Why We Fish…Eastern Basin Lake Erie

How sweet it is to fish Eastern Basin Lake Erie for WALLEYE! Mike Joyner Photo

  • Plentiful Walleye, Bass, Yellow Perch, Steelhead, Lake Trout, Musky
  • Fun, Adventure, Camaraderie, Unforgettable Memories
  • Tasty Eating, Extraordinary New Friends, Discovery
Ken Perrotte (L) and Mike Joyner head for the fish cleaning station at Dunkirk, a busy place after a 4-hour fish trip from Chadwick Bay Marina. Fishing secrets and happy moments afloat are shared within these walls. Forrest Fisher Photo

By Forrest Fisher

For all of us that fish Lake Erie for walleye from New York or Canada, this summer has been one to remember. The fish have been cooperative, close to home and more plentiful than ever before. The eastern basin has finally become much like the western basin, in that you can catch walleye by many means when 41 million fish reside nearby and you are fishing with something that represents a forage item that walleye savor.

Boat launch action at Buffalo Harbor State Park, Erie Basin Marina, Sturgeon Point Marina, Sunset Bay State Park, Hanover Launch, Dunkirk Harbor and Barcelona Harbor has been busy and steady. Boat trailer plates can be noted from many states in the parking lots, not something that is new to WNY, but the sheer repetitive volume each day and each weekend is new. Visitors fish for walleye, perch and bass too, and catch bonus 20pound lake trout and leaping steelhead that provides an additional test of angler durability. It’s pretty exciting to say, “Fish On!” You never know what species might be there, though walleye are the norm.

Like kids in search of candy, these repetitive fishermen need more. They need a fish-catching refill whenever time allows and, even if they must drive a few hours, they come. Even Ohio anglers are heading to WNY! Now that’s a switch!

If we ask the visitors or locals why they fish, the answers are far and wide. Some say, “It’s just fun, I like the way they taste.” Others say, “I eat, therefore I fish.” Many of us say the same about hunting. Still others add, “I want to fill my freezer for winter, I don’t ice fish and fish are expensive in the store.” Add, “I like just like it” or “I wanted to fish with my grandkids,” or “My wife wanted me to cut the grass so I came fishing,” or “I just love being here, I don’t care if I catch fish.” There’s more, you’ve heard them now and then.

Mike-Joyner (L), NYS Outdoor Writers Association – President, and Capt. Jim Steel (Dreamcatcher Sportfishing Charters) share a picture moment after a nice catch near Van Buren Point in Lake Erie.  Forrest Fisher Photo

I asked Captain Jim Steel, a Lake Erie charter captain (Dreamcatcher Sportfishing) who works the Sunset Bay-Dunkirk area, why he fishes. The soft-spoken master captain says, “Because I Iike to fish. I like to share our incredible resource with others. My first mate is Rich Fliss, both of us never stop thinking about fishing. Even when we’re deer hunting, we text each other from the tree stand and exchange ideas for gear and new rigs to try next, to fish better with. My wife (Diane) is also a coast guard certified first mate, we are first aid/CPR certified too. We are all drug-tested. We follow the rules and people know, they’re safe here.” Captain Jim Steel has a big heart and he shares his tactics, his gear choices, line sizes, snap-swivel choices, all that. Even his thinking about strategy for the fish day and why. He explains gear choices for the day, right down to lure picks (Renosky’s, Bay Rat’s, Challenger’s, Chatterstick’s, etc.), colors, actions and depth placements. Visit his website at www.dreamcatchersportfishing.com or call 716-983-7867 to visit aboard his 31-foot Tiara (w/rest room).

Lures that make a difference, like this one, include color, buoyancy, hook size, snap connector choice and leader length. Forrest Fisher Photo

While some people fish to simply fill their freezers, fishing for Lake Erie walleye is more than a grocery trip for most anglers. For Captain Jim Steel and so many others, it is a passion. It is a new experience to enjoy each and every time. Steel adds, “You know, each trip is such fun because so often we take people fishing that have never been here before. Watching them enjoy reeling in a big catch is an unlimited fun moment for them and for us.”

Steel says, “The fishing changes day to day and so while it may appear that all of our tackle rigs in the rod holders are a bit overwhelming, many are often quite different from each other. Some rod/reel rigs have light line, some have heavy line, some are rigged for lead-core line, others for downriggers, still others for other specific purpose. We use varying types of leader lines too. Whatever the fishery demands for us to do to catch fish that day, we are prepared. That’s one of the reasons why we are busy with repeat anglers using our services all summer. We use new Okuma rod-reel tackle each year, it all works and we avoid malfunctions to be sure folks enjoy the best day without problems.”

Like a hunter looking through his binoculors for game in the deer woods, Steel and others that have stepped up to the now affordable hi-tech sonar gear, can search with down scan and side scan electronics to find fish. The sonar adds excitement to the trip. “There’s one,” says a client watching the screen. “You can sense the excitement and anticipation in their voice.”

Modern sonar can identify schools of walleye and other fish species, making the fishing a bit more fun with anticipation. Forrest Fisher Photo

For many of us regular fishermen, we share our fishing spirit all summer long, all the while, in pursuit of our quarry, the wily walleye.  We share our enthusiasm. We share our reverence and respect for the fishery, big fish and little fish. We embrace the army of anglers that enjoy and share in these same things. Together we are a brotherhood of men and women and kids that love the outdoors with a passion that cannot be equaled. As a brotherhood, we define a time-worn trail to pass along to younger generations.  First encounters, indescribable moments in time – the one that got away, the one that didn’t, the one that won the prize.

Dan Tone, mentor of the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen and founder of the Western New York Environmental Federation, and an honored member of the NYS Outdoorsman’s Hall of Fame, shares his humble smile while fishing Lake Erie last month. Forrest Fisher Photo

We share in orange sunrise moments, peaceful sunsets and at night, even the Milky Way and twinkling stars in their constellation positions add to our unforgettable moments during our fishing time. Each of these, we share with the same appreciation of where we are and what we are doing when we are fishing. We embrace such moments and they help make us who we are. We are fishermen. We are special, especially in today’s world.

Each fishing day, the goal is to encounter that first fish. Sometimes it takes a while longer, so we change lures, colors, and tactics. That’s fun too.

Last month (August), my grandson and I were set up to troll a few miles from the south gap of Buffalo Harbor. Using 5-color lead core lines, short leads off the downriggers and diving planes too, we fished for about 45 minutes to catch 7 walleyes on stickbaits and weighted-willow blade spinner-worm rigs. About an hour of no strikes, my grandson asked, “Ya know Dziadz, I sort of miss how we used to fish for bass. Can we do that again sometime?” I answered, “Sure! How about now?” He quickly asked, “We don’t have any of our lightweight rods do we?” They were in the storage locker, so off we went to the rocky structure of Seneca Shoal.

Using Heddon Sonar’s, jigging Rapala’s, drop-shot rigs with ElaszTech plastic worms in peanut butter/jelly color rigged 20 inches off the sinker with size 2 VMC hooks, fished with 20# Gamma braided line and 8# Gamma fluorocarbon leaders, and casting Storm 360GT 5-inch jig tails, we landed 24 bass and 7 more walleye in the next 2 hours. Wow. The afternoon was unforgettable. For all time. Reasons why we fish are simple. Indelible. Fun. It keeps us ageless wonders from the 50s young for a day.

We live in an incredible time on an incredible fishery because the resource of Lake Erie is in our backyard. We are the lucky ones. Why we fish? It’s about expectations, adventure, friends, fun and working hard to make it all happen. Checking gear, camaraderie, sharing secrets and embracing the spirit of the catch, even when we don’t catch ‘em, that’s why we fish.  You might have many reasons. All good.

The future of fishing, our clean waters and our kids depend on you sharing why we fish with that youngest generation of today. Kids today need to hear it from their master mentors. Parents. Grandparents. Charter captains. Those expert Southtowns Walleye anglers that go to those long meetings on Southwestern Boulevard. That’s us. The future depends on us. That’s you and me.  So get busy, go tell those kids you know why we fish and invite them along. Be gentle, be thorough. Laugh hardy. Create special moments not to be forgotten. This year, our fishery will help.

Share some of the best time to be found on the planet in WNY fishing for Lake Erie walleye.

For more information on eastern basin Lake Erie, accommodations and access points, visit www.tourchautauqua.com.

For the latest fishing report, visit the Lake Erie fishing hotline: www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishhotlines.html.

For maps, fish details, charter captains and fishing clubs, visit: http://www2.erie.gov/hotspot/index.php?q=fishing-maps.

Editor Note: Forrest Fisher is one of the 17 original founding members of the Southtowns Walleye Association, is a syndicated outdoor columnist over the last 36 years with feature stories in local newspapers, state, regional and national outdoor magazines.