The 2017 Lake Erie Experience: A “Must Do” Destination - Dunkirk Harbor

August 25, 2017
Fishing
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  • Lake Erie 2017 is a WALLEYE MECCA near Chadwick Bay / Dunkirk Harbor

  • Merritt Estate Winery offers FREE SAMPLING of all Wine Varieties

  • Cassadaga Lake is a Bass and Musky SECRET

  • Cabana Sam’s Blackened Grouper is a WINNER DINNER


By Mike Joyner

The great Empire State by any casual observation is one of our nation’s meccas for natural resources and endless opportunities for recreational pursuits. With a critical eye it is by reasonable opinion one of the top five states arranged only by personal recreational preferences.

 It is now entirely possible to nudge a hard core turkey hunter to enjoy nearly as much, another sportsman’s activity such as fishing. It is a most somber admission after a quarter century of long beard mania madness. In all honesty fishing came first as a wee young lad, whitetails in my mid-twenties, and in 1993, gobbler chasing took over everything. Prior priorities were relegated to distant second and third rankings of outdoor passions.

I accepted the invite with eager anticipation to attend the 9th Annual VIP Fishing Day taking place out of Chadwick Bay Marina in Dunkirk Harbor. Timing with my workload fell into a rare alignment of the stars making it feasible to get away. It would turn out to be a great mid-week getaway to enjoy several days of great fishing, camaraderie, and an opportunity to meet with local leaders, and tourism professionals to exchange thoughts and ideas as well as the requisite tall tales of fishing adventures.

Dave Barus had set up ‘Chautauqua County Media Fish Camp 2017’ for us to take in and experience what the area has to offer. I cannot thank him enough for handling the logistics and details of the excursion. He has a bright future in herding cats as outdoor writers are an independent group of individuals. Sunset Bay Cottage would be base camp for the duration. Located in Sunset Bay it is a great place to meet up, enjoy the beach and dining establishments, all within short walking distances. Past NYSOWA President Wayne Brewer, Leon Archer, Steve Colley, Wade Robertson and Collin Voss would be fellow camp mates and made for a great fish camp. Steve and Wade hailing from Northern Pennsylvania would join us for the latter two days while Collin, our youngest member in camp would endure initiation rights and would enjoy the third day out on the lake. Ultimately Collin out fished us all and kept his shirt tail intact. The conversations and storytelling at camp are the very reasons we cherish our time there!

First morning out we would head to Dunkirk Harbor only to find rough conditions which had already forced a number of boats back to the marina. We met up with local bass pro’s Scott Gauld and Scott Callen and decided to head over to Cassadaga Lake for bass, both smallmouth, and largemouth on much calmer waters. We fished the upper lake and enjoyed a relaxed and fun time catching smallmouths along with a few muskies. A special thank you to their sponsors Denali Rods, Kamooki Lures, and Venom Lures for being perfect equipment choices for our time on the lake. After a morning of ‘impromptu testing’, I will be adding them to my A-list for ‘must have’ gear. 

Scott Callen. Wayne Brewer, Leon Archer


Later in the day we paid a visit to Merritt Estate Winery located in Forestville, New York. We met up with Bill Merritt the owner and enjoyed a fine tasting of current offerings. With my ties to the industry in the Cortland area, I hope to see their offerings there. The staff is to be commended for their prompt and friendly service. They present a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere to enjoy the fine wines they craft. Being a big fan of New York craft beers, distilled spirits and wines, the offerings at Merritt Estate Winery was worth the trip. My wife and I routinely stock our wine racks with New York wines and will add Merritt estate wines to our preferred vino to have on hand.

We would take a short walk over to Cabana Sam’s Sunset Bay Grill later that evening to sample the dining fare of the area. Blacken Grouper Reuben was my choice, and I would go out of my way to go back there again just for that. I’ll express empathy to my other camp mates that could not be there for the dinner outing as it was a meal not to miss.

There are many other wineries, craft beer companies, and distillers in the area. It is my only regret of the trip that I could not stay an extra day or two to enjoy tastings at each of them and further enjoy the many dining choices of the area. It is my thought that the Tourism Bureau has a lot of great offerings to work with and promote. I will return to the area for that very reason.

Our second full day in Dunkirk would have us out on the Great Lake Experience Event with conditions a bit more hospitable for fishing. Although I purchased nearly the full accordion worth of licenses each year to hunt and fish, it was appreciated that the day was deemed a free fishing day as to attract invited guests experiencing their first time on the lake. The event matched up boat captains with outdoor writers such as myself, many folks from the surrounding county tourism bureaus, NYSDEC, local politicians, county dignitaries, state legislators, and Congressmen. It was estimated that over sixty participants were paired up with twenty-two well-experienced boat captains who went above and beyond to show all of us a great morning out on Lake Erie.

After being assigned to come aboard 365 Sportfishing Charters, I headed out with Chautauqua County Executive- Vince Horrigan, fellow outdoor writer Paula Piatt, Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO- Todd Tranum, Congressmen Tom Reed Staffers- Jaqueline Phelps (Regional Director) & Alison Hunt(District Director), with Captain Mark Hitcome at the helm. We were after walleyes, as were the other charters. After navigating several miles out into the lake, we were in the thick of it at water depths of 70-100 feet. With a full complement of planar boards and down riggers rigged, we soon had one pole after another set hook, and there was plenty of action. Everyone caught a pile of walleyes along with a few silver bass. There were seven or eight just under the 15″ legal size, and we kept seventeen walleyes altogether. We came in an hour before the appointed time due to the lake kicking up five-foot waves. One of the walleyes I caught was one of several that came in just shy of four pounds.

Once docked and the fish taken care of we headed to the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club. A luncheon get together was scheduled with invites for all the participants and special guests including NYSDEC Chief, Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Services- Steve Hurst, Chautauqua County Executive- Vince Horrigan, City of Dunkirk Mayor- Willie Rosas, NYS Assemblyman District 150- Andy Goodell, and US 23rd District Congressman Tom Reed along with other local dignitaries. Zen Olow, chairman of the Great Lakes Experience event and Club President MC’d the affair. Presentations covered issues concerning pollution in the Great Lakes that eventually flows into Lake Erie and on to Lake Ontario, upcoming/pending legislation initiatives, club awards, and comments from distinguished guests. The main course on the menu as you may have guessed was walleye cutlets which in my opinion is the tastiest culinary delight of any game fish caught in New York State. I would have to admit that begrudgingly. As a young boy, I totally believed that Northern Pike was the best fish to eat. My grandfather cubed them into one-inch pieces within minutes of being taken from the live well and placed directly into a fresh pot of fish chowder simmering on grandma’s stove. I can still remember his old F-100 coming down the driveway with giant Northern’s still jumping in the bed of the pickup. The delicious smell of fresh chowder simmering is one that stays with you all your days. Now that I leave you hungry… With over a hundred people attending, it was as much fine eating and education that you could possibly pack in between the four walls of the club.

 Our second evening was spent in camp with home cooking courtesy of our host, fine wines, and the best of company. David’s grandson Collin, would join us that evening and was a welcomed addition to our camp. Collin is an impressive young man and a exemplary example of his upbringing. The fact that he out fished all of us is something we’ll have to let go of and come to grips with eventually… all kidding aside it is a pleasure to have him in camp.

Our last morning on the lake would pair myself, Leon and local area outdoor writer Gene Pauszek with Sassafras Fishing Charters. Captain Lance Ehrhardt along with Zen Olow would be in charge of another great day out on Lake Erie. the lake would be a bit calmer than the day prior. Once all the rigging was complete we would not wait long for the hooks to set and the reeling to start. Although a little slower pace than the day before we would limit out on walleye. With calmer waters, we relaxed, told tall stories, cheesy jokes and caught plenty of walleyes! A bit of back story as few days prior to the V.I.P. event, I would learn that Eastern Lake Erie Charter Association members Lance and Zen, along with Joe Jemiolo (passed away in 2014) were the main forces behind the creation of the annual V.I.P. fishing event. All the walleyes cooked up for the grand luncheon were made possible by Eastern Lake Erie Charter Association Members in concert with Sunset Bay Shoot Out, Razor’s Big Dawg tournaments. We were in the company of great people, great volunteers.Collin Voss

It is a focused opportunity to couple what we so love and are endeared to as sportsmen to convey, to educate those that promote tourism opportunities, and ultimately makes decisions, crafting legislation that impacts our sport. It is also an opportunity for outdoor professionals & sportsmen to learn and gain insights as to how decisions are formulated. We as sportsmen can provide data or participate in the research needed to enhance our great pastime, and attract newcomers to a grand recreational experience.

Maintaining and improving the natural resources, a world class fishery was the topic at hand. I’ll speak for all that attended in that we enjoyed a grand experience of a vibrant and healthy fishery. It is a fine example of what can be achieved in the Empire State. As if you need further prodding, the word among the group was that the current state of the fishery on Lake Erie promises to be great fishing for years to come given the abundant and diverse age classes of walleye and of other fish species.

As I titled this scattered collection of impressions and honest opinion it holds so true that it is a “Must do in Chautauqua County from Dunkirk Harbor” destination. It is a gem of our great state and one that I will return to with my wife to enjoy the great fishing, as well as the other offerings that the area excels at. As an outside observer, it is impressive the number of groups, people from very different interests working together to build up a healthy ecosystem, a vibrant fishery, and a destination well worth the trip. All of us who cherish New York State’s natural resources, the quality of its fisheries extend a very large thank you to all that have made it so successful.

-MJ

© 2017 Joyner Outdoor Media (Link: http://www.turkey-talk.com/tblog/?p=622)

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