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Night biting along Lake Erie shoreline
Friday, May 07, 2004
D'Arcy Egan
Plain Dealer Outdoors Writer
Huron, Ohio - Lights twinkled on the horizon as the secret society of anglers began to gather along the Lake Erie shoreline.

We could see the running lights in the dim light of dusk as boats slowly trolled calm near-shore waters, fishing rods perched in rod holders like porcupine quills.

Every now and again, there would be a cryptic message on the marine radio, requesting tips for success.

"What's the color?" whispered one angler into his microphone.

"How deep?" asked another quietly.

Walleyes can be finicky when they move in from deep water to cruise the shorelines after dark, eager to snack on gizzard shad, shiner minnows, small perch and white bass. The trolling speed has to be just right, the lure shape and color to their liking. The depth of water and how deep the lure is running is critical.

We had motored out of Cranberry Creek Marina just east of the Huron River with marina owner Bob Hanko, a Wakeman farmer now in the boating and fishing business.

When the chores are done in spring, which usually doesn't happen until the setting sun is on the horizon, Hanko is hooked on getting his rest and relaxation on Lake Erie after dark by slowly trolling for walleyes.

"It's trophy time for walleyes, though we haven't really been catching the monsters yet this spring," said Hanko as he watched a Reef Runner lure swim behind the boat. Attaching an on-line planer board to his fishing line, Hanko carefully let out another few dozen yards of line.

The night bite happens all along Ohio's Lake Erie shoreline, but some places seem to be far better than others. Lorain and Cleveland are hot spots. So is the stretch of shoreline between Huron and Vermilion.

We were aboard Marc Hudson's small Triton boat. Jim McConville of North Ridgeville, the local representative for Lowrance Electronics, kept an eye on the sonar unit and relayed below-water sightings of fish for Hanko as he put out a half-dozen lines with help from Hudson, a pro walleye angler from Fremont.

The first fish of the evening was a big surprise. It jumped from the water and landed with a splash, behavior that doesn't translate into a walleye.

Sure enough, McConville battled a chunky, brown smallmouth bass to the boat. Snatching the 4-pounder from the water by its lip, he removed a treble hook. After posing for a photo, he released it quietly over the side. "We have been catching lots of bass at night," said Hanko. "They're starting to move to the shallows to feed and spawn. When you're after walleyes, they can almost be a nuisance."

A trophy bass is seldom a bother, though it would have been more fun to cast a tube jig, blade bait or spoon and set the hook. While walleyes are light biters, bass greedily gobble diving plugs and seldom escape being hooked.

Hanko noticed one of the small planer boards outfitted with a glow-in-the-dark light stick for visibility was lagging behind its two brothers on the port side of the boat. Taking the fishing rod from its holder, he began to reel in the first walleye of the evening.

We could hear other fishermen on the marine radio talking of their success. The limit was still three walleyes per angler on this night and many fishermen were close to achieving it.

After an hour of good conversation and no bites, we reached Hanko's hot spot. Anglers danced around the back of the boat trying to reel in fish without tangling lines. In short order, we soon had our boat limit of a dozen walleyes in the 2- to 5-pound class in the live well.

McConville, Hudson and I had enjoyed the excitement of a fast and furious walleye bite. For Hanko, it was the perfect way to wind down after a long day of getting Cranberry Creek Marina ready for a crowd of summertime boaters and fishermen. Catching walleyes in the quiet hours after sunset was just a bonus.
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