CLEVELAND - You want to take advantage of the world-class Walleye fishing on Lake Erie, but you don’t have a boat. Or maybe you do, but it’s not big enough for the Big Lake.
So, what do you do?
You could always charter a trip. But, at $600 to $800 that could be expensive, even if you invite along five friends and split the cost.
Should you spend the money on a charter?
Absolutely, at least once. The knowledge you’ll gain of technique and geography will more than pay for itself down the road.
But, if you can’t swing the cost, right now, you have an economical option.
You can always take a head boat trip. Head boats charge by the head, hence the name. They carry more anglers per trip, so they charge individuals less to come aboard and fish.
How much less?
Well, you can take a head boat trip on Lake Erie for anywhere from $20 to $42 a person depending on the age of the angler, location of the boat, and the type of fish you’re after. You can find head boats in marinas all along the North Coast, but there is a fleet of them that call Port Clinton home.
Most head boat operators run two trips a day, a morning trip and an afternoon trip. You provide your rod and reel, tackle, bait, and refreshments. They provide the boat, experience, expertise, and hands-on help to make your trip successful.
Recently, we were invited along on a head boat outing on the Watanna II, one of the boats operated by Shore-Nuf Charters based at the Drawbridge Marina in Port Clinton. The day started by purchasing a ticket inside the marina. You can make reservations, and you might want to because space is limited, and they often sell out.
Then it was time to get the gear out of the car and get it on the boat. You want to get there early so you can claim your spot on the rail. Where you fish from can be vital to your success.
“You want to get on the bow or the stern, if you can,” said First Mate Greg Kanis. “That way you can fish the swing.”
You have to remember, with so many people on board, head boats can’t troll like smaller six-person charters often do. So, they drift. Anglers cast and retrieve. The best places to do that are the front or back of the boat. You cast parallel and away from the boat and let your lure sink. As the boat drifts, your line and lure “swing” back toward the direction from where you were drifting. That keeps your bait in prime fishing range longer, and imparts a bit of extra action to it that can often trigger a reaction strike.
Of course, before we can fish, we have to get out to where the fish are. That usually involves a ride of anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Where you go depends on where the fish have been biting recently, as well as the experience of the captain.
Our man in the wheelhouse that day was Captain Dick Malloy. He’s a Lake Erie charter and head boat legend. Malloy has been leading fishing trips on Lake Erie for 33 years. He’s seen practically everything a captain can see.
“It’s changed a lot since I started, but you still have the desire to go out and get fish for people,” Malloy said.
About 20 minutes out, Malloy starts marking fish on the boat’s electronic fishfinder. He slows the Watanna II, then brings it to a stop.
“We’re in about 28 feet of water, marking fish at 15 and 20 feet,” says the veteran captain.
People start casting their lures over the side. Most are using what’s become the standard rig in the Western Basin, a nightcrawler harness with an egg or bullet weight attached between the swivel and a bead on the eye loop of the harness. The rigs are baited with a nightcrawler.
“Gold’s been catching them,” says First Mate Kanis. He’s referring to the spinner blade color on the night crawler harnesses. Some people immediately make the change; others wait to see if their choice will work.
Kanis says head boat customers need to follow their instincts, but they also need to ask questions:
“We are here everyday, we see what’s working.”
And what’s working today appears to be gold blades and red beads.
That’s what Alan Lammers of Dayton is fishing.
Lammers is the first on board to connect with a Walleye. Kanis nets it at the boat. It’s a scrappy two pound fish, just the right eating size. Lammers makes several trips to Port Clinton every year to fish. He chooses head boats, and money is the reason why.
“Charters are more expensive. I like to fish a lot and I can take more trips on a head boat for the same money.”
That is a sentiment echoed by Captain Malloy.
“It’s an economical way to get on the water, and you’re able to talk to someone with information. Plus, it’s a great way to spend a day on the lake.”
In a short time, more fish are caught. There are Walleye, Yellow Perch, White Bass, Channel Catfish, White Perch, and Sheepshead, almost everything Lake Erie has to offer. When the fishing slows in a place, we move.
Captain Malloy marks more fish on the electronics. We stop. We drift. We cast.
In some places we catch fish, in some places we don’t. We keep moving