In one of Hank Williams, Jr.’s more famous songs, titled A Country Boy Can Survive, he claims, “I can plow a field all day long; I can catfish fish from dusk ‘til dawn.” Applying that same logic, Captain Scott Heston must be a country boy, too, because he can definitely catch catfish from dusk ‘til dawn—all day long for that matter.
Of course, he is fishing Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay.
Located at the south edge of the Western Basin just west of the town of Sandusky, Ohio, Sandusky Bay is catfish heaven. Shallow, muddy, and full of natural fish food, tens of thousands of channel catfish roam the bay, weighing up to 12 pounds or more and measuring more than 30 inches.
“And the fishing just continues to get better,” said Heston. “In recent years the catfish have grown even bigger.”
Heston, from Sugar Grove, Ohio, should know. He has been fishing Sandusky Bay for more than forty years. His grandfather once owned a small cabin beside the bay and taught him how to fish.
“He and I would fish together almost every weekend during the summer,” Heston said. “I remember my parents driving up to the lake one weekend to spend some time at the cabin with us. They decided to go to nearby Cedar Point amusement park for the day and asked me if I wanted to go along, thinking I’d jump at the chance. I told them I’d rather go fishing with grandpa—and I did.”
Heston begins his catfishing charters each spring in May and continues through September. “The best fishing is during the heat of summer, during July and August,” he said. “That’s usually when the walleye and yellow perch fishing on the main lake is slow, but you can always catch catfish in the bay.”
I fished with Heston on a perfect July morning last summer.
I have to admit that at the beginning of the trip I was a little skeptical about the numbers and size of catfish he claimed we’d catch. (If maybe you haven’t heard, some fishermen are known to stretch the truth a bit.) But during three hours of fishing we caught more than 40 channel catfish, so many I eventually lost count. And some of those individual fish weighed nearly nine pounds!
Any size catfish is fun to catch, but the biggest are brawlers.
I was daydreaming for a few minutes while waiting for a bite, and a large cat hit so hard it nearly jerked the rod from my hands. A little while later, Heston almost lost a rod over the side of the boat, as well.
For hooking the large cats, Heston borrows a technique from yellow perch fishing, using a one-ounce weighted perch spreader with two #2 bait-holder hooks as his terminal tackle. But unlike perch fishing, he baits his hooks with raw shrimp tails (about a two-inch chunk), not live minnows.
“I once bought cooked shrimp by mistake and couldn’t understand why the fishing was so slow that day,” he said. “But when I switched back to uncooked raw shrimp the fish started biting again. When fishing for catfish, it’s all about the scent of the bait.”
Heston went on to say that you can catch catfish using nightcrawlers for bait, “…but not nearly as many as you will using shrimp,” he said. “You’ll also pick up more non-target species with nightcrawlers, such as sheepshead.”
Heston’s other catfish tackle includes six-foot, medium-action rods and saltwater spinning reels (4000 and 5000 series). He also has a few push-button spin-cast reels aboard for kids and novice anglers. For line, he prefers 20-pound test monofilament.
Family-friendly, a trip aboard Captain Scott’s boat is a great experience for kids.
“I use a 24-foot pontoon boat, so there is plenty of room for children and families to move around,” he said. “And to make it easier for novice anglers, I do everything everyone else doesn’t want to do, such as baiting hooks and taking fish off, even cleaning the catch.”
Heston recommends a half-day (four-hour) charter for families. If you’d like to make it a weekend at the lake, he suggests taking the kids to Cedar Point on day two.
Just don’t be surprised if they’d rather go catfishing again instead.
If you’d like to try catfishing Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay on your own, it’s not difficult. Several boat ramps border the bay, and a free, state-owned ramp (Dempsey Access) is located along the south shore of the Marblehead Peninsula. As for lodging, numerous motels and restaurants are available in nearby Port Clinton or Sandusky.
If you’re interested in camping during your stay, East Harbor State Park is close by (located on the north shore of the Marblehead Peninsula), as are numerous private campgrounds. For a complete listing of all the facilities in the area (both fishing and accommodations) go online to www.shoresandislands.com.
Once on the water, you’ll quickly see that two bridges span Sandusky Bay; one is a railroad bridge and the other is State Route 2, a four-lane highway.
The bay is hour-glass shaped, and the water currents moving through the constricted areas where the bridges are located attract channel catfish, bullheads, sheepshead, and other game fish. Anchor just off the channel near one of the bridges (not directly under a bridge), put a bait on the bottom, and you’ll soon hookup.
“When the walleye, yellow perch, or bass bite on the open waters of Lake Erie gets slow, or the waves make it too rough to fish,” said Captain Scott Heston, “it’s time to go catfishing on Sandusky Bay!”
Collectible Fishing Tackle
In addition to being a licensed charter captain, Scott Heston is also an expert on collectible fishing tackle. He authored the book Ohio-Made Fishing Lures and Tackle: A Historical Look at Ohio’s Fishing Tackle Industry & Collector’s Price Guide. In the book, Heston says that the fishing tackle industry in Ohio dates back to before the Civil War.
“A century later in the 1960s, the heyday of the industry in the Buckeye State, more than 7,500 Ohioans were making fishing tackle,” said Heston. “The industry ranged from one-man operations in garages or basements to large corporations employing 600 people or more. At one time, Akron was referred to as Tackle City, USA.”
Is there money in old fishing tackle? “Definitely,” said Heston, “if it’s the right kind of tackle.” For instance, just a single, small Ohio-made lure—the Haskell Minnow—sold at auction in recent years for a whopping $102,000! The artificial minnow has reportedly changed hands again since but at an undisclosed price.
- written by W.H. Chip Gross