(Ohio) Dispatch JULY 29, 2007
Guide hardly out to pasture.
One-time butcher finds fish with ease!
By Dave Golowenski
Rising before dawn to take care of business
has been pretty much a way of life for Lake Erie fishing guide Ron
Johnson. It's becoming a big job to count all the mornings involved.
Johnson turns 70 in mid-August.
As a youngster growing up on an Ashtabula County dairy farm, Johnson
awakened daily at 5 a.m. to milk 25 to 30 cows before school, before
church, before, well, anything. Cows, it must be understood, demand
milking 365 days a year.
Discussing old times, Johnson winced at the vision of endless milk and the
need to relieve bovine stress. His face became expressionless again,
though, as he recalled the upside of bondage. "It was steady work," he
pronounced in disarmingly hilarious deadpan.
After growing off the farm, Johnson became a butcher, a vocation he
followed for 37 years at his shop in Mentor, a Lake County burg east of
Cleveland. There was, he acknowledged, special satisfaction in becoming a
regular dresser of beef after having been so long a slavish milker of
"I got even with those so-and-sos," he said.
Whether he has any special vibe working
against fish, Johnson didn't express last week. Could be he treats all
meat the same. At any rate, the fish dwelling offshore from Toledo to
Conneaut should bear some form of malevolence against Johnson.
Simply put, the man who began running charters a quarter-century ago seems
to have the same devastating way with fish that he did with hindquarters.
At least he did floating on 70 to 73 feet of water Wednesday in slow-troll
progression from about 11 to 15 nautical miles north of the Grand River
By 7:15 under a leaden, drizzly sky, Johnson was putting out the first of
an array of spoon-tipped lines held at various distances from the hull and
prop wash by what have to be industrial-rated planer boards. By7:25, the
first fish was struggling in a long-handled net to go any where other than
inside the onboard cooler.
"Steelhead!" announced Steve Pollick, a resident of northwestern Ohio and
an outdoor writer, one of four such wastrels aboard. The others included
Jeff Frischkorn and Paul Likala, both with local links, and one more from
the Columbus area. Bob Ulas, the sole passenger usefully employed, as
director of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, made a fifth aboard Johnson's
Pollick's steelhead was not particularly large
at 2 or 3 pounds,
considering Lake Erie specimens weighing 20 pounds are not unheard of. But
it was legal.
"Ron, we're just going to shuck him back, right?" Pollick asked Johnson.
"He's good," the skipper replied.
"What?" said Pollick politely.
"He's good," Johnson repeated.
"Good to keep?" Pollick said, making sure.
"Yep," said Johnson, ever the meat man. "You can make some good sushi out
Not 10 minutes later, the steelhead was joined in the chilly coffin by a
chunky, 20-inch walleye from the notable hatch of 2003. Because he kept
getting interrupted by the duties that go with fish-catching, Johnson
struggled for a while to get all the lines out.
Pushed steadily but slowly along in 2-foot swells, the ultra-comfy,
31-foot Tiara swept through the central basin of Lake Erie like a magnet
through a dish of iron filings. For the next few hours, Johnson's rigs
regularly pulled in fish: white bass, yellow perch, walleye and steelhead.
Only someone looking for a mess of sheepshead would have been
disappointed. Nobody onboard qualified as a drum enthusiast. However, a
Fish Ohio steelhead quickened pulses as it leaped like an acrobat,
clearing the waves three times on its reluctant march to the boat.
"The only thing better than catching a big steelhead is deer hunting,"
declared Frischkorn, evidently a meat man in his own right.
Not all listeners necessarily agreed. Outdoor writers don't think in
lockstep, although the consensus on Johnson's skills had to be
unanimously positive. By noon, the quintet had as many fish as anybody
wanted to handle.
Heading back to the marina across a lake gone flat, Johnson said over the
drone of twin 454s, "It's amazing you can go out there and catch that many
fish when you're not even on the main school."
What? Not on the main school, the Columbus guy thought. Where is the main
school, he asked.
"About 7 miles east of where we were," Johnson said, exhaling lungs-full
of tobacco smoke but not, the Columbus man judged, a bit of hot air.
------Charter Capt. Ron Johnson is running daily trips out of Grand River
Marina. In late September, he'll move to Vermilion and run trips into
autumn. In April and May, he fishes the Lake Erie islands. Web site:
Phone: 440-487-0002 or 440-639-0185.