41.08 pounds.
“We had pre-fished with the Mid-River guys leading up to the tournament,” said Kenny. “We found our fish in 7 to 50 feet of water and we had a set of triplets, three big fish all within an ounce of each other. We caught one in 12 feet of water and another in 50 feet of water. ” They had the big fish on Saturday, a 9.88-pound walleye.
“All of our fish came on Pillard’s Pro Sticks,” said Kenny. “One favorite was a cherry bomb pattern, a similar coloration to the popular worm harness blades. We ran 2, 3 and 4 colors of lead core and also 10, 20 and 30 jet divers. We caught 30 to 40 fish to come up with our best 5 walleyes.” They won $3,540.
Third place was a bit of a hard luck story. The Forever Fishing team of Bob Rustowicz of Cheektowaga, Tom Brunn of South Wales and Colin Setlock of East Aurora started their day in 50 to 70 feet of water off Dunkirk and trolled west. They found a cold water temperature break 40 feet down and kept all of their baits in the top 40 feet. Running stickbaits, their best lures were a Northern Lights Bomber and a Rainbow Trout Renosky, pulled behind 3, 5 and 7 colors of lead core line and dipsy divers. “Everything seemed to work as we trolled all the way to Lake Erie State Park,” said Rustowicz. “We’d catch fish down 10 feet and down 40 feet, bringing in 4 or 5 smaller fish before we hit a good one.”
“As we were pulling rods at the end of the day before heading in we hit a big fish. We really wanted to get it in. As the walleye came to the back of the boat, we watched it come off within 2 feet of the back of the boat and an out-reached net. Our big fish was 9.08 pounds for this contest and we know what they look like. This one was way bigger. If we get that one in, we really believe with win the tournament. Had I been at the net I would have jumped in after it.” Forever fishing ended up with a 5 fish total of 38.58 pounds.
In the Big Fish Friday event, Rob Oram of Franklinville with the Eyecon Team took top honors with a 10.08-pound walleye. They took a gamble and ran across the lake to the Port Maitland area of Ontario, Canada. Almost all of the fish they caught were in the 4 to 6-pound range. When they were getting ready to leave, though, they stuck the double digit ‘eye in 35 feet of water using a gold Pillard’s Pro Stick behind 3 colors of lead core line.
The Eye Con team tried to duplicate that effort for the Saturday 5-fish contest (requiring a minimum size of 20-inches). They ended up in 5th with a weight of 36.68 and a big fish of 9.14 pounds, less than a pound behind Dance with Fish led by Capt. Ron Daliba with 37.64 pounds and a big fish of 9.80 pounds.
Ray and Mohr will continue to grow this event, a tournament designed by fishermen, for fishermen. Follow along at www.rayzorsbigdawg.com. And Ray will continue to lend his support of the local angling scene like his participation in the Greater Niagara BassEye Celebrity Tournament each summer (his son caught the most walleye during the friendly competition this year) out of Buffalo or helping to coordinate the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Charity Fishing Event in Olcott each spring. If you are ever in Eden, show some love back by stopping in at Rayzor’s Dawg House.