Fishing a Lake Erie walleye tournament
Trying something new in the world of fishing should be on everyone’s bucket list, year after year. Whether it is competition fishing, targeting a new species or trying a different approach to a favorite species, it is important to get out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons. My most recent adventure took me on to Lake Erie to compete in a walleye tournament.
Lake Erie walleye tournaments have become an important part of this Great Lake’s angling culture. It seems like more and more people are catching the tournament bug and they look forward to the competition. Most of the contests fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day and the one I was invited to fish was August 21 out of Dunkirk – the Innovative Outdoors Walleye Challenge. Our “team” would be Mark Mohr of Springville, former Buffalo Sabres tough guy Rob “Razor” Ray of East Amherst, and his 12-year-old son Robert. The apple didn’t fall from the tree.
I have fished and hunted with the Buffalo Sabres Alumni enforcer before, but I have not had the pleasure of meeting his 12-year-old son Robert, let alone fish with him. Our team’s name would be “Baby Razor.” Of course, young Robert would be the Team Captain.
Strategy is key for fishing a tournament. While catching a big fish is certainly a plus for your daily total, consistency for bigger fish is what really makes a difference at the end of the day. The Innovative Outdoors contest is a 6-fish tournament and the minimum size walleye allowed were 22-inch fish. You might not think a 22-inch fish would be hard to come by with 100 million walleyes in the lake, but there are other factors that come into play when you are on the water fishing.
This year, with the opening of Canadian waters in August, decisions need to be made prior to the shotgun start of the competition. For example, Team Erie Obsession led by Adam Zwack of Lakeview, made the decision to run 27 miles 1 way and fish the Tecumseh Reef in Province of Ontario waters. Would it be worth the run? Time would tell.
Playing the weather into the decision-making process is critical, too. Will it be windy? Will there be thunderstorms or other weather concerns? For the Saturday of the tournament, it was a lack of weather. With limited wind, it can hurt the fishing because walleyes are light-sensitive fish. In the heat of mid-day, a small walleye chop on the surface can do wonders to diffuse the light and allow for fish to be more at ease. The lake was flat. And it was hot, uncomfortable for the anglers.
Other strategies that come into play is how well you prepare by pre-fishing, allowing you to rule out certain areas that may be void of fish or focus on areas that have been productive. Mohr worked his 24-foot Hewes all week long prior to the tournament and he seemed confident that we could pull the fish we needed to between Sturgeon Point and Dunkirk. A Canadian run would not be needed.
Another important piece to the tournament puzzle is your network of angling buddies that you work with. This tournament was open communications so that means that you can talk to whoever you want, whenever you want. However, no matter what the information is, you still must do your part to put fish in the boat.
We blasted off outside the breakwalls at Dunkirk Harbor at 7 a.m. sharp when the air horn sounded off. Boats were heading out in many different directions to spots that had been predetermined by the team. We were headed to the Sturgeon Point area where fish had been discovered in 71 to 76 feet of water by Mohr. Using a mix of stickbaits and worm harnesses, we ran rods outfitted with lead core line. Young Robby selected a purple Renosky stickbait to run off one rod and it turned out to be one of the most productive lures of the day. Yaleye Mooneye Minnows were also a personal favorite of Mohr’s in the lure department, and they caught fish, too. Worm harnesses produced their share of fish, too.
Catching fish was not the issue. We caught plenty of walleyes and young Robby did a great job reeling most of them in. However, finding fish over the 22-inch mark, that was a different story. Over the course of the day, we managed to catch 7 walleyes over the tournament minimum and every one of them were nearly the same size. We needed 6. We also caught plenty of undersized walleyes for the tournament, but over the state’s 15-inch minimum.
My job became driver for the boat. I was good with that and have been a driver for other contests on Lake Ontario. It’s not the glamour job, but it is an important part of the team. I reminded me of my days playing baseball in high school and college. I played right field and was proud of it. It was an important part of our team for several reasons – overpowering pitchers that resulted of plenty of action and confidence from the coaches my arm was strong enough to make plays at second, third and home base. In fact, once it was a play at first base that resulted in an out.
Driving the boat was my right field position. Paying attention to our electronics and monitoring your speed is critical for success. Best speed for us was 1.9 mph to 2.2 mph. When we hit a fish, I would mark the GPS. When we double backed, following those previous marks for a repeat performance was important. When things slowed up late morning, we pulled all the lines and bottom bounced an area off Cattaraugus Creek to try and get some fish to hit. We rigged worm harnesses off 3-way rigs and did just that, bounced the bottom and dragged the harnesses to trigger a strike. The plan was a good one, but it didn’t work out the way we had hoped.
At the end of the day, we had our 6 legal fish, and checked in before the 3:30 p.m. cutoff. Not knowing what everyone else had was part of the excitement and fun.
In the end, it was Team Erie Obsession winning the contest with 32.84 pounds of walleyes for 6 fish. The gamble into Canadian waters worked – this time. Second place went to John Lignos of Orchard Park and his Current Obsession team with 31.97 pounds, fishing between Dunkirk and Cattaraugus Creek – where we were. Sometimes you get the fish, sometimes the fish gets you. We ended up with just under 25 pounds for our 6 fish. We finished in 26th place out of 54 teams – in the middle of the pack. We did beat 28 other teams for a first-time effort.
Let’s see what we can do in 2022 …