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Innovative Outdoors Walleye Challenge holds Big Fish Friday

Sportsman’s Journal

Photo by Gene Pauszek Craig Sleeman’s team is on the left, Randy Jaroszewski team is in the middle and Jim Dolly/ Tom Slawatyki is on the right with the top three heaviest walleye caught on Big Fish Friday.

The sixth annual Innovative Outdoors Walleye Challenge opened up Friday with, what else, Big Fish Friday.

It was picture-perfect weather for most of the day with Mother Nature giving the fleet a break.

Shortly after the Con Club Walleye Derby ended, Canada opened up the border for tourism and fishermen, and in the Innovative Outdoors event all waters of Lake Erie are open including the Niagara River. Fishing the Canadian side can be feast or famine, and the reports offered by a few of the boats seem to indicate there is no place like home. The anglers were allowed to launch anywhere they wanted on Lake Erie and start fishing at 6 a.m. They had a 3:45 p.m. deadline to be back in line at Chadwick Bay Marina with only one walleye per cooler. The scales were up and running shortly afterwards and 17 contestants lined up.

Ron Duliba of Dances With Fishes fame set the tone weighing in a walleye at 5.31 pounds. Gary Belote of Twisted Dipsey followed with a 6.39-pound entry. All the fish weighed looked healthy, showing signs of feeding well. Carmen Nardolillo of Slot Money had the lower end of the weight spectrum reporting with a nice 3.65-pound walleye. Scott Nichols of Hookers Inc. followed with a 4.55-pound entry. John Rogers of Day Drinkin’ produced a 5.03-pounder, beating out by Jeff Phillips of Knot Right with a 5.10-pound entry.

Jim Klein and his son on Eye-Fish had a 5.30-pound walleye while Kyle Kokanovich the leader of the Ship of Fools had a 6-pounder. Jim Taggart of Fish Missel had a 6.13-pound entry while Justin Wekenmann the Eye-Con weighed in a 6.56-pound fish. John Ferdinand of What’s Up Doc was a little bigger at 6.56 pounds and Darin Baron of Fishin’ Tradition produced the last 6-pounder at 6.75 pounds.

Photo by Gene Pauszek Icebreaker, led by Randy Jaroszewski in the middle, won Big Fish Friday of the Innovative Outdoors Walleye Challenge with a 9.98-pound walleye.

There were two 7-pounders brought in. Michael Kuzdale of Kuz had a 7.02-pounder while Pete Szklanka of Triple Threat just missed the money with his 7.12-pound entry.

Taking third-place money on Friday was Midnight Express led by Craig Sleeman, who, together with his twin brother Ethan and Craig’s son Fischer, reported fishing west near Barcelona when at 8 a.m. a heavy walleye attacked the worm harness presented on a dipsey diver set on the No. 2 setting and 100 feet back. Fischer did the work behind the pole while dad watched as the big fish came to the surface. After successfully sliding the net under the hawg, the Sleman trio did a group hug and celebrated their success. The walleye weighed in at 8.29 pounds.

Another veteran angler/winner was Fish Knot Sea led by Jim Dolly Jr. fishing with Tom Slawatyki and son. Their fish weighed in at 8.45 pounds.

No one was going to beat Randy Jaroszewski of Ice Breaker on Friday, especially when they hoisted up nearly 10 pounds of bug-eyed beauty. The LED reading displayed 9.98 pounds and Ice Breaker hopes to carry its good fortune over to today in the Main Event. Jaroszewski, who hails from Hamburg, was fishing with another Hamburg resident Ron Kozub, Will Curtin of Orchard Park and Cleveland, Ohio native Rodger Riggs. Jaroszewski commented that they were also fishing near Barcelona and the trophy fish took a stickbait presented on mono fishing line.

Today, all the contestants will leave outside the Dunkirk Harbor by the lighthouse at the shotgun start of 7 a.m. The deadline for return is 3:30 p.m. The weigh-in will be under the tent at Chadwick Bay Marina, starting at 5 p.m. There are 54 teams competing his year that include some familiar names like Bob Rustowicz, David Levan, Jeff Bognar, Dennis Pillard, Rick Kacmarski, Dennis Alguire, Dan Hanley, Gregg Marzec, Jim Steel and Tom Miranda just to name a few.

There are three Big Fish prizes for the three heaviest walleye. There are 10 prizes for the heaviest total weight of six walleye per team. There is a 20-inch length minimum with a half-pound penalty for presenting small fish plus the shorts get deleted from the total. After the weigh-in and the winners are announced they will announce the winner of the LEW’s event for bragging rights on who is the king of Lake Erie. It is based on a point system for the members who signed up and participated in three Lake Erie events this year: The Primitive Outdoors walleye event at Barcelona in May, The Sunset Bay Shootout in July and the Innovative Outdoors event. Look for the results in the OBSERVER on Monday.

The public is invited to watch the weigh-in and cheer for their team favorites. Commemorative T-shirts will also be on sale. Food and beverage is within walking distance.

For those who would like some walleye action, the anglers report there are lots of walleye in the 60-foot range straight out of the Cattaraugus Creek and slightly west. This time of year you can’t go wrong trolling stickbaits and/or worm harnesses. There were good reports of yellow perch activity in the same area earlier in the week. Live minnows including golden shiners will produce action, once you locate the perch.

Zach at Hogan’s Hut reports it has been slow lately at Chautauqua Lake. Anglers are probing the deeper fishing holes with jigging techniques. On Lake Erie, increase the trolling speed and look for deeper water for some lake trout or steel head action.

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