A Day with the New DEC Region 9 Director at Walleye MECCA Destination – Dunkirk, NY

Julie Barrett O’Neill, the new Director for NYSDEC Region 9, is a hands-on manager that loves to share conversation about the outdoors.
  • Need a limit catch of Walleyes? Visit Dunkirk, NY, in Chautauqua County. 
  • NYSDEC Region 9 has a new hands-on Director that knows the ropes: Julie Barrett O’Neill

By Mike Joyner

One can easily state that any and all ports of access to Lake Erie lead to the walleye capital of the world. You would be correct, just as your fishing partners’ may counter declarations. Rather than debate the issue, I’ll lead us into the “declaration of Dunkirk” as a “must experience” port of launch and a favored choice to pursue a great fishing experience on Lake Erie. As reported in recent years by myself and legions of the outdoor media, the 2022 walleye season on Lake Erie is consistent with all the observations and claims as a “Walleye Mecca” of prior years. Yes, folks, it’s that good!

This year’s VIP Fish Day, held annually every August, would greet us with mixed clouds, moderate temperatures, and the calmest waters I have ever experienced on this Great Lake. This year’s event was coordinated by Jim and Diane Steel of the Innovative Outdoors team. A well-organized and super friendly event. Lots of familiar faces and many new ones. The event pairs Charter Captains with outdoor writers, local legislators, business leaders, and members of the NYSDEC Fisheries group. The group of outdoor writers present would hail from Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Rhode Island and New York.

As a fishing partner, I would be paired up with Julie Barrett O’Neill, the new Director for NYSDEC Region 9. We would join Captain Hans Mann of Buffalo Harbor Outfitters on his 21′ Warrior boat for a morning of outstanding fishing.

Captain Hans Mann of Buffalo Harbor Outfitters treats his guests with comfort and fish-catching aboard his 21′ Warrior boat. The city of Dunkirk is in the background.

Our trip out into the harbor was inspirational for all its beauty and the lake’s calmness. We would be heading out to 60′ – 90′ depths to troll for walleyes that had been, in recent days, hanging near the bottom. Just 30 minutes into setting up the lines, we were already into fish as we started our first trolling run. Although we ran a pattern of depths, those we had out deep with dipsy divers and worm spinner jigs made it happen. The fish-catching started off with Julie landing the first walleye. We both would catch our limit for the day and release others back to the lake. To this day, in my humble opinion, walleye is one of the best fish to eat and is a welcomed treat in our home.

The fishing was fantastic, and the conversation during our trip was even better! Julie comes into her new role as Region 9 Director with an impressive resume. She is as passionate about the resource as any of us. Julie is incredibly excited about the outlook for Lake Sturgeon, which is making significant progress in the North American conservation story. Having a Director that is hands-on and very comfortable with fishing tackle is a good thing for us sportsmen. As I have, you’ll find her very approachable, friendly and knowledgeable. I would also learn that Hans is just as passionate about fishing for muskies and very involved as a board member of the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. I can tell you Hans runs an efficient setup and is directly dialed in on walleyes. I can easily envision how he takes his ‘A’ game to muskies. I found Hans to be a great boat captain and super friendly. They are genuinely great people to enjoy time out on the water with. We would discuss many topics concerning the fisheries, future development, and the current issues with proposed windmills. In a few hours on a beautiful morning, all the essential goals of the VIP event were being met on a 21′ boat. The future for Eastern Lake Erie has a bright future, in my view.

The event concluded with a great lunch at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club. As in the past, we got updates on issues concerning the lake, the latest research, and the fishery outlook.

The Dunkirk pier fish-cleaning station is crowded with everyday anglers taking fillets home for dinner. Ice and free fishing advice are available here, plus you can observe an assortment of fish cleaning tools and methods.

It is a beautiful format to promote not only the great fishery and recreational opportunities of the area but also puts the significant stakeholders together in the same room, the same boat, to further the communication needed for developing the resource. The event is fully supported by the following organizations: Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, Erie County Fisheries Advisory Board and the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association.

www.tourchautauqua.com

https://www3.erie.gov/environment/fisheries-advisory-board

www.easternlakeeriecharters.com

www.buffaloharboroutfitters.com

www.innovative-outdoors.com

-MJ
© 2022 Mike Joyner- Joyner Outdoor Media

USA Veterans CATCH FUN and FISH at Lake Erie WALLEYE EVENT

  • 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
As wind and waves whipped up the water surface, the walleye went on a big feed. I’m holding this 9-pounder up for a picture with Barb Erdt. Jim Klein Photo

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.

Some 24 volunteer expert boat captains joined forces with WNY Heroes, Inc., to share walleye fun for military veterans that had served our country during any era. Forrest Fisher photo

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.

With 18 walleye in the live well, we headed back to the dock and the fish-cleaning station. We had brought 22 fish to our lines during the morning trip, releasing the smaller fish. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.

The new Eye-Fish THUMPER BLADE was among the hottest lures on board. Forrest Fisher Photo

 

 

 

 

One of the hot lures, the Yaleye commemorative lure designed for the recent Southtowns Walleye Association 9-day tournament.

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.

Wind and Waves – We fished from 8AM-11AM and headed back to port as the wind srated to peaked with 22 mph gusts. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.

Running the downriggers near the bottom produced fish, but then popping them with the Eye-Fish spinner rigs caught fish too. Forrest Fisher photo

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!”

Captain Jim Klein (L) and retired USN 1st Class Petty Officer, Barb Erdt, enjoy the picture taking moment on the trip back to the dock. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.”

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation staff volunteered efforts to clean fish for the veterans. Forrest Fisher photo.

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. 

 

Fun Walleye Day for Military Veterans – Lake Erie Fishing!

  • 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

US Army Infantryman Al Sawyer (L) and Captain Jim Klein with a nice 7-pound walleye taken from eastern Lake Erie near Dunkirk, NY.

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.

Captain Jim Steel (www.InnovativeOutdoors.com) with Diane Rae behind him and volunteers from the WNY Heroes Inc. group at registration.

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.

US Army Infantryman, Chris Corcoran, with a double-header walleye catch!

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.

US Army Vietnam Veteran, Rick Flick with a nice ‘eye.

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.

Lynn Magistrale, Program Director for WNY Heroes, Inc., greets veterans as they arrive. That’s Al Sawyer on the right.

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.

Pre-scouting by Captain Jim Klein provided a good place to start the trolling pattern and resulted in a take-home catch of 24 tasty walleye for veteran freezers.

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.

Fishing guides and hosts provided all the gear, boats, and bait, for all the military veterans, all gratis, in a special salute and thank you for our freedom.

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.

Even event-organizer, Captain Jim Steel, found time in his busy day to take a full complement of military veteran anglers out to catch a few fish.

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.

At the end of the day, biologists from the New York State DEC joined forces at the dock to clean all the fish for the military veterans, adding data collection for this special event to historical fish tracking records. Military veterans are now part of NYS fisheries research too!