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May 2008

Catching Own Bait Saves Time & Money on Lake Erie

Most Mid-American Boating automatically stop at a bait shop and
purchase the necessary worms or minnows before they go fishing. And
many times I do, too. But there are days when that's just not
possible, and I had such a day in late June this year. We wanted to
catch a few walleye, and the day promised to be hot and airless with
a dead flat calm expected, a poor situation for any walleye fishing.

So, our boat captain decreed that we'd be out there at first light,
and with that in mind we were motoring toward Starve Island at
roughly five a.m. No bait shops were open, but I'd taken the
precaution of catching a few dozen in my own lawn the night
before. It was a good move. At that time of morning the walleye
were nearly on top of the reef there, and we had good success until
about 7 a.m. when the fish turned off. Anglers that got there late
caught little or nothing, but we had 1`7 nice keepers, one an 8
pounder So, how do you catch your own nightcrawlers?

Most of what you buy in a bait shop come from Canada,
but there are millions of the little morsels waiting inland. If you
live in an older home that has a good lawn with well aged soil, they
might be just yards away, and if not, the local cemetery, golf
course, or other public area might give you permission to hunt
worms. To catch some, you'll need just two pieces of equipment, a
flashlight, hopefully one with a fairly weak battery, and a container
to hold your catch.

The best time to find nightcrawlers is after a good
rain, or at least a heavy dew that wets the grass. Wait until it's
full dark, then start walking very slowly while swinging the beam
back and forth. Crawlers are sensitive to light and zip back down
their holes if you hold the light on them more than a second or two,
so when that reddish-brown pencil shape shows up in the grass or on
your garden or flower bed soil, move the light so the worm is just in
the edge of its circle. Then bend over, grab the crawler between
thumb and index finger and gently pull it out of its hole. Nothing to it.

Many kids love to catch nightcrawlers and compete to see
who can catch the most, so for years I let my son and daughter do the
catching, paying them 50 cents a dozen. Now I'm back to catching my
own, but like bicycling you never forget how, and in half an hour or
so I can usually grab several dozen. Remember to always refrigerate
your catch unless you'll be using them immediately or the next
morning. Crawlers in moist soil or spaghnum moss will often live for
weeks in a cool refrigerator, and be available for several fishing trips.

Minnows are easy to come by most times,but they might be harder to
find this fall with restrictions on imported minnows. You can run
out of bait too, when perching on the big lake, especially if they're
hitting lightly or the water is full of bait stealing white bass,
white perch, sheepshead, and gobies. You can either make the long
haul back to port for another supply, quit early with fewer fish than
you'd like to have, or get out of the boat in swim trunks and tennis
shoes and catch your own.

All that's needed is a minnow seine placed in an out-of-the-way spot
below decks, easily purchased in any sporting goods store, and a 5-6
foot pole tied to each side. The seines have lead weights on the
bottom and floats on the top, and the technique is to drop off into
four or five feet of water near a sand or gravel beach, hold the
poles widely separated in each hand with the weights dragging bottom
and slowly walk toward dry land. Time and again I've made a few
hauls and picked up enough sand shiners, emerald shiners, or whatever
to keep fishing for several hours.

You can do the same in a local creek near your home too, if you're
going up early and bait shops might not be open, and I've found out
many a time that perch, etc. will hit creek minnows just as quickly
as emerald shiners. One that lies about a mile from my home is
typical, a 6-10 foot wide little rill that has riffles just inches
deep, long smooth runs that may be a foot or so deep, and pools here
and there that are deeper yet.

I walk along its length looking for loose schools of minnows
and seldom walk more than 50 feet to find one. Then I slip into the
stream, extend the seine as wide as it will go, and walk slowly from
one shore to the other, keeping the lead weights dragging bottom so
bait won't escape underneath the net. When my net hits the bank, I
pick out the minnows, place them in a bucket, and seine again until I
have all I need.

The whole business seldom takes more than 15
minutes. Remember to place not more than a couple of dozen in a
bucket to keep them from using up the oxygen, or have a battery
operated pump if you're adding more. If keeping them overnight for
use the next morning, I fill five gallon buckets with water, aerate
it well by pouring water into the bucket from several feet above, and
add just a couple of dozen minnows to each bucket. No problem at all.

Crayfish? Soft craws are expensive when you're going
after smallmouth bass, but I've long discovered that they'll hit
small hard craws almost as readily, especially if I pinch off their
claws. And crayfish are almost as easy to catch as minnows. They're
found in the same creeks, too. To catch those juicy little 1-2 inch
crayfish, I choose a stretch six inches deep or less with plenty of
loose rocks on bottom. The craws live under those rocks, and can be
seen sticking halfway out from under looking for passing morsels of food.

They're more attuned to movement than anything else, so
to catch them I very slowly slide my index finger into the water and
press down firmly on those claws. Then use my other hand to pick him
up and toss him in the bucket. Since they swim backwards I often
carry a little minnow net for movers, place the net just behind it,
then push a finger its way to make it backflip into the net.

Finally, comes leeches, a bait smallmouth bass consider similar to a
T-bone steak. They're extremely tough and wiggle wildly, and often
enough one leech is good for several bass. Back when I was younger I
spent several summers on Ohio State University's Gibralter Island in
the Put-in-Bay harbor and when class was over and we went seeking a
few bass, it was normal to walk out on our little point and turn over
rocks in just a few inches of water to get a dozen or so leeches.

You can still find them under near shore rocks, and when
fish are being picky, this can make the difference. It's a simple
business, using simple equipment, but if you're fishing early, run
out of bait, or need something different, catching your own is a good
move. And inexpensive, too.

Manchester, Ohio has a world speedboat champion

Jim Simmons has been around boats most of his life. Growing up in the North Hill area of Akron, he first became involved with the boating industry in the fourth grade at Bridges Boats. From there he went to Hibbard Marine where he worked for 13 years. Then in 1984 he opened his own dealership, Simmons Marine, in the Portage Lakes. In 2005, he moved the dealership to its current location on Manchester Road (in Akron), just south of Portage Lakes State Park.
For a long time he was into cruising the great Lakes in his pleasure boat. All that changed in 1999 when he began to crew for a race boat. He worked on the race crew for several years until the owners decided to sell the boat in 2003. By then he had been bitten by the racing bug and decided to buy the boat from them.
After purchasing the boat, he began racing in what was then called “Factory 2 Class”. Unfortunately, in early 2005 this class was dissolved by the American Power Boat Association, Super Boat International (APBA/SBI), so Jim began to look for another racing group. He finally settled on the Offshore Power Boat Association (OPA). This group had eight classes of racing starting with the Extreme Class, which involves speeds well over 140 mph and then worked its way down by increments of 10 mph. Simmons chose Class 4, which was limited to 85 mph as its maximum speed.
What that meant was that during a race the boat could never go over 85 mph. If it did, the boat would be disqualified. To keep track of the speed accurately the boat is equipped with a GPS system that monitors the speed every three seconds.
“One of the biggest problems you have while racing in rough water is to keep the boat within the 85 mph speed that we are limited to,” said Simmons. “There is a real temptation to to push the throttle a little more as a boat closes up on you in a race, but if you go over the limit, you are out. So you really watch your speed with a critical eye.”

Fast in the water
His 1999 boat is a 34-foot Phantom powered by stock 500 horsepower EFI Mercury Marine Racing engines and was custom painted by Eddies Auto Body in Norton, Ohio. It can go over 85 mph, but as Simmons says, “I wouldn’t want to run much faster in an open cockpit because of the safety factor.”
The races vary from location to location. They are on both freshwater lakes and the ocean. Normally a race is between 50 to 70 miles in length. It usually has four turns, but can have six or more depending on the race location. The winner is based on who crosses the finish line first without breaking the class speed limit and keeping within the racecourse parameters.
Simmons does not actually pilot the boat. He is the throttle man. The driver is Jason Zolecki from Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, who Simmons met at a race. He was not getting enough races in and Simmons offered him a spot with the team with a promise of being in more races. Jason took him up on the offer and they have been a team ever since.
The race circuit runs from April till November. Normally, Simmons travels between 20,000-30,000 miles each year to races. “I am very lucky because I have a great crew that watches over the shop while I am on the road. Without them, I would not be able to go to as many races as I do.”

Eight Races Last Year
In 2007 he took part in eight races. This year there are 15 races that he could possibly go to but he hasn’t decided yet how many he will enter.
A race normally takes two days. Saturday is given to test runs and the actual race takes place on Sunday. Before a race each crewmember has to pass a physical and a breathalyzer test to make sure they are able to race.
“Sometimes during practice you damage your boat or something breaks,” commented Simmons. “We have actually had parts brought down from the shop overnight to fix the boat so we could race the next day,” he said. “Having a good working relationship with Mercury Marine Racing and our sponsors keep the boat running its best.”
During the race, the crew of two sits in custom made seats and don’t wear seatbelts. The seats actually hold them in due to how they are constructed. Some crews have three people and some crews stand rather than sit. Boats with enclosed canopies have seatbelts for the crew so they won’t get thrown around inside the boat. Each crewmember also wears a special life jacket. A race usually lasts less than an hour.
Since 2004, Simmons has done extremely well on the racing circuit. In 2004, he took third in the Factory 2 Class at Key West, Florida and three divisional championships in the APBA/SPI. In 2006, he took Offshore Power Boat Association (OPA) Championship at Cambridge, Maryland and the OPA World Championship in Destin, Florida. He missed overall highpoints champion in 2006 by 3 points out of 108 boats.
His boat took the National Championship again at Cambridge and then went on to take the OPA/SBI World Championship at Key West in 2007. The national and world championships are two and three-day races with the best combined times determining the winners.
There has been some racing on the Great Lakes up by the Detroit suburbs. These races are sponsored by the Blue Water Offshore Racing Association, Inc. (BWORA). You can visit their site at www.stclairerace.com.
The Great Lakes Offshore Powerboat Racing Association (GLOPRA) had a strong presence on Lake Erie in the past. Perhaps if more interested Lake Erie powerboat racers contact GLOPRA (president@glopra.com), Lake Erie powerboat racing might make a comeback. GLOPRA’s website is www.glopra.com.
The OPA events will be held in Maryland, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Tennessee. For more information on the Offshore Power Boat Racing organization visit www.oparacing.com. Most of the 2008 APBA/SBI will be concentrated in Florida, North Carolina and New York. For more information on Super Boat International Racing visit www.superboat.com.
Jim Simmons has exhibited his racing boat at various sport and boat shows. With the records he now holds, the 2008 race circuit should prove very interesting in terms of competition. Anyone wanting to contact Jim Simmons can reach him at 330-882-9200, visit his shop at 5325 Manchester Road in Akron or visit him online at www.simmonsmarine.com.

The above story was originally printed in the Suburbanite, a GateHouse Media publication, serving the area between Akron and Canton, Ohio. It has been reprinted with their permission.

Editor’s Note: Because of their involvement in powerboat racing, Simmons Marine has noticed a marked increase in their servicing of performance boats. Simmons Marine is open year ‘round, employs certified technicians, uses genuine factory repair parts and has been servicing all types of boats for 40+ years.

5/31-6/1/08 Ocean City, MD Triple Crown 
7/19-7/20/08 Harrison Township, MI
7/26-7/27/08 St Clair, MI

8/23-8/24/08 Patchogue, NY Triple Crown Geico
9/6-9/7/08 Point Pleasant, NJ Triple Crown Geico
9/20-9/21/08 Cambridge, MD
10/11-10/12/08 Chattanooga, TN
TBA World Championship

Date Location Event
4/11/08 Miami, FL Miami Super Boat Grand Prix
5/1/08 Ft Lauderdale FL Ft Lauderdale Super Boat Grand Prix
5/16/08 Marathon, FL Marathon Super Boat Grand Prix
6/13/08 Hollywood, FL Hollywood Beach Super Boat Grand Prix
7/04/08 Sarasota, FL Suncoast Offshore Super Boat Grand Prix
7/18/08 Dania Beach, FL Dania Beach Super Boat Grand Prix
8/15/08 TBA
9/05/08 New York, NY New York Super Boat Grand Prix
9/19/08 Moorehead City, NC Crystal Coast Super Boat Grand Prix
10/3/08 Panama City Beach, FL Panama City Beach Super Boat Florida / National
11/2/08 Key West, FL Key West World Championship

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