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Rod, Gun & Game: Assure boat safety for wallye tourney

Charter Captain Fred Forsythe and U.S. Coast Guard certified inspector, Judith Hafner, exchange information to complete a free NYS Boat Safety Inspection last weekend at Barcelona Harbor. The inspections take about 15 minutes, more are planned for this weekend at local boat launch harbors.
The wait is nearly over, as anglers have their rods, reel, lures and lines ready for new leaders and new walleye tactics in preparation for the exiting Lake Erie Southtowns Walleye annual eight-day, big-fish, walleye tournament set to run from Saturday, June 8 starting at midnight through next week Sunday, June 16 at 4 p.m.

During pre-tournament fishing last weekend at Barcelona Harbor, the weather was not a friend to troll anglers tuning up their boat rigs, rod/reel rigs and testing new lures.

Strong, gusty winds from the south-southeast spawned three to five foot waves a few miles offshore and a few thunder-boomers in the far distance added open eyes and ears to the trip. The storm from the previous night generated something that I have never ever witnessed before on Lake Erie: west to east surface currents in excess of four miles per hour.

Besides providing a bewildering variable for trolled lures and adding a mystery as to why your spinner worm blades may not be turning — despite your boat running 3.5 miles per hour, such lake current also moves the location of baitfish forage and predator schools to more offshore locations of comfort and less work for the fish.

Such current means that if you went perch fishing in 50 feet of water, dropped your anchor and turned on your boat speed indicator, you read about 4.1 miles per hour on the boat speed gage. A true test of your anchor rope and your Danforth anchor ability to hold bottom.

Getting your anchor back might also be a big deal effort and an honest test of your upper body strength. I’m not sure that sportfishing was ever intended to be that much work, so in the future, when you happen to detect this type of current, two things to know: never anchor and go back home to reduce the length of your honey-do list.

Several days of strong offshore winds can also turn the lake over and cause the fish to either be killed by thermal shock effects or seriously move 20 or 30 miles to comfortable water temperatures. To best plan where to launch, check the lake water temps by accessing

One good thing that came from the windy day happened when we returned to Barcelona Harbor about 11 a.m. We were windblown and a bit wavy between the balance function of our eardrums, but one very kind young lady, Judy Hafner, approached our boat during retrieval with a great big friendly smile. She asked how we did. I couldn’t help but send back an ear-to-ear smile and tell the truth, “It was more fun using the boat ramp!”

She said, “if you have a minute, I’d like you to meet some great folks at the office.” So I wandered over while my partner finished tying down the boat. “C’mon in!” she said in a jovial tone, “And meet some of my new friends.” She then shared that she was a United States Coast Guard Auxiliary certified vessel examiner from Dunkirk Detachment Flotilla 32 and was looking for some boats to inspect. She looked me square in the eye and flashed that big smile saying, “Are you man enough to show all of us you are driving a safe boat?”

How could I say no? I had been constantly reminded that the last time I took the time to get my 21-foot Sylvan Super-Sportsmen outboard powered boat inspected was in 1989. The sticker was still on the bow window.

With no preparation, I thought this was going to be a true test, for sure. We walked over to the boat and few others in the office group came along to see what they better get ready for when they get inspected. I was feeling brave and bit apprehensive, to tell the truth, but I was ready for the judgement, as we all should be every day.

“First thing we do,” says Hafner, “is we record your hull ID number and check you bow so that your NYS registration letter numbering scheme agrees with your registration, so can I see your registration?” Suddenly, that agreeable, kind-hearted voice of the nice lady that talked with us earlier evolved toward a slightly more, officially benevolent rule-book tone of “let’s take a look at this, and this and this, and let me ask you….,” all with a smile though, followed by a general series of more official questions and many official learning moments for all onlookers (me too).

she continued, “Have you ever taken a boating safety course?” I answered that I did, but it was quite a few years ago. I humbly asked, “Have the rules of navigation changed in the last 20 years?” She answered, “No, I don’t think so, but do you have reminders somewhere on your boat, about what the rules of the road are?” I was good there, thanks to the free stickers handed out at the Erie County Fair Conservation Building, I had two of them pasted on the each side of the dashboard.

“Right on red returning to port.” I answered, “I’m reading,” Ms. Judy. “Well good, at least you can read,” she added with a half-smile. Yep, I smiled back, this whole thing was sort of fun, but you know, she meant business!

After all was said and done, the last question was, “Do you have your hand signal flares and distress flag?” There was no doubt that I did. In fact, I have used so many of my 30-year old hand-held flares for Independence Day festivities that have never failed, so I asked, “Why is there a 3-year old and out rule for hand flares, they always work?” She answered, “They do, if you keep ‘em dry, they work forever. Many boats can get wet.”

I didn’t argue, I was trying to be agreeable and amicable, but my “right hand column” was poking at me and so I returned, “I think it might be more about economic impact and financial support to certain agencies, what do you think?” She added, “you know there are a lot of opinions, we all have those.” I was beginning to like this lady. I knew she had an opinion on this, it was in her eyes, but she was being a total professional.

After the inspection, which by the way, I passed and have a brand new sticker on my boat, she told me after some pressing, “I work about 96 to 100 hours a month doing training and boating inspections; right now, it’s all volunteer time, but I do it for only one reason — to give back.” Can you believe…no pay? All those hours? My goodness! She deserves every sportsmen-conservation organization volunteer of the year award!

She added, “When you smiled at me on the dock to say thanks for your inspection, that’s all the payment I need.” Some of us can understand how it feels “to give back.” you know every organization has volunteers, but here is one incredible example of an ex-truck driver who turned to volunteer nearly all of her free time to help others “be safe.”

Hats off to Judith E. Hafner, affiliated with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Ninth District, Eastern Region, Division 3, Flotilla 32, Dunkirk Detachment. To contact her about where the next boat inspection event is going to be held, her e-mail is

And here is my wish for tight lines and big fish to everyone participating in the Lake Erie Southtown’s Walleye contest. Contest chairman Roy Walczak and co-chair, Cody Allen, remind everyone that you need to be registered by Friday, June 7, to be in the mix. Cost is $25, There is also a Calcutta for another $20. Call the SWA office at 649-8237 or Roy directly at 627-3172 for additional information.

Outdoors Calendar

June 6: Southtowns Walleye monthly meeting, 7:30 p.m., 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg, call 649-8202.

June. 8: Kids Fishing Clinic-Teach Me To Fish, Tifft Nature Preserve, 1200 Furhmann Blvd., 5 learning stations, 9:30am-1pm, open to the public, free, all bait and rigs provided, hot dog lunch included, call 851-7010 to register.

June 11: March on Albany to protest the NY SAFE Act, For more information, contact Rich Davenport at 510-7952 or email

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