It was the best of days (on Saturday); it was the beast of days (on Sunday) for angler teams entered in the New York Walleye Association’s Amara-Can Tournament out of Dunkirk Harbor last weekend.
Saturday’s sunrise glistened on a light ripple of waves as a mild east breeze made the lake look like a wind-protected farm pond. Boaters had good readings on schools of larger walleyes off Dunkirk, and getting there was quick and easy for the 67 boater teams entered in this tourney – on Saturday, that is.
Saturday’s catch rates and weights were stunning. The winning team caught a day’s total, 45.58 pounds, for five fish caught just west of the harbor. In all, the catch averaged more than 9 pounds per fish and two ’eyes tipped scales well past the 10-pound mark.
Trollers who got out to 75-foot depths and worked virtually every kind of suspended-level rigs at 30- to 45-foot depths were catching fish both east and west of Dunkirk Harbor, more to the west, on Saturday.
But Sunday turned out not to be a fun day. Easterly breezes were kicking up waves, but from shore it looked as though Sunday would be an overcast version of Saturday’s sunny, sedate start. Not so.
Boaters were set up for the 7 a.m. start, but NYWA President Bob Zoeller got the U.S. Coast Guard report of small-craft warnings for all waters around Dunkirk Harbor, a warning that extended through the period during which this tourney would be held. Zoeller canceled the second day of competition and the prize committee posted the top 10 (money-winning) team totals and the top three Big Fish entries weighed in on Saturday.
For many, the cancellation seemed needless; the water looked good and boaters had made good readings on Saturday for possibly better catches on Sunday. All that dismay went away just after noon around the Clarion Hotel in Dunkirk Harbor, where the NYWA tent and trailer were posted and parked.
“The tent got hit hard, posts were pulled from the ground and we all had to go under the Clarion’s wooden cover to get out of the wind, but none of the equipment was damaged,” Zoeller said of gusty winds that would have imperiled boaters in small boats during a USCG small-craft warning.
Curiously, the winning team captain, Rick Kacmarski of Hamburg, considers his 20-foot Crestliner he keeps at Sturgeon Point Marina a small boat. “I’ll go from Sturgeon to Dunkirk or anywhere there’s fish in good weather,” Kacmarski said of the walleye fishery that has produced mainly bigger numbers of walleye east of Sturgeon Point (Hamburg to Buffalo shoreline) and larger sizes of ’eyes west of the point (Cattaraugus Creek to Barcelona Harbor).
Kacmarski’s three-angler team included Dave Beres of Blasdell and Scott Spier of Springville. The trio began fishing west of Dunkirk off Van Buren Point in 85-foot depths. His trolling program was based on hard baits, no worm harnesses, run at depths of 30 to 45 feet. It worked.
One annoying problem with the nearly always reliable worm harnesses is that the meat (nightcrawler) attracts all kinds of “other” species such as silver bass, yellow perch, white perch, sheepshead and the occasional smallmouth bass, all species walleye contest entrants wish to avoid.
Kacmarski’s minnow type baits scored. “We ran Renoskys, Storms and other big-named lures, but our hot lures came from a garage sale,” he said, adding, “I’d tell you the name of the hot lure, but none of us could tell what it was.”
Their lures remained hot all day, and the trio’s top five fish included, not one, but two fish above 10 pounds.
Dave Beres caught a 10.38-pound entry that hit on a down-rig lure; Kacmarski got the winning Big Fish Saturday entry on a lead-core rig, a 10.44-pound walleye.
Despite the use of action lures, the team opts for slow trolling speeds. “I like to run at about 1.5 miles per hour and try to keep it under 2 mph,” Kacmarski said of trolling passes that amassed that 45.58-pound total for the five-fish entry on Friday.
Tom Broadfuehrer, NYWA statistician for many years, said that the Kacmarski team’s total weight was a record day catch for this tourney. Kacmarski’s name, spelled variously in area tourney standings, has appeared often. Most recently, he took second in a Big Fish day entry in the 2013 NYWA Amara-Can.
Big fish dominated in this year’s Saturday standings. All 10 of the top teams weighed in five fish that averaged more than 8 pounds each. The 10th-place team of Capt. Jim Bromstead weighed in 40.84 pounds to take the last money slot.
The team of Roger Voorhees finished second with 42.94 pounds; Robert Van Dette’s team took a very close third with a 42.64-pound total.
The remaining team entries were: Don Skellie, 42.12; Scott Addison, 42; Don Ruppert, 41.66; Dan Bognar, 41.52; Dennis Pillard, 41.18; and Nick Schmitt, 41.16 pounds.
Schmitt also took second-place honors in the Big Fish Saturday division with a 9.9-pound entry. Voorhees’ 9.88-pound ’eye captured third place that day.
The Sunday storm sent most boaters home before the nasty noontime winds kicked up and knocked things down and around in the harbor.
By just before 3 p.m., the time when the last flight of boats would have been arriving in Dunkirk Harbor, I made it to the pier to view and take semi-amateur photos of boaters returning to port.
Having fished out of Cattaraugus Creek the day before and knowing how well entrants did that day, the best guess was boaters could fish close enough to shore. After all, Erie’s walleye are not out where Lake Ontario’s steelies are running right now. Near shore should have been good. Storm winds voided all that.
Shore fishing continued. Dunkirk’s Jose Valentin, a regular at casting minnows from the end of Dunkirk City Pier, was setting up for an afternoon of panfish picking on the north side of the pier at 3 p.m.
“I usually get ’em here,” Valentin said of the perch schools that hold around the pier in this warming summer water.
Chris, one of the guys at the new Chadwick Bay Marina, said, “The bass are gone now, but earlier this season boaters could get them right in the harbor as soon as they left the launch ramp.” Chadwick has taken over and now leases the Dunkirk Harbor launch and cleaning station that City of Dunkirk employees once operated.
The newly refurbished cleaning station and lure selections are impressive. “But we mostly sell minnows and worms,” Chris said of the summer trade that keys on perch and walleye right now.
Zoeller and the NYWA officers and directors are planning strategies, including weather conflicts, for the 2015 Amara-Can Tourney.
For now, weather permitting, two more Lake Erie contests key on catching walleye. The Sunset Bay Walleye Shoot-Out is set for Friday and Saturday out of Sunset Bay. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club Walleye Derby is set for Aug. 1 to 3 out of Dunkirk Harbor. For more information on this derby, call 640-2776.
For a nice box/cooler/stringer of Lake Erie walleyes, go farther, deeper and try every kind of lure you can find in a store, a bait shop or even at a garage sale.