Michigan resident finds new livelihood in fishing

by Cliff and Nancy Hill

This past March, as is our regular habit, we took in Michigan’s oldest sport show, the Showspan-produced Ultimate Sport Show at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. While there that day, we came across the likes of “Walleye Wayne” Stevenson, who had a booth where he was “telling and selling” his walleye fishing charters on Lake Erie.

First-mate Nancy earns her daily ration of grog by steering the boat. Photo by CLIFF HILL

It had been many, many years since Cliff—along with his buddies—had taken an annual fishing trip to Port Clinton, Ohio on the southern shores of Lake Erie. Now, Cliff loves the delectable walleye and Stevenson had a better idea. Rather than travel all the way to Ohio, why not book a charter with him out of Monroe, Mich., on the western basin of Lake Erie?

Why not, indeed? We both already possessed Michigan fishing licenses and this way we could keep our fishing tourism dollars in Michigan.

So convincing was Stevenson of his prowess as a fishing guide that he persuaded us to sign on by, coming just short of, guaranteeing we would limit out—the daily limit being five walleye per angler with a 15-inch minimum size limit.

We took the bait and booked a mid-week day in early June.

With one hand on her catch, Squire reporter Nancy Hill steadies herself with the other. Photo by CLIFF HILL

Mother Nature had other ideas on the morning of the designated day. Stevenson picked us up at our motel at 7:00 a.m.—we having traveled across state the day before to be well-rested for our big fishing adventure. One of the many reoccurring storms that had plagued Michigan this spring had just passed through the area the night of our arrival. In its aftermath, Stevenson told us that high winds were creating three- to five-foot waves on the big lake. He then drove us to the launch area for a “look see.”

First-mate Nancy took one look at the churning waters and said, “Not on your life!” Stevenson agreed, feeling that he and Cliff would have no problem bouncing around on the water but Nancy would take a terrible pounding.

That’s the way it is when fishing—you can’t control Mother Nature. So, regretfully, we cancelled out and Stevenson returned our deposit as he was fully booked for the rest of the season and we could not reschedule. Before heading back to Rockford, we stopped at a local restaurant for a real breakfast, having only had rolls and coffee earlier.

Eat your heart out, fishermen—$130 of delectable walleye filets! Photo by CLIFF HILL

Prior to leaving the breakfast diner, good fortune smiled—Nancy’s cell phone rang and Stevenson told us his booking for the very next day had cancelled out because of a family emergency. Since we were already there, he asked us to consider filling the open slot. The weather forecast was for blue skies and light wind. Being retired—working with the Squire doesn’t count—our time is our own and we took him up on his offer.

So, again, promptly at 7:00 a.m. the following morning, Stevenson picked us up at our motel. A short drive later found us at the boat launch ramps of Sterling State Park. We assisted Stevenson in launching his fully equipped and beautiful 20-foot Ranger fishing boat, sporting a 225 H.P. Mercury outboard along with a 15 H.P Merc. trolling motor. We then headed out to a day’s fishing on Lake Erie’s Brest Bay.

Lest we get too far ahead of ourselves, let us tell you a little of what we learned of “Walleye Wayne” before we get to the rest of the fish tale.

Stevenson, a Wyoming, Mich. resident, saw the writing on the wall and took an early retirement buyout offer from the GM Plant on 36th Street in Wyoming in 2006. Having 30 years in with GM, he knew just exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. A lifelong avid fisherman, he purchased a new pickup truck and a new boat specially equipped for his passion, walleye fishing. He studied for and secured a charter boat captain’s license and for the past four years has become a very successful fishing guide operating out of Monroe.

Out on the water, that morning, Stevenson set six lines trailing planer boards and crank baits. Crank baits, he had by the hundreds. Every size and every color—whatever the fish wanted. Aside from walleye, we landed perch, catfish and, as first-mate Nancy described them, “the dreaded sheephead [fresh water drum].” They wore poor Nancy out! All but the walleye and perch were returned to the water.

An added plus this day was that we both took turns operating the boat as Stevenson, without a real first-mate, had to set the lines and net the fish. This way we were both able to land fish and get a little hands-on experience holding the boat in a predetermined heading based on water depth—big secret!

Stevenson, a consummate walleye fisherman, was a man of his word. During the course of the day, we both limited out. Every walleye we caught, save one, exceeded the size limit, which is not unusual for Lake Erie. The largest this day were 24 inches long.

Back at the boat landing, Stevenson expertly filleted our fish along with providing freezer bags and ice to transport them home to Rockford.

The very best part of our return home was a quick stop for a gallon of milk at Rockford’s D&W where we spied in the seafood case fresh walleye filets priced at $12.99 a pound. We had 10 pounds of filets in our cooler—you do the math! The retail worth of our filets was more than one half of Stevenson’s more-than-reasonable charter fee.

Walleye Wayne is accepting charter bookings for 2011. He only books walleye charters out of Monroe during the prime six weeks of May and early June. Contact Stevenson at stevensonka@att.net or by phone at (616) 531-6188.

About Squire News

The Squire has been Rockford’s free weekly newspaper since 1871. Our loyal readership includes over fifteen thousand homes in the Rockford area, including the affluent Lakes area of Lake Bella Vista, Bostwick Lake and Silver Lake; Belmont, Blythefield, as well as Algoma, Courtland, Cannon and Plainfield Townships. The Squire is distributed through the U.S. Post Office every Thursday. We also deliver to in-town businesses and homes with paper carriers and news stands in our grocery stores and over thirty local shops.
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