More than 900 anglers waited with anticipation to see who was going to be the big winner in the 35th Annual Southtowns Walleye Association of Western New York’s Walleye Derby. The derby was held in mid-June, but the awards ceremony wasn’t held until last Saturday.
With more than $100,000 in cash and prizes at stake, the announcement had the attention of the local walleye world.
In the end, the top fisherman was veteran Randy Jaroszewski of Hamburg. He walked away with nearly $20,000 in cash and a ton of prizes, a payday for a fish that weighed 12.39 pounds.
He was fishing with his daughter, Sienna, and angling buddy Ron Kozub of Hamburg on June 9.
“Our plan was to run across the lake from Sunset Bay to Point Abino in Canadian waters,” Jaroszewski said. “We had been targeting big fish in shallower waters looking for that one ‘rogue walleye.’ We knew we wouldn’t catch a lot of them and for the day we only caught five fish. One of those fish was the 12.39 pounder.”
The trio was fishing inside of 25 feet of water, using two colors of leadcore line off an inline planer board. The lucky lure was the 35th Anniversary Bay Rat stickbait that was featured in the derby, a 4-inch lure that could have cost them a bonus check of $10,000. The bonus went to the first person reeling in a 13-pound walleye — the Sunset Bay Beach Bounty Fish courtesy of Cabana Sam’s.
After they boated the fish, the walleye spit up a bunch of gobies, the primary forage for these bigger fish on this day. Could it have made up the weight to hit the 13-pound mark? We’ll never know.
On the final pass that day, using the same setup with the same bait but fishing off Sherkston, 13-year-old Sienna grabbed the rod and reeled in a 9.04-pound walleye to take over the early lead in the Youth Division. She ended up in third place, but the excitement for the day was infectious as the father-daughter connection was solidified.
Second place in the walleye derby included a father-son connection — occurring on Father’s Day — the final day of the derby.
Dave Malloy of Port Colborne, Ontario, was fishing with son Jacob off Morgan’s Point, 1 1/2 miles west of Port Colborne.
“We were running a Bandit stickbait that was custom-painted by Yaleye-Fish lures,” Dave Malloy said. “We were in 25 feet of water, targeting bigger fish that were eating gobies. The Bandit will dive close to 20 feet, so we were just running it back behind the boards with no weight when the fish hit at 9:30 a.m.”
Their prize was a check for $15,893 for a fish that weighed 11.77 pounds.
Third place was Mike Russell of Blasdell. He was fishing with Adam Zwack of Blasdell (and his boat “Erie Obsession”) and Patrick Bohen of Lakeview.
“We were fishing out of Buffalo the first day of the derby in 30 feet of water near the Canadian line when the fish hit,” Russell said. “We were trolling two colors of leadcore line off an in-line board with a perch-colored Pillard’s stickbait.”
It was the biggest walleye the trio has caught in the boat, weighing in at 11.73 pounds. The check was for $11,600 when you added the bonus cash and calcuttas from the contest.
In the Youth Division, 11-year-old Peyton Fletcher of Port Colborne took top honors with a 10.21-pound fish – the biggest walleye she’s ever reeled in. She was fishing on the Canadian side of Lake Erie with her father, Mike. They were trolling off Rock Point using a Yaleye-Fish purple root beer Mooneye lure behind three colors of leadcore line off an inline board.
Peyton was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma when she was 5 years old, fighting like a champ to beat cancer after six months in a Toronto hospital. She now fishes every chance she gets and is loving every minute of it.
Second place in the Youth Division was 10-year-old Garrett Schmitt of Eden. He is part of a fishing family that makes every effort to fish derbies and tournaments in the lake, named the Underdog Fishing Team.
On this trip, Garrett and his father Nick managed to make it out on the water after school and work, respectively, to get their time on the water. Fishing out of Buffalo in 35 feet of water, using a custom-painted Pillard’s lure behind three colors of leadcore line, Garrett managed to reel in a 9.40-pound walleye. It was his largest fish competitively and took the early lead. However, it was short-lived as Peyton’s big ‘eye managed to push Garrett into second.
These are just a few of the stories that have helped to make the 35 years of running this tournament such a success. It’s all about the numbers. The top 200 fish all received a cash prize. Thanks to the current format, more than 200 members signed up to the Southtowns group – helping to establish the walleye club as the largest in the country. It's a Lake Erie-oriented club and they have members from all around the lake (including Canada), as well as the country.
Of course, to make it a success, you need to people to run it. Led by chairmen Rob Kroh and Jim Skoczylas, the derby committee meets throughout the year to help ensure that everything is covered. It couldn’t happen without the people behind the scenes such as Joe Benes, Tom Bingenheimer, Rusty Ellis, Sue and Chris Guenther, Lynette Guenther, David Gwynne, Kelly Kroh, Ron Kucinski (last year’s winner), Amy and Brian Plecas, and Kim Skoczylas. Hats off for another job well done.