Charter Boat Association hosts VIP day

Photo by Gene Pauszek Pictured, from left, are: Captain Jim Steel and Zen Olow.

The annual VIP day went off on Wednesday without a hitch. Even the weather co-operated, with Mother Nature providing sunny skies and calm water/fishing conditions.

This year’s event and dinner was held at the outside pavilion at the Clarion Hotel. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell took the opportunity to inform our out-of-town guests — tongue in cheek — that the weather is always like this in Chautauqua County during the summer. Andy, you would do Pinocchio proud.

VIP day was the brain child of the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. Charter captains Joe Jemiolo, Lance Ehrhardt, Phil Swiatkowski, President and Captain Larry Jones and Zen Olow put on their thinking caps and devised a way to bring the beauty and importance of our Lake Erie Fishery to the attention of those people who may not be aware of what they have in their backyard. Business people, politicians, special-interest groups, in short anyone who might be able to enhance and preserve the beauty of some of our natural resources.

People were sent invitations to go out on Lake Erie for a free half-day fishing charter provided by both Chautauqua and Erie counties charter boats. After the day of fishing, the guests and helpers were treated to a dinner. As in years past, dinner was a fish fry of fresh-caught walleye with all the side dishes and even delicious Ray’s cheesecake and other sweet delights for desert. Dinner was usually at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club and the hall was filled to capacity. COVID-19 brought that to a halt. But COVID couldn’t kill a good thing. The ELECBA were shut down for a while, and finally allowed to function with constraints. People wanted to get outside. Fishing was a great escape, and what better way to experience fishing than on a charter trip where the gear and know-how are all provided. They even clean your fish.

COVID shut down border lines, including Canada, which had a booming tourist trade for years, but that was now off-limits. People were looking for other outlets and Lake Erie provided that opportunity. Captain Frank Schoenacker told the audience that the charter industry was concerned they would lose membership because of COVID, but instead they grew. With Phase 1, the captains were able to work. Tourists were coming for weekend getaways. Charter captains become tour guides. Customers are asking where is a good place to eat, where can they stay, where is a good place to visit? Captains are in the entertainment business. If they show their customers a good time, they will return.

Those guests come from Oregon, Arizona, Missouri, Indiana, California, western Ohio, even New York City. Some people have never fished from a boat before, only from shore. They bring the wife and kids, and when they have a good time they come back.

Jim Steel, along with his wife, Dianne, operate Innovative Outdoors, a sporting goods store as well as outdoor video production and a walleye tournament on Lake Erie on Aug. 20-21. Steel commented that there are 75 captains who are currently members. Think of them as individual small-business owners, who are often the voice of the local fishermen in the area. When the tourists come to our area to fish and see the conditions of the marinas, the need for dredging and for waterway access, they question the captains, who in turn ask those who run the show. What are we going to do about it? The tourists started coming here, and we need to keep them coming back and bringing their friends.

No stranger to the microphone, Zen Olow commented that he is a man who wears many hats He is a fisherman, a captain and a person who loves Lake Erie. He is a member of LEMC, which is the Lake Erie Management Commission. Their job is to help protect Lake Erie from disasters. Storm drains have become a LEMC focus. Deluges of rainfall are running into Lake Erie that may have negative results. There are still people who dump raw sewage into these drains as well as motor oil from their vehicles. Lake Erie provides drinking water for more than 13 million people. Think about it. On the plus side, in our two counties, five new kayak ramps have been installed. Jet-ski ramps have been also. Together we can enjoy our waterways as long as we maintain mutual respect for each other.

In closing, the audience was made aware that the VIP day event is not self sufficient. Funding was from the Erie and Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, ELECBA, and the two counties’ Federation of Sportsmen. Earlier in the article, Jemiolo, Ehrhardt, and Swiatkowski were mentioned as pioneers of the event. They have passed away, but their work continues with the passing of the torch to new blood like the Steels, Cody Allen, Frank Schoenacker and the other members of the charter industry. This year’s event had 36 attendees with 16 charter captains assisting. Political issues were avoided in the hopes that together great things can be accomplished. The weather was great, as well as the dinner, and even the fishing was good. Nice job! Next up is the three-day Con Club Walleye Derby. Look for coverage in the OBSERVER on Thursday, Friday Saturday and Monday.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today