- Chautauqua County, NY – Veterans enjoyed this free event sponsored by WNY Heroes, Inc. – they caught fish and line-stretching fun departing from Chadwick Bay Marina/Clarion Hotel.
- Chartreuse stickbaits (Yaleye Lure) and spinner/worm rigs (Eye-Fish Rigs) were the hot lures
- Wind and waves did not deter volunteer charter captains from finding the walleye
By Forrest Fisher
As military veterans parked their cars and trucks in the limited spaces available near Chadwick Bay Marina, located in downtown Dunkirk, NY, Program Director Lynn Magistrale from WNY Heroes Inc. (www.wnyheroes.org) led the charge at sunrise registration activities on Friday, June 26, 2020. Magistrale was joined by event master-mind planners, Captain Jim Steel and his wife, Diane, in conjunction with their volunteer promotion of this event at Innovative Outdoors Tackle Shop HQ (https://innovative-outdoors.com/), along with other volunteer groups and professional resources to make this event unforgettable for military veterans that had registered with WNY Heroes, Inc.
Military veterans filled the boats of 24 volunteer fishing crews that shared their on-the-water fish-catching skills and expert watercraft leadership. The crews donated their time, gear and special services for this impressive extravaganza fishing event during this time of worldwide pandemic. All, just to say thanks to our military veterans. Hats off to all the volunteers.
It was a privilege to meet retired US Navy Petty Officer 1st class, Barbara Erdt, and many other veterans. The fishing was absolutely great as we shared rod-exchanging maneuvers in fire-drill mode with exciting line-stretching moments for the next 3 hours, catching 22 walleye, keeping 18 for the freezer, while fishing aboard Eye-Fish Charters with Captain Jim Klein. I shared my experiences as a US Navy veteran with Barb, but I left after 4 years as a Petty Officer 2nd Class, serving during the Vietnam era on the flight deck aboard the USS Independence/CVA62, maintaining A6-Intruder fighter-bomber jets. Erdt had served during the era of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom from 1989-2004, then with the US Navy active reserve. We compared locker room stories and laughed about morning reveille at boot camp.
With a strong west wind of 12-14 mph at the morning take-off, we headed west about 15 miles and focused on 45 to 65 feet of water. While trolling an assortment of crankbaits and spinner/worm rigs, we enjoyed moments of 3-fish on at the same time on several occasions. The sizzling hot lure was a 2-hook Eye-Fish Firetiger (color) spinner/worm rig (https://www.eye-fish.com) and the commemorative Yaleye Mooneye fish lure (chartreuse w/faded blue rib color, www.yaleyefish.ca) from the recent Southtowns Walleye Association 9-day fishing contest. Barb caught the biggest fish at 9.04 pounds, adding to the total number of really large and healthy walleye already swimming in the live well.
The presentation method was not complicated, but the boat location and speed was fine-tuned as the wind picked up pushing 24 mph gusts from the southwest. Klein said, ”We caught fish from both sides of the boat using four lines on the big boards and two riggers.
The boards were trailing the lures on 5-color leadcore with a 40-foot fluorocarbon leader and riggers with spinner/worm rigs set back 50 feet while deployed 35 to 55 feet down. The boat speed was 1.4 to 2.6 mph, walking the boat in and out from shore, northeast to southeast, then northwest to north east, as the boat was pushed laterally due east with the strong wind. We never even had time to put the diving planes in! Was a fun time!”
Barb Erdt said, “I can’t wait to tell my brother about this Lake Erie trip. He fishing quite a lot, but for some reason says walleye fishing is tough this year. Captain Jim made it look pretty easy, thank you Captain!” Erdt added, “I can’t wait to share these fish with my two kids and my two grandkids.”
Event master-mind and organizer, Captain Jim Steel said, “While we scaled down this event to about ¼ of what it usually is, due to the pandemic social distancing rules, we still had 24 boats out there today, including two out-of-state charter captains that volunteered their time for our relatively local Western NY event.
They stayed at the Clarion Hotel, paid for their own fuel and food, never asked for any expenses.” Captain Jim followed, “These two long-distance volunteers, like all of our other master-angler volunteers on the water, just said they wanted to be here to say thanks to those who served to provide the USA freedoms we enjoy each and every day.” Diane Steel added, “The NYSDEC provided free fish-cleaning services for the veterans today too, preparing more than 100 walleye to take home for their kitchen dinner meal. From the conservation side, the DEC biologists and technicians collected age and health data for their study and record books too.”
Besides a big resealable bag of fresh walleye fillets (they sell for $19.95/pound in Florida!), every veteran left with a red/white/blue fishing rod/reel outfit and a tasty box lunch for the trip back home.
The mission of WNY Heroes is to provide veterans and their families with access to essential services, including financial assistance and resources that help support their lives and sustain their dignity. To help support their life-saving services, WNY Heroes does rely on volunteers for many functions. To learn more about them check out www.wnyheroes.org.
For area accommodations, vacation lodging, charter fishing contacts and services and hotel information/discounts, visit www.tourchautauqua.com.