by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
A short while back, I wrote a story about doing some fishing for a couple of days with my son, Joe, at Chautauqua Lake in Chautauqua County. While we were having conversations, something popped in my head about walleye fishing, and out of the back of my head a memory came back about the times my fishing pal Joe Ognibene and I made trips to Port Clinton, Ohio, also known as the "Walleye Capitol of the World." A few times we hauled a boat with us and as time went by, somehow Joe got tied up with Capt. Jim Fofrich who fished out of Port Clinton. Fofrich asked if we wanted to take a trip out with him on his 25-foot SportCraft. Of course, the offer was gracefully accepted and it was free. Who wouldn't like to take a fishing trip with a seasoned charter captain like Fofrich? We did, and learned things that will never be forgotten.
Fofrich supplied all the bait, the lures, and shared his knowledge on how to fish a weight-forward spinner for walleye. A popular spinner at the time in Ohio was the "Erie Dearie." It had a special shaped lead weight on the front followed by a spinner, red beads, and then a long-shank No. 2 gold hook with a worm. The "Erie Dearie" was invented by another Lake Erie captain, Dan Galbincea, in 1961. In 2010, the spinner was purchased by a larger company, but it's still making the revolutionary Erie Dearie. The photo you see is an original Dearie from my tackle box.
The western end of Lake Erie is well known for walleye, and bass is the second most sought-after fish. Around here, we enjoy the eastern end of Erie anywhere from the Pennsylvania border to Buffalo for walleye, bass, and jumbo lake perch.
Fofrich liked drift fishing using these spinners and if the wind got too "heavy," which made drifting too fast, he brought out a sea anchor.
A sea anchor is nothing new, but this one was to me. It consists of a cone-shaped bag made of light canvas or something similar, and at the top end of the cone three ropes are fastened around the circle; a long rope is attached to them, which is fastened to the boat. At the bottom of the cone is a hole in the center to let the water flow through it, much like a funnel. It was a brainy idea probably thought up by some sea faring captain, somewhere.
There is a second rope that is fastened to the bottom of that funnel, and that's for pulling in your anchor. You'll need to pull that rope in order to pull the bottom to the top to release the water, so you will need strength to it pull back in. It's like turning it inside out.
The first time we went out with Fofrich he stressed his feelings about having a tidy and clean boat, which makes for a happy boat. There were four other guys on this trip - all great fishing enthusiasts. I can remember one guy was a "Noodler" and he entertained us by telling some of his Noodling stories that day.
Noodling is the art of catching catfish, sometimes referred to as mudcats by your hands reaching underwater along the shoreline with only your bare hands far into holes and crevices. You can probably find videos of Noodlers on YouTube if you would like to see how it's done.
Another guy owned a patent on his own walleye fishing lure. Funny thing was, he never used it on this trip.
Back to the captain's "tidy boat, happy boat." If someone took a worm out of the bait box that sat on the engine cover and dropped some bedding, Fofrich would reach over, pick it up, put it in the box where it belonged, and say to everyone, "a tidy boat is a happy boat." Before long, he had us all saying it either to ourselves or singing it out loud to our own made up music.
Today, as I write this story it is singing in my head. Try it yourself; say the words while putting your own melody to the words. It sticks. It's like listening to a song you haven't heard in ages, and then when you do it sticks in your head all day. If someone of the six of us dropped as much as a gum wrapper or moved a rope out of place, someone in the crew would say, "a tidy boat is a happy boat," and it would be picked up immediately.
It was a great lesson learning that. How many times have we been out and just laid things down, or dropped things on the floor, or maybe just pulled the boat anchor in and let the rope sit to walk on or trip over? A fishing rod had to be put in its proper place; the landing net had its own place. Nothing laying around made for a safer, happy boat.
Oh, and a fish. Fofrich would never allow us to bring a fish in and just flop it on the floor. If it was to be released, you unhooked it over the side and let it go. If was a keeper, you took the hook out over the side and dropped it in the live well. Plus, the only thing you tossed into his Lake Erie was a fish or a worm, never any "junk."
I lost track of Capt. Fofrich over the years and hopefully he is still around teaching fishermen and new potential fishermen the ropes. He was a really great Lake Erie fisherman, teacher, and environmentalist.
U.S. Coast Guard loses its fury on western Lake Erie
Talk about stirring things up. Charter boat operators on the west end of Lake Erie got a lesson from the U.S. Coast Guard recently when some over-reacting Guardsman crew pulled a captain over after a day of fishing. They were seeking documents as proof if his boat was made in the U.S. All his other documentation was in order except for being able to produce proof of where his boat was manufactured. When he couldn't produce it, he was warned that he could be fined $40,000 for the first offense, and a half-million for any further offenses. The captain had to leave his vessel docked for five days while things got straightened out. He claims he lost nearly $3,000 while in port.
The boat this captain owns is a SportCraft like the one Fofrich ran, and these boats were made in the U.S., however he had no documentation. The law the USCG was enforcing is an old 1920 law that is called the "Coastwise Trade Act," also known as the "Jones Act." The act was formed back in 1920, just two years after World War I to protect American shipbuilders against foreign competition, mainly large ships. In those days, the act was more concerned with shipping of merchandise in U.S. coastal waters, never a tiny little vessel like a Great Lakes fishing boat. After lawyers got involved and the Charter Captain Association got rolling, the Coast Guard apparently decided it was a bad move, and is backing off for now.
Remember this weekend is free fishing days June 29-30 in New York state. Anyone can fish for free and the only restrictions are you need to follow the fish and game laws (size, limits, etc.) So get off your duff and quit just thinking about it. You owe a day out for yourself, and whomever you bring with you. Your favorite mate, child, friend, whoever, will love you for it.