VIP fishing day a learning experience on many levels

“Have the fish cleared the screen yet?” asked Capt. Joel Ruggiero of Bait Master Charters.

“We have now!” shouted an enthusiastic Jeff Rasmus of Dunkirk, first mate on the boat for this special VIP/Media fishing day out of Dunkirk on Lake Erie.

Ruggiero walked over to the port side downrigger, pulled the rod out of the holder and popped the line. As the worm harness fluttered up through the school of fish, the rod tip started to throb. “Fish on!” shouted Ruggiero, of Clarence. It was a little trick of the trade that would be repeated at least six times on this particular day for our crew of VIPs. And every time it was one of Rasmus’ homemade worm harnesses that he hand-paints. This one was a “blueberry muffin” pattern, but a mix of pinks and purples worked all morning as we caught four limits of walleye in four hours of fishing.

For 10 years, Chautauqua and Erie counties have collaborated on a special fishing day to share with the media, as well as educate what the organizers consider VIP’s – politicians, elected officials, tourism leaders and others who would benefit from knowing how good the sportfishery is on Lake Erie. Spearheaded by the Fisheries Advisory Boards for Erie and Chautauqua, working closely with the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, the day is paying big dividends as they educate others on sportfishing as an attraction for the area.

In addition to the fishing, the day also offers participants a shore lunch of walleye with all of the fixings at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club, followed by a couple of presentations that help to spotlight concerns or research that may be of interest. For example, DEC’s Don Einhouse, the Lake Erie Unit Leader who would be retiring shortly, gave an overview of an acoustic telemetry program that is ongoing in the lake to document walleye movement. It was extremely interesting, all a collaborative effort between the other states on the lake, the Province of Ontario and other agencies like the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Another presentation came from Rich Davenport, who serves on the Erie County Fisheries Advisory Board (among other boards). He talked about threats to the resource, encouraging everyone to be cognizant of these problems and to react accordingly to protect this valued natural resource. From raw sewage releases to pharmaceutical deposits and the possible effects these things might be having, there’s much more to the big picture than someone going out into the lake and dunking a worm or two.

Back to the fishing. We used a variety of worm harnesses thanks to Rasmus, a student of the fishery. Some of the blades were “hatchet” blades; others were serrated blades. They all help to change things up and offer a different look for the fish in getting them to hit. We also caught fish on Renosky stickbaits (clown and rusty patterns caught fish) and small spoons – also painted by Rasmus. He’s been messing around this sort of thing for over 20 years and he’s gotten pretty darn good at it.

He’s also gotten pretty darn good at driving the boat. As Ruggiero is out getting the baits in the water, Rasmus is paying close attention to depth (60 to 63 feet worked best for us on this particular day), speed (2.0 to 2.3 mph was our ticket) and direction as we stayed relatively close to their home port due to a threat of bad weather. Fortunately, it held off for the most part … except for getting rained on a few times.

“More fish on the screen,” Rasmus said as he kept an eagle eye on the electronics.

“Let me know when they’ve cleared the screen,” said Ruggiero, allowing for time to get the lure that was running behind and below the fish to catch up with the school of walleyes.

“Fish on!”

It was a great day for everyone involved.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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