PORT CLINTON, Ohio (MCT) - When Carole Vukmer's grandkids talk about their grandma, it might sound like one giant fish story.
But Vukmer insists it's true.
"There aren't many kids who can say that their grandma is a charter captain on the Great Lakes," said Vukmer, 67, who has fished on Lake Erie for most of her life. "But mine can."
Vukmer started fishing the big lake when she was just a child growing up in Pennsylvania. Her dad was a fishing fanatic, and she must have inherited that passion, she said.
Even then, though, she never imagined herself ever becoming a charter boat captain, guiding fishermen to Lake Erie's famed walleyes and smallmouth bass.
But that's what she has become. She got her charter license in 1987, and she has been guiding fishing excursions on Lake Erie's western side ever since.
Along the way, she has set line-class world records for both walleyes and smallmouth bass, she has watched customers catch walleyes as big as 32 inches, and she has seen the fishing at Erie ebb and flow.
But one thing remains the same: She still has a passion for fishing.
"Ever since I was a little girl, this is what I've loved to do," she said. "It's a tough business. You have to rely on the weather, and you have to stay on top of the fish. They're constantly moving out here.
"But I like that challenge. I look forward to every day I get to fish out here."
Maybe that's in her blood. Her dad, now 97, always has been an avid fisherman. In fact, he and his identical twin brother went fishing with Carole as recently as a few years ago.
"We've been told that they are the third-oldest identical twins in the United States," Vukmer said. "They still talk about the fishing trips we had, and they want me to take them again.
"But they're too feeble now. I think I'd have to tie them into the boat to take them out."
Today, Vukmer and her fiance, Bob Hughey, run a charter-boat business. She takes customers fishing on her boat the Myrmidon (which means "faithful follower" in Greek legend), and Bob takes fishermen out on his boat, The Fishin' Ful.
Together, they give the big walleyes and smallmouth bass fits.
That's what Vukmer was trying to do last weekend when she, her longtime friend, Deb Steele, and I went fishing.
She steered her boat into the whitecaps on Lake Erie and started a long ride to the Canadian side of the lake across from Port Clinton.
"You look at Lake Erie and you think it has to be deep," she said. "But it really isn't. The average depth from Kelly's Island west is 25 feet.
"We'll catch a lot of big walleyes in that water in the spring. But once the weather gets hot, the fish tend to move deeper.
"That's why we like to boat to the Canadian side. That's where there is deeper water."
Vukmer used the electronics on her boat to find what she was looking for, then cut the engine. In a matter of minutes, she was using a spinner rig baited with a piece of a night crawler to try enticing the walleyes.
She felt a hit and quickly set the hook. And she soon found herself fighting a big fish. But not the kind she was looking for.
"This is a drum," she said as the fish stripped out line. "See the way the rod is bouncing. That's the way drum fight.
"With walleyes, it's more of a steady pull."
But within minutes, there were walleyes on the end of the line. Everyone in the boat hooked and landed healthy fish, many of them in the 3- to 4-pound range.
Most of those walleyes - and an assortment of big yellow perch, white bass and drum - came after Vukmer began casting out and letting the bait sink to a count of 15 before starting to reel.
No, there weren't as many fish as Vukmer had hoped. But the catch was still enough to show what Lake Erie is capable of producing.
Port Clinton is known as "The Walleye Capital of the World." And Vukmer will tell you that reputation is well-justified.
"These days, walleyes in the 18- to 23-inch range are common," she said. "It's not as good as the late '80s when everyone was catching big fish. But it's still good.
"What makes this Port Clinton area so productive is that the water is shallow and the bottom is very irregular. There is a lot of structure, and walleyes like that."
© 2008, The Kansas City Star.
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