Clarkin' the Little Dandy
It has been almost a year now since I first met Mike Curreri at the Educated Angler Salmon outing in Ludington. We had originally made a connection through the EA.com chat-room, but had never been able to meet up in person. While conversing over dinner and dockside chat in Ludington, I was excited to find out that Mike and I share a passion…that being trolling for walleyes on Lake Erie. A week or so after the salmon outing, Mike gave me a call and invited me out to fish with him on Lake Erie. We limited out that day in short order. It was great to finally fish with him, and we made plans for the future to try to fish together as much as our schedules would allow.
Mike’s boat is the 25’ Carolina Classic; “Little Dandy.” This fully-rigged fishing machine is equipped with the latest and greatest in electronics, rigging, and safety. She rides beautifully in the Lake Erie chop, and with the assistance of two trolling bags, slows down nicely to pursue walleyes. He stores her in the rack facility at Toledo Beach Marina, one of the nicest marinas on the western end of Lake Erie. Mike also trailers the Little Dandy to Lake Michigan a few times each year to pursue salmon.
To be very honest, I would have expected that Mike and I would have hooked up many, many times this spring, but the weekend weather was very unpredictable, so many of our scheduled trips were cancelled. I fished aboard the Draggin’ Flies with Keith Shisler (Chinookeith of 4kflies.com ) for the inaugural Walleye Smackdown, and Mike had his boat full of other Educated Angler members. On the Sunday after the Smackdown, Mike and I talked a bit, and we both agreed that the time had come for us to really make an effort to fish together more often.
Mike called this past week and invited me to go out on Thursday afternoon. I double checked my schedule, and we set the departure time from the dock at 3:30pm. As I sat at my desk eating my lunch at work, I anxiously watched a heavy line of thunderstorms rolling towards Monroe. Mike called and said the line was supposed to pass through quickly, so our plans would not change. I arrived at Toledo Beach Marina to find Roamer (Hal) helping load the boat with provisions. We left the dock around 4:00pm or so and headed out to a reasonably choppy lake, stirred by the changing wind direction and approaching cold front. We motored 6.5 miles north towards the Fermi nuke plant on a tip that Mike received while eating lunch at the marina restaurant. We set up in 24 FOW and began our troll.
The first hour was spent experimenting with lead lengths off the tow-line on our big boards. We started with one side of the boat at 30’ back, and the other at 50’ back. We were pulling a variety of Silver Streak Jr. and Dreamweaver WD walleye spoons behind Big Jon Mini-discs off the big boards. I set out a variety of color patterns, as the sky was partly cloudy, and the water somewhat stained. After 45 minutes, we had one walleye to show for our efforts, along with several releases that failed to result in fish coming to the net. We were marking a lot of fish in the top 1/3 of the water column, which has been a consistent pattern for me over the last few years when the mayflies are hatching. Mike soon decided (after noticing consistent marks closer to the bottom on the graph) to move one side of the boat back to 70’ off the towline, and the other side back to 90’. It was not long before we had taken three fish off the 90’ back side, and the program was set. Spoon color did not seem to matter, as we took fish with Mixed Veggies, Nuked Veggies, Hot Rod, and Grape Jelly, among others.
It was a real joy to share the back of the boat with Roamer. Relatively new to trolling for walleyes, I handed nearly every rod to him. He caught on to the system quickly, and the smile on his face as each walleye came to the net was priceless. At one point, we had a release on the port side, and Mike grabbed the rod. While I was retrieving the net from the holder, I noticed another rod on the starboard side was bowed out of place. Hal picked it up and we had our first double of the day. Both fish came to the back of the boat at the same time, and I deftly netted both fish at the same time, which not only surprised me…but apparently my fishing partners as well.
With nearly a three man Michigan limit in the box, Roamer decided it was time to mention the dreaded words…”I’m surprised we haven’t caught any sheepshead yet…” He did this as I was reeling in a fish (I think he was trying to jinx me), which thankfully turned out to be another walleye. As luck would have it…the next rod to release buckled over heavily, and somewhat in a sarcastic tone, I handed the rod to Hal and said…”here’s that sheepie you’ve been looking for…” It was indeed a sheepshead, a very nice specimen weighing about 6#. We all had a good chuckle about that fish, and decided that from that point on, we would follow the advice of a charter captain with whom I had recently fished, only saying “It’s a nice one” on the retrieve, avoiding any and all possible bad “mojo” on the potential fish coming to the boat.
We finished our three man limit by about 7:00pm that evening, throwing back several fish at the end while clearing lines. Amazing how often that seems to happen on Lake Erie. While we were bringing in the remainder of the spread, Hal was having a bit of difficulty releasing one of the port lines. This does prove somewhat difficult with monofilament, as the stretch of the line absorbs the snap of the rod. After 4 or 5 attempts, Hal decided enough was enough, and really yanked on the rod. The line popped free, and the Ugly Stick smacked me square in the side of the head. I guess you could say that even walleye fishing has some dangerous moments. I told Hal that I would send him the medical bill for my CAT-scan, and that my attorney is named Jim.
Content with our efforts, Mike pointed the Little Dandy towards port, and we enjoyed a very comfortable ride back to the dock. Mike and I have a pretty good system for cleaning our catch, as he fillets and skins the fish with an electric knife, then I cut out the rib bones and zipper the fillet. Hal was a bit surprised with this process, as apparently he went to my Dad’s school of fish cleaning. “You sure do waste some meat there Clark…” he said jokingly. Not really…just the little around the backside of the ribs, which is difficult to fillet off even with a standard knife. In the end, we each had a gallon Ziploc full of tasty walleyes to take home to the freezer.
We took the time at the end of the evening to share a couple of adult beverages at the marina bar at Toledo Beach. While there was a bit of talk about fishing, there was also plenty of conversation regarding the tremendous friendships that each of us have made over the last few years courtesy of Educated Angler. It was great to finally fish with Hal, and to also share yet another limit with Mike aboard the Little Dandy. For sure, the three guys that fished together on that fine June evening will be doing so again in the very near future. The walleye fishing on Lake Erie has never been better, and I look forward to many more trips with Mike (and others as well)…but next time I fish with Hal…I’m bringing a helmet.
Best wishes and good fishing.