Then he broke out laughing.
And I didn’t blame him. I guess we did present quiet an incongruous sight: a sleek black 2007 Toyota Tundra, featuring an extended cab with a back seat big enough to make a bedroom out of, pulling a 42-year-old red trailer with a 42-year-old 16-foot battered aluminum boat with the blue paint peeling off the sides, a small black outboard on the back.
Soc Clay dubbed my old Sears Galaxy the “Spirit of Beattyville.” It’s the boat that I refuse to part with and in which I’ve never lost faith in as far as its ability to get me to the fish.
I must, however, admit that it’s better suited for the Ohio River than for Lake Erie.
Before we left on that September 2007 Lake Erie fishing trip in this boat Soc upgraded his insurance policies and updated his last will and testament.
“I’m going fishing on Lake Erie with Sam Piatt and we’re going in his boat,” he said as he bid friends and family a fond farewell.
The Tundra was delivered to my home from Detroit by Toyota Aug. 23 and picked up on Aug. 30. It was mine for a week to test drive as I continue my quest for the best vehicle for the outdoorsman. The V-8 got 18 miles to the gallon, pulled a 32-foot camper with ease and was a dream to handle with my boat trailered behind.
Soc and I left Portsmouth at 7 a.m. Monday and arrived on Catawba at noon. We checked into our cabin at Beach Cliff Lodge and then headed out for the Catawba State Park boat ramp, just a couple of miles away.
I had difficulty backing the trailer down the ramp because I couldn’t see the boat – not by looking over my shoulder out the back window and not by looking in the rearview mirrors.
Finally though I remembered that the Tundra has a camera that kicks into operation when the truck is in reverse and shows you what’s behind you. I had only to look at the small screen above my head to see the boat and the ramp.
The bait store operator had given us the bad news that the only walleye being taken during during late August and early September were a way out at the G Can on the dotted line down the middle of the lake that separates Ohio from Canada. I knew we had no hopes of going that far out with my 15-horse Mercury outboard.
We motored around the rocky shoreline of Catawba to the point where the ferry boat runs out to Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island. The water here was murky from recent hard rains. We cast surface lures, crankbaits, spinnerbiats and minnow-type lures. We trolled crankbaits and drift-fished with weight-forward spinners dressed with a live nightcrawler.
A fairly stiff east wind was kicking up swells and whitecaps, but we headed for South Bass Island, traveling at half-throttle because of the spray that doused us if we went faster.
We made it to the leeward side of South Bass in 25 minutes. The water was calm and clear, the fishing terrible. The daily limit on Erie is six walleye with a minimum size limit of 15 inches and five black bass (smallmouth and largemouth) with a minimum size limit of 14 inches. We fished into the early evening and produced only a few-and-far-between walleye that would satisfy the length limit.
The next day we got away early after breakfast, packing our lunch. We took a bucket of minnows as the bait shop man said perch were hitting near Green Island, located just to the west of Middle Bass.
The wind had shifted to the south and we could travel at full throttle. After a 20-minute run we drifted with the wind across a reef west of South Bass. Our efforts produced one four-pound channel cat, which fought like a walleye.
We motored on for nearly 15 minutes to join a flotilla of perch fishermen west of Green, all of them with dropped anchors. We joined them and dropped anchor. We put live minnows down into the 33-foot depths. We caught only a few small perch, and saw no one around us pulling them in.
By noon we accepted as fact that the fish were simply not feeding. We headed in, and by 3 p.m. we were trailered out, showered, packed, and heading home.
It was the worst two days of fishing I have ever seen on Lake Erie.
The amazing thing was that we caught not one sheepshead (freshwater drum). This is considered a Lake Erie trash fish that you usually can’t keep off your line, especially when fishing Erie Dearies adorned with live ‘crawlers. On some trips out with guides I’ve caught 10 sheepshead for every walleye landed.
Beach Cliff Lodge, run by Phil Whitt for the past 30 years, offers a motel unit and two- and three-bedroom housekeeping cottages. It’s a neat, clean camp and offers a nice fish-cleaning station. It’s just a five minute walk from the ferry boats that run every half hour out to South Bass and the attractions of Put-In-Bay.
The lodge’s in-season rates are offered from April 13 through Sept. 2. The camp is open through the fall and even during the ice-fishing season.
For reservations or information on rates, call (419) 797-4553, or write, Beach Cliff Lodge, 4189 N.W. Catawba Road, Port Clinton, Ohio, 43452.
Ferry rates out to the islands are $8.50 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-11, and free to children under age 6.
Cars and motorcycles are $18 and bicycles $3.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.