- 154 Military Veteran’s, more than 50 volunteers as charter guides/hosts
- Clear weather, smooth sailing, hundreds of pounds of walleye fillets for veteran freezers
- Stickbaits, spinner worm rig tactics were key to catching fish, details follow in story below
By Forrest Fisher
It was a tad before 6:00 a.m. when the morning sky-glow of bright yellow on the horizon of the cliffs to the east started to light up the day. It was a special day.
A warm forecast with windless air was perfect weather for Operation Boots – a sponsored fun-fishing activity for military veterans from WNY Heroes, Inc., a not-for-profit organization established in 2007 to provide veterans and their families with access to essential services, financial assistance and other needs that they might not be able to find any other way. And today, to provide some fishing fun on the water.
Military vet’s and volunteer fishing guide hosts began to gather at Chadwick Bay Marina in Dunkirk Harbor at this early hour. Their mission for the day? To fish for walleye on the Lake Erie waters of Chautauqua County, NY. I could feel there was electricity in the air. Good energy! To help control over-crowding at the event, the veterans were asked to pre-register and numbers were capped at 145. Yet, these numbers grew on site and who could say no to our dedicated military and wartime veterans?
Bantering, good-natured jokes, and warm-hearted conversations kept a mega-box of Tim Horton’s donuts busy. Dark roast java – better than the Uncle Sam version of early morning rocket fuel, complete with all the fixings, added to that feeling of “the guys” getting together for morning service work. This time, for the fun of it, the goal was to catch the biggest walleye. Fun battles. The morning was off to a great start.
In their third year of helping to host this event, Charter Captain Jim Steel and Diane Rae from Innovative Outdoors (www.innovativeoutdoors.com, 716-481-5348) managed to satisfy the unthinkable task of finding more than 45 volunteer fishing boats to host the veterans, all of them providing fishing expertise. No small mission! In a very well-organized manner, veterans were assigned to their respective captains and a small armada to fishing boats headed to eastern basin Lake Erie to enjoy some fishing on the water. Even organizer, Captain Jim Steel, took time to host veterans aboard his 31-foot Tiara. The guy never stops!
It was a pleasure and an honor to serve as 1st mate aboard the brand new 24-foot fishing boat of Captain Jim Klein – Eye-Fish Charters. As we boarded the sleek-looking blue/white boat, the 225HP Yamaha 4-stroke outboard stood large and impressive on the stern. Captain Jim said, “This will get us to where the fish are in no time, then once we get there, we’ll switch to get better boat control for trolling with this smaller 9.9HP Yamaha motor. Both of them have autopilot for hands-free operation. He added that the Lowrance sonar would help us find the fish.” He also added that he had scouted the day before and knew where we should start.
It was a privilege to meet US Army Engineering Battalion veteran, Chris Corcoran; US Army Infantryman – Al Sawyer (79 years young), and Rick Shick – US Army Vietnam Veteran with the 1st Infantry Division where he and his buddies tried to stay alive doing battle about 80 miles east of Saigon.
The fishing was good and we shared line-stretching time for the next 4 hours. Chris Corcoran could be a regular 1st mate on any charter boat, he caught on to details that quick and had lots of energy in this, his first boat fish trip ever. Corcoran helped set lines, rig lines, he was quite amazing. By the end of our 4 hour fishing day, we caught 30 walleye, keeping 24 for the freezer. While we caught fish on various stickbaits too, the hot lure was the Eye-Fish spinner/worm rig in Mixed-Veggie color (https://www.eye-fish.com). We fished a Figure-8 trolling pattern just west of Dunkirk in 40 to 70 feet of water.
Al Sawyer caught our biggest fish at 7.23 pounds, while Rick and Chris took turns at the rods. We had doubles on three times! A testament to pre-scouting by Captain Jim on where to fish for this event.
Hats off to the event organizer at WNY Heroes, Inc. Program Director, Lynn Magistrale, and WNY Heroes co-founder, Chris Kreiger – an Iraqi War veteran, and so many groups that donated, to help make this event unforgettable. In total, 154 military veterans participated.
More than 45 volunteer fishing crews donated their time, gear and services to help host this extravaganza fishing event to say thanks to our military veterans for the freedoms that we enjoy in America every day.
Before we hit port, Al Sawyer was beaming with a giant glowing grin and said, “This has been the most fun-fishing day of my life.” For Captain Jim and myself, that said it all! To fish with Captain Jim Klein, you don’t need to empty your pocketbook. Two people can fish a half-day charter on Lake Erie for walleye for $250. Imagine that! If you want to try it, give him a call at 716-597-9421. Don’t wait, the fishing is hot right now.
Hats off to all of the volunteers and host fishing guide/hosts, many from the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association (ELECBA), and to the host kitchen facility, the Northern Chautauqua County Conservation Club with food preparations by Brunner’s Bayside Catering. Every veteran left the banquet that followed the fishing event with a brand new Zebco open-face fishing rod and reel in red/white/blue colors, an additional thank you for their military service in the past.
One last thing, let’s not forget prayer and a toast to all of those veterans that did not make it back home. I, for one, say thank you to the good Lord for these brave friends of our America.
To learn more about the WNY Heroes, Inc., check out www.wnyheroes.org.