By LAURI GROSS
If you just want fish, go to the grocery store to buy it. This advice comes from Eric Litton, owner and captain of ‘Eye-Catcher Charters, a Lake Erie charter boat that caters mostly to people seeking walleye.
But Eric says he is actually “selling you the fishing experience: The grand experience. We are first class,” he says of his operation, which is centered around the Pirate Clipper, Eric’s two-story yellow 41-foot boat which includes AC, heat, a fully private bathroom with hot and cold water, built-in seating in the cabin and all fishing equipment provided. “This is very specialized equipment,” he says of his 24 matching rods and reels. “It’s very specific to what we do. It’s not what you’re going to have in your garage for fishing on weekends.” Eric explains that most other charter boats on Lake Erie are smaller and open to the elements.
While Eric’s customers do include some experienced, die-hard fishing enthusiasts, he mostly attracts families, employees on company outings, first-timers or casual fishermen and fisherwomen. “They want to be on a nice boat and this is their one time and they want to try it,” he says. “They want to rent a boat with everything you need and go catch fish and have fun. Women and children always do better than anyone else. They are the only ones who will listen to what we say,” Eric laughs, as he adds, “We’ve had families out there with kids reeling in fish after fish till they are tired of reeling in fish.”
Nick Korenowski, owner and operator of Chagrin Valley Charters and Sport Fishing agrees that the greatest part of the job is creating the experience for people. “The best part is having another day with old friends that you fished with before and are repeat customers and also meeting new customers: the stories and the background they share.”
Nick’s boat, named Carol Ann after his late mother who loved fishing, is a 29-foot twin-engine model which, like the Pirate Clipper, includes an enclosed cabin and fully private bathroom. Both boats accommodate up to six people. For bigger groups, Nick can charter additional boats.
On Lake Erie, the charter-fishing season runs from about March through early December. When people board a boat, everyone age 16 or older needs to have had a fishing license for at least one day. Eric advises, “You can get the license at retailers like bait stores or in the sport section of Walmart. Or go online (OhioDNR.gov).”
Depending on the season, the weather and other factors, customers can choose outings that begin in early morning, or start in the afternoon and go through the evening. Ohio sets the limit at six walleye per person per day. To keep a fish, it needs to measure at least 15 inches. While walleye is the main draw, sometimes people also catch yellow perch or steelhead. If someone nabs a sheepshead, or what Eric refers to as a “trash fish,” they usually throw those back.
Seasickness can definitely be an issue. Eric concedes, “People get sick all the time.” He doesn’t carry any medication on board so he recommends checking with your doctor for advice on what to take.
The boats travel anywhere from about two miles up to about 18 miles off shore to find the best spots to fish, from Fairport Harbor to Kellys Island, the Canadian border, Marblehead and other spots. Finding the best spot is based on experience, gut-feel, gossip and open secrets.
Nick says, “Most charter people work together. We share info on what our catches are, where the fish are, what bait we use. We want all our customers to have a good experience. We know that someone somewhere is doing great catching. You may not have a great day and you may need help. It’s good to know people work together and share information so people can have a good experience.”
Likewise, Eric says, “We do share a lot of info. We have a network of other charter businesses and we talk all the time. In the long run, it helps everybody.”
Nick adds, “Despite the gas prices, there are a lot of people fishing this year. Instead of taking vacations somewhere else, they are out fishing. It’s great to see a lot of boats. Today I saw about 80 boats in our area.”
Eric says he sometimes tries to stay away from areas full of other boats. “I try to stay away from the pack, but it doesn’t work for me. The boat I run is the second largest full-time private charter on Lake Erie that I know of. The only guy bigger than me parks two boats behind me,” he laughs.
Reflecting on some of his best outings, Nick says, “We have kids that catch their first walleye ever with their families. It’s great seeing the dad help the kid reel it in.” He adds that he is happy to accommodate people with walkers or in wheelchairs. “They love to fish and maybe haven’t done it in a while. It’s great to see them out fishing again and having that experience with their family. The joy in their eyes is what it’s about.”
Walleye Fall Brawl
Each October, the Lake Erie Fall Brawl – known as Lake Erie’s largest walleye fishing tournament — attracts more than 10,000 people competing to snag the largest walleye for big cash prizes and other giveways including boats valued at more than $100,000, a Chevy Silverado and more. Enter by October 12 for the contest that runs October 15 through November 27. Entry fee is $37. The contest includes a kids’ division for those 15 or younger. Winners are determined by the weight of the fish, as measured at weigh stations in Maumee, Sandusky and Madison. Visit LakeErieFallBrawl.com for details.
Nick Korenowski, owner and operator of Chagrin Valley Charters and Sport Fishing offers this recipe: filet the fish and remove the skin. Rub with olive oil and paprika. Place in a covered casserole dish and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. For frying, Nick says Panko or other bread crumbs make the best coating before cooking in peanut oil. As an alternative, mix equal amounts of Andy’s Fish Seasoning and cornmeal. Coat the fish dry (do not soak the fish in milk or egg). Then, fry in peanut or cottonseed oil.
Lake Erie charter boats serve up unforgettable experiences, plus fish!
By LAURI GROSS