Trying to keep fishers hooked as summer approaches

Southtowns Walleye Association of WNY to host derby June 13-21

By Benjamin Blanchet | SUN STAFF REPORTER

For two decades, Sue Guenther, president of Southtowns Walleye Association of WNY, has been part of what she describes as a “community-oriented” club advocating for the conservation of species on Lake Erie along with hosting a yearly walleye derby tournament since 1985. This year, she said, has become “mass chaos.”

The nonprofit club hasn’t been able to bring in income since February. The club canceled rentals and raffles, along with children’s activities. And it’s been tough to keep everyone together, she said, especially for board meetings. “I’m sure we’re not the only organization that went through all that but there’s a lot of people that are hurting because of not being able to be open,” Guenther said.

Guenther and Brian Plecas, webmaster and PR coordinator for Southtown Walleye Association, are hoping to once again create interest in their club as the 36th annual Walleye Derby approaches, from June 13 through June 21. The derby, which marks one of the few organized sports tournaments taking place in the area since March, is set to include over $100,000 in cash prizes and merchandise. The group will continue to accept sign ups from fishers through June 12 and more information is online at www. After marinas and launch ramps reopened in late April and charters reopened on May 19, fishing is in full effect on Lake Erie even as organizations like Guenther’s fight to regain momentum for the year.

Peyton Fletcher hoists her catch which made for a win in the youth division of the 2019 Walleye Derby.

Peyton Fletcher hoists her catch which made for a win in the youth
division of the 2019 Walleye Derby.

With increased traffic on the lake, in part due to warmer weather, fishing organizations and stores are hoping residents maintain their interest in fishing, as other sports and outdoor activities are effectively stopped due to social distancing regulations. “We had to think outside the box to come up with ways to get people to sign up, because ultimately the derby drives membership and a lot of our funding comes from that activity,” Plecas said.

Elsewhere on Lake Erie, Nick Jagow, captain of Hamburg-basedfishing charter Crazy Trails Sportfishing, opened shop during Phase 1 of the governor’s reopening plan on May 19. Jagow said his trips, which he takes out to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, call for a hand sanitizing station aboard the boat and a requirement for anyone on board to wear a mask. Jagow, who leaves Lake Erie from Buffalo’s Small Boat Harbor, said he has brought up to five people aboard on trips although now those trips are limited to four. “It’s typical to get interest once the weather starts warming up,”

he said. “People want to do stuff outside and this year, with kids not having sports, I think that’s why I’m getting a few more calls because there’s not much going on.” In tackle shops like Colville Outfitters in Hamburg, Danny Colvilleis still seeing interest and doing curbside pickups along with online sales. Colville, the son of former Buffalo News publisher Warren Colville, said he doesn’t do as much business in the summer as he does in the spring but he’s getting calls due to state-mandated closures at some stores and some of the calls are not from his typical clientele. “A lot of people asking for bait or random stuff we don’t sell – we typically sell higher-end products –
but I’ve had to bring in cost-effective stuff to cater to everyone,” Colville said. Colville, a fisherman himself, added since this year Western New York experienced a warmer winter than usual and then a cool spring, there haven’t been as many fish in nearby bodies of water. “And with the extra pressure of everybody fishing, it just seems like the fishing isn’t that good either,” Colville said. “Unfortunately, too, people are keeping a lot of fish and the DEC isn’t taking calls or patrolling, so people are able to keep over the limit.”

That doesn’t go for walleye fishing though. He said while he’s had to travel a bit to find trout, the walleye fishing in Lake Erie has been “the best it’s ever been.” “Most of the walleye fishing is in the nighttime, so everybody is out there in front of Hoak’s or Hamburg Beach, and some nights it looks like a city of people with all the boats out there,” Colville said. For the Southtown Walleye Association, Plecas said Covid-19 was a challenge for fishing as people weren’t allowed to go to marinas, they weren’t allowed to gather and they were afraid of getting together in their boats. “That had a negative effect on our organization, as well, since it’s a fishing club,” Plecas said. “If you can’t get together to talk about fishing and with our building being closed and gathering restrictions, when you start to add all that up, it just sets the table for a very difficult situation all the way around, both on the water and off the water.”

However, holding the derby is a step in the right direction, he said. Much of the revenue from the upcoming derby helps support children’s programs, many of which had to be canceled this year. Plecas said the club has attempted to leverage its technology, using Facebook live videos in advance of the derby, as well as mailing out flyers about the event. He added the club is the biggest of its kind in the country, so for it to still be able to have its derby is “setting the tone and momentum” for the summer on Lake Erie. “We’re the first big one to go and hopefully, others will follow suit,” he said. “When they see the Southtowns can have their derby tournament, they shouldn’t be afraid to have theirs,” Plecas said.

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