Inaugural Rob Ray Invitational Derby a success

The inaugural Rob Ray Invitational Walleye Derby was a winner!

In case you missed the previous articles, the event was a one-day walleye tournament held on Saturday, that allowed participating teams of anglers to compete for prize money by catching walleye from a common starting point (Chadwick Bay/Dunkirk harbor) and during a specific time frame (6 a.m. until 4 p.m). The event featured a 100-percent payback/payout and the winners were kept secret until Sunday, when the awards ceremony was held at Ray’s restaurant in Springville. It worked out great!

Twenty-five teams accepted the invitation and paid the $500 entry fee. The participants were allowed to vote on the rules of competition, with the majority ruling. The group decided that teams could be made up from two to four anglers with a maximum of nine rods allowed during the event.

All teams had to quit fishing at 4 p.m., and had to be in the weigh-in line by 5 p.m., or be disqualified. The weigh-in was held at the pavilion at Chadwick Bay Marina. The prize structure was as follows: There would be three big fish prizes. First place paid out $1,250, second was $750 and third place $500. The Big Fish Award is like a wild card; every team has a chance to win.

The main event is the total-box grand prize award, based on the total-weight accumulations of six walleye for the day. Lake Erie is a fantastic walleye fishery, offering up the potential to catch a limit of walleye most every day, but to find six big walleye, during a specific time frame from a common starting/return point, is a challenge. Take into consideration that the competitors are all veteran anglers, who have been competing against each other for a number of years, and you can appreciate the difficulty involved.

The secrecy element of the derby was Rob Ray’s idea and it was unique. The winners of the Big Dawg Fishing 2014 were Boat 10 – Happy Hour – lead by Captain Dennis Pillard, with Tim Gaul and Nick Schmitt. They put together a 48.88-pound total that took home $4,000. Pillard was not able to attend the awards ceremony, as he had booked a bear hunt in Maine for his girlfriend, Judy, which Dennis intends to capture on film.

They had to leave immediately after weighing in on Saturday, so his team had to announce the good news by phone. Gaul and Schmitt had nothing but praise for their partner, who they commented had pre-fished all week long to locate big fish. All three members have placed in previous tournaments. The Happy Hour crew fished north out of Dunkirk in 120 feet of water, using renosky stick baits in a variety of colors and a variety of presentations, including dipseys, boards and downriggers. Because of the chop, they could only fish in a one-way troll and had to pick up and move five times. They also moved to a different location to find additional big fish.

Team 5 – Forever Fishin’ – which was captained by Bob Rustowicz, continued to find his way to the winners circle, this time with teammates Tom Brunn II and Colin Setlock. The guys fished north of the Eagle Bay area in 90 feet of water using worm harnesses on a variety of presentations to put together a six-walleye total weighing 46.24 pounds for second place and $2,000.

Team 15 – Brobeil Marine – which was made up of Capt. Larry Johnson, Dan Kearney and Rob Oram, fished about four miles north-east of Dunkirk off Purina in the 74 to 68 foot range. Johnson commented that the fish were moving. They found and caught fish and then they would move, forcing the anglers to head shallower. Johnson commented that at 3:50 p.m., the screen was loaded with fish. Worm harnesses with No. 5 Colorado chartreuse blades, dressed with green foil tape, were the ticket, with weight presented on Church brand in-line planner boards.

Johnson likes to tweak the bottom weight on the boards depending on how much weight he is running. Their total weight was 45.97 pounds and they took home $1,600.

Team Carpenter, led by Capt. Tom Slawatycki, son Ben, Jason Roth and Jim Dolly Jr., fished Barcelona with 3-D worm harnesses on a variety of presentations to put together a total weight of 44.94 pounds, taking home $1,300 for fourth place. Team 6 – White Cap – and Capt. Barry Ball, put together a total weight of 43.70 pounds and took the final spot and $1,100.

Jim Dolly Jr. made a comment that, “An eight-pound per-fish average wins tournaments.”

He was right. Incidentally, there were no 10-pounders caught; one nine-pounder and 11 eight-pounders entered for the Big Fish contention.

The Big Fish of the tournament was caught by Boat 24, One Fish Wayne, led by Capt. John Held and weighed 9.89 pounds. Bob Rustowicz’s team caught the second-heaviest fish weighing 8.86 pounds and Team 10’s Dennis Pillard caught the third-place walleye, weighing in at 8.83 pounds. When Rustowicz went to collect his winnings, he announced a ‘thank you’ to Barry Ball, who let him borrow his boat when his broke down on Friday. What sportsmanship!

Finishing in the top 10 were: Colin Gawronski with 43.35 pounds, John Held with 42.16, Jim Skoczylas with 41.22, Greg Marzec at 39.91 and Michael Nicosia with 37.84 pounds.

Note that all those who attended the awards ceremony were treated to a lunch at Rob Ray’s establishment, which is located in Springville, and everyone got a ticket for a variety of door prizes that included autographed hockey sticks, a jersey and Buffalo Sabres game tickets.

Rob Ray, and his partner Mark Mohr, announced they plan on expanding the event for next year, so look for your invitation.

Also note that Dennis Pillard, Tim Gaul and Nick Schmitt will be the first to have their names inscribed on the Rob Ray “Big Dawg Invitational” trophy.