Good friend, fellow outdoor writer, and skilled angler, Paul Liikala, who has been prone to enhanced storytelling, recently invited me to a walleye fishing expedition on Lake Erie’s central basin.
I answered simply that it was about time, especially since he’s been promising the exact thing since Jimmy Carter was president.
That was a long time ago and a lot of promises ago as well.
But this time he was not about to get out of it and here’s why: Liikala is the only Lake Erie fan that I know who doesn’t own a giant offshore Erie boat, a zillion dollars worth of tackle and trolling gear, and enough big water electronics to cause an eastern Ohio shore brown out.
Not at all
In fact, Liikala owns and operates his fish factory from a 14-foot basic aluminum tiller with a dinky 15-horse for power. I know, I’ve been told a thousand times and have told a thousand others that there’s not a big enough big water boat to guarantee with 100 percent certainty a safe trip on the open waters of the Great Lakes.
But I also know that Liikala has been doing Lake Erie walleyes for roughly a half-century plus an additional decade. In fact, his early days, aboard his Dad’s dinky little aluminum row boat, powered by two wooden oars, have you, was not a lot different than our planned trip.
The secret, Liikala whispered, is to stay close enough to shore that you could swim to safety if need be. Yes, but … I queried … what about catching Lake Erie walleyes?
After all, Mr. Smarty Pants, how are we going to get ten miles off shore where the fish are?
Don’t need to, Liikala announced with some degree of confidence, pointing out that just a day or two before our outing, that he and couple of other old guys had brought home nearly a dozen Erie walleyes caught just off the Central Basin shoreline.
Sure, I agreed. Notice please, Liikala likes to fish with old guys, some of them as old as his doubting guest on this day. Old guys tend to stretch the truth, claiming at times that the truth can be boring.
So to be sure Liikala hadn’t somehow stored a fish or two in a hidden compartment, we took my boat.
Ha, now he had to produce. Liikala was raised in Painesville, just a stone’s throw from Lake Erie. He remembers well, those early years when his dad would wipe the daily sweat of farming and factory work off by rowing out in the evening to sit in the glow of a Coleman lantern catching his own shiners and then using them to tempt blue pike, predecessors to today’s walleyes.
Even when Archie Liikala was elderly, now with a small outboard motor, he and Paul would troll the shallows near Painesville for walleyes, finding the right depths by snagging and storing the imaginary structure maps under their caps.
And they caught them, plenty of them, and son Paul Liikala still does. Just like he and his dad did 60 years back. And the best part is that an Archie Liikala memory pops up with every fish that comes to the net.
Liikala and I traded stories about our dads while we rigged rods and we never got further from shore than a few hundred yards. I have a fancy full-featured sonar and GPS unit aboard but Liikala seemed to know exactly where every underwater hump was well before I could see it on the color screen.
We started out tolling in 19 to 20 feet of water, but Liikala said we need to get in closer and If I would steer a bit to the left we would soon cross a big bunch of rocks and that would be where we would find fish.
He was right on all accounts. We trolled a couple lines rigged with Reef Runner lures with and at times a shiny spoon. Worm harnesses work too, Liikala said as he reached for one of the rods that was bent over like it had snagged a submarine.
It was indeed a fish, but a not a walleye. A whopper sheephead and a long fight for sure. But yes, indeed, the walleyes came too, several of them and more sheephead, too. This was no snipe hunt — this fishing trip was a real eye opener for this fellow.
And yes, Liikala proved that he could teach this old dog a new trick.
The walleyes aren’t all several miles from shore as proven by this chunky Lake Erie walleye that ate Paul Liikala’s deep-diving Reef Runner lure. This fish, and a few others, were caught in less than 20 feet of water on Lake Erie’s central basin that ranges from Lorain to Erie, Pa.
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