It’s easy to get hooked on Lake Erie

OBSERVER Photo Jeff Jondle of the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs holds a walleye caught Wednesday in Lake Erie.

Surrounded by storm clouds above Lake Erie, Dances with Fish charter Capt. Ron Duliba went to work. Charged with overseeing a crew of novices — with the exception of Jeff Jondle of the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs — the Forestville resident was not fazed by the weather or the lack of experienced anglers.

In about 15 minutes, our crew had made the journey from Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay marina to about 4 miles off the shoreline between Van Buren Bay and Lake Erie State Park outside the town of Portland. Despite the threatening skies around 7:20 Wednesday morning, there was no lightning or thunder.

That meant it was fishing time.

For the next four hours, Duliba had Buffalo News environmental reporter T.J. Pignataro and photographer Mark Mulville as well as myself reeling in the ones that were biting in between the showers and overcast skies.

Needless to say, we got a workout. In all, 20 walleye and one lake trout were caught by our crew of five. Pignataro, a former OBSERVER staff member, had the largest catch. He reeled in a 15-pound lake trout from the depths of about 100 feet.

From left, T.J. Pignataro and Mark Mulville of The Buffalo News and John D’Agostino of the OBSERVER teamed with Dances with Fish charter Capt. Ron Duliba for Wednesday morning’s outing on Lake Erie.

Just before heading back to shore, we were greeted with the hardest rains of the day. Even then, Erie’s waves were kind as winds did not exceed 5 mph. Once past the lighthouse and power plant, skies began to clear as the three media guys and unseasoned fishermen posed for a photo.

Our experience, we all agreed, proved one thing: This was the great lure of Lake Erie.

While the morning’s fishing outing was the main event of the 10th annual Lake Erie Experience VIP Fishing Day, the gathering of participants and elected officials at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club was full of significance. Attendees heard a number of positive comments regarding the two counties working together to promote our great asset. They also heard about increased numbers of out-of-state residents coming to our waters, which translates into big bucks for the tourism sector.

But there are concerns on the horizon. Rich Davenport, an Erie County advisory board member, hailed the healthy quality of our lake but pointed to some structural and environmental concerns. Topping his list was the deteriorating conditions of Sturgeon Point harbor in the town of Evans.

Last Friday and Saturday, during a bass tournament in Buffalo, waves ranged from 5 to 7 feet due to 30 mph Western New York winds. It caused a two-day cancellation of the event.

But what if the weather, which is bound to happen here, changes in minutes? Where should the boaters head? If Sturgeon Point closes next year, which is a possibility, there’s no safe harbor from Cattaraugus Creek to Buffalo.

“This particular facility needs a lot of repair work,” Davenport said of the site. “It’s a very challenging thing due to the cost.”

Breakwalls at the site are in structural failure, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and could be washed away within two years. “This is a regional asset,” Davenport told those in attendance. “I would urge everybody in here across the counties, across New York state and reach out to the federal government to get this one done and get it on the fast track (to being repaired.)”

Davenport also this year reiterated some worries about the lake’s future when it comes to the area’s aging wastewater systems and the chemicals going into the 12th largest lake in the world. He then cited concerns about pharmaceuticals entering our waters.

A recent study, he said, found pain reliever naproxen has impacted crayfish behavior to the point they are no longer aggressive. “Crayfish will fight for food, shelter and breeding,” he noted. “These pain relievers are reducing that.”

How that impacts future generations of lake life — including the larger species — remains to be seen. But make no mistake, those medications pose a credible threat to the waters.

For now, however, Lake Erie continues a powerful revitalization. We all need to take time to enjoy a resource that so many of us take for granted.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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