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WILTZ: An ode to Pittsburgh and learning about Lake Erie's walleyes

My wife Betsy and I, with the help of Lisa, our middle daughter, have fallen into an annual summer routine of following the Chicago Cubs to a city we haven't visited in the past. On Friday morning, July 8, we left Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, and head...

My wife Betsy and I, with the help of Lisa, our middle daughter, have fallen into an annual summer routine of following the Chicago Cubs to a city we haven't visited in the past. On Friday morning, July 8, we left Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, and headed for Pittsburgh. Prior to that, we made the nine-plus hour drive from Wagner to Mount Horeb. Pittsburgh was an 11-hour trip via Interstate toll roads that took us around Chicago and past South Bend, Toledo, and Youngstown.

Before I get into the fishing-related portion of today's column, I want to tell you about Pittsburgh, an unexpected pleasure to say the least. I had no idea that Forbes magazine had named Pittsburgh the "Most Liveable City in America," but I can say that Forbes is right on. In our current world of mayhem, racial conflict, and inept politicians, I crave good news. Pittsburgh is a brilliant ray of sunshine.

Our right field upper-deck seats at PNC Park offered a majestic view of a dazzling skyline that rested on the bank of the Allegheny River. Pittsburgh's public schools are a source of both achievement and civic pride. Its diverse ethnic population lives in harmony. As it was built before the advent of automobiles, city limits are compact, not sprawling. Bicycles solve traffic congestion problems. Locals noted our Cubbie blue shirts. They thanked us for visiting their city, and wished our team and us well. Pittsburgh's population is 305,000; the immediate area holds 2.3 million, not counting abundant deer.

Now for the fishing. If you are anything like me, you have probably thought about Lake Erie's walleyes. I'll admit that I've been hesitant in making an Erie commitment. While facing what Africa can dish out doesn't phase me in the least, pulling my boat through Chicago's south suburbs on I-80 scares the heck out of me. Erie-wise, the size of my boat is marginal to say the least. And then there's the weather. This past spring, Wagner's usual Lake Erie crew never got out on the big lake because of dangerous winds. Last but not least, I'd need a crew to make a charter affordable.

While heading down I-80 for Pittsburgh, we noted that Port Clinton, Ohio, the self-proclaimed walleye capital of the world, was only 10 miles off the interstate. We headed into the Lake Erie town of 6,000 - located almost halfway between Toledo and Cleveland - and looked for the area that catered to their sport fishing industry. We found it on a canal that ran inland from Lake Erie. Other than providing a sheltered haven for the local yacht club, public access with picnic tables, shelters, and restrooms offered a place for bank anglers to fish. Festive families of diverse cultures enjoyed fishing for bluegills, drum, and catfish.

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We went into a bait and tackle shop called Sassy Sal Charters ( fish@sassysalcharters.com or call Sal at 419-732-7755; As always, Sal and I have no deal whatsoever). As we spoke, one of Sal's party boats was on a perch expedition. Anyway, Sal offers a number of options, and I can see at least one of them meeting my personal concerns. I'll outline Sal's offerings.

Sal has two larger boats that will accommodate private groups. The "Sassy Sal" is a 64-foot boat that can handle up to 42 anglers. Cost is $825 Monday-Thursday and $1,000 Friday-Sunday. The "Investigator," a 36-foot boat, will handle 18 anglers. Cost is $525 Monday-Thursday and $625 Friday-Sunday. These have some possibilities if we were to put a group together.

For the daily individual "walk-on" trip, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., the daily cost is $43 for adults, and $40 for seniors and children. Iced down coolers for the fish are provided. Anglers provide their own tackle (which can be rented), cooler for cold drinks and snacks and rain gear. If one goes by him/herself, or with a few friends, this could be a perfect arrangement.

Up until talking with Sal, I thought those spring 8-10 pound walleyes were only caught by trolling Reef Runners, etc. With Sal's boats, anglers use jigs while drifting. If you know anything about walleyes, you know that drifting jigs is absolute poison.

I'm thinking about the possibility of a large group charter, and I'm serious. What if a group of us booked a boat, chartered a bus, reserved a block of motel rooms, and headed for Port Clinton? If we figured 20 hours on the road, we could leave Mitchell at 10:00 p.m., arrive in Port Clinton at 6:00 p.m., and get a good supper and night's sleep before attacking those big walleyes in the morning. The fishing alone would cost less than $20 a day. If any of you readers see merit in my idea, let me know. In the meantime, I'll see what a bus would cost.

See you next week.

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