This morning's kick-off for the annual Lake County PerchFest was just as wet above Lake Erie as it was where the fishes reside.
A strong storm system moved east and flooded the skies with heavy amounts of rain. Enough so that many likely PerchFest fishing derby participants stayed home.
And the two boats hired to take PerchFest sponsors out for a morning's worth of perch fishing were almost alone in heading out of the Grand River and to the fabled "Hump" area off Mentor Beach Park.
While the 15-minute ride was brief it was very wet, and even rain slickers could not keep a person entirely dry.
At least the thoughts of such soakings quickly evaporated once the vessels chugged to a stop, the fishing gear broken out and the hooks rigged with emerald shiners.
Within seconds the first of many yellow perch were being brought aboard charter captain Mike Langer's "Rampageous" vessel.
Langer had stopped his craft in water about 51 feet deep and just off the south side of the hump. This spot looked promising based on the activity below being recorded on the electronic fish-finder.
Good was the word, too, since Langer never had to move the boat at all.
All five of the guests soon were into fish, including Bob Ulas, executive director of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, which produces the PerchFest. And Langer joined in, taking hold of a fishing outfit from the boat's inventory of such equipment.
Problem was, however, the strong currents below the lake's surface. The week's worth of high winds had generated the water movement, which is common on Lake Erie anyway as the fluid sloshes back and forth until it settles out following a long blow.
"We have to use two-, sometimes, three-ounce sinkers to stay on the bottom," Langer said. "If you don't all of the lines will start to get tangled up."
Even with the hefty fishing line anchors there were still some untangling to do over the course of the trip. Nothing so serious that it needed a pair of scissors and a re-tie but enough so that it would temporarily put a hold on an angler's fishing.
Along with the targeted yellow perch were white bass; often double-headers. This was the largest number of white bass I had seen taken on a single fishing trip in years.
Still, the main goal was to catch yellow perch. That was done by lowering spreaders and in-line rigs with up to three baited hooks, letting them settle on the lake's bottom and then twitching or gently lifting them a foot or so up off the lake's bottom.
Usually the offerings were accepted by the perch after only a few minutes rest. And sometimes the fish would gulp down a minnow even sooner.
While some of the yellow perch being caught were of serious fishing-tournament quality, most ranged from 8 to 10 inches. That's a size that yields good fillets for a fish fry but no where near what is needed to dig into the PerchFest's contest treasury.
And along with the excellent fishing came a brief pause in the rain showers, tapering off to a drizzle and then stopping altogether.
In not quite three hours after leaving the dock it was time to go back in. Not because we had run out the clock or used up all of the emerald shiners. Nope, the fishing was so good that had an 180-fish maximum boat limit stored on ice.
Back in port we divided the catch with mine going to Don Schonauer's fish-cleaning service in Painesville. These fish were quickly unzipped of their fillets with the flesh to be frozen for several healthy fish dinners later this winter.
And to think that I almost backed out because of the rain. Whew, I'm glad I talked myself into getting drenched by rain. Silly old me.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn