Fetterhoff evolves into 'reel-world' job

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PULASKI, N.Y. - Much like Melville's Ishmael, once Jim Fetterhoff got the urge to see a "watery part of the world" there was no turning back.

However, unlike Ishmael, the main human character in "Moby Dick," it wasn't giant whales, rolling seas or tropical islands that drew Fetterhoff to a new career on the water. No, it was the opportunity for the Hegins native to turn what had become a very addictive hobby into the business of becoming the captain of his own charter fishing boat on Lake Ontario.

Now, some 20 years later, Fetterhoff is one of the most respected and successful captains along the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario, running fishing trips aboard his 30-foot charter boat "Midway" out of the Salmon River Lighthouse Marina in Pulaski, N.Y. From April to May, brown trout, Northern pike and walleye are the main target species; from May to July, it's brown trout, lake trout, Northern pike, salmon, steelhead and walleye; and from July to October, it's brown trout, lake trout, salmon and steelhead.

"I would go fishing with my father in Canada and learned that there was some pretty good fishing up here on the big water," Fetterhoff said. "In '89 I started to fish the lake with the Koppenhavers and Colemans, and the more I did it, the more I liked it.

"As much as I liked fishing the lake, I learned that you've got to do it a lot to learn how to do it right, and the more you do it, the more you learn. Eventually, I realized that if I was ever going to be successful it was going to take more time than just coming up and taking friends out to fish.

"That's when I made the decision to get my captain's license and move up here to do this full time. It's a matter of evolution over time and having success as a non-pro, and it's also being able to establish a good network with the group of guys up here and working together."

It's been said many times that recreational anglers fish when they want to fish, but a professional - no matter if a tournament angler, captain or guide - fish because they have to fish. This was something Fetterhoff had to weigh before walking away from his "real-world" job to a "reel-world" job.

Before becoming a full-time charter captain, Fetterhoff was the owner and operator of Midway Supermarket in Hegins, a business that grossed $10 million a year. Still, the lure of the lures was too strong to resist, so he sold the business to Redner's Warehouse Markets, maintaining ownership of the physical building and Forest Drive Pharmacy.

"Lake Ontario is clearly a world-class fishery, and the Eastern Basin is the hot spot in New York State for the number of trophy salmon caught," Fetterhoff said. "Once I caught 'salmon fever' the only cure was to see what I could do as a fulltime captain.

"My goal is to make every trip a trip of a lifetime for my clients, but I'm not going to promise huge fish and limit catches every trip. That's just not realistic, but I guarantee we'll do our best and work as hard as we can to catch fish."

Like many captains, Fetterhoff suggests that in order to maximize a trip to Oswego County anglers should give serious consideration to arriving in time for an afternoon trip, spend the night and then go out for the morning bite before going home. That is what four area anglers did recently, using the School House Inn in nearby Altmar as their base of operations.

Four adults make for an ideal group to fish comfortably aboard the Midway, which is fully equipped with electronics designed to make the trip successful and safe. Fetterhoff offers the option of 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-hour trips and offers discounted rates for those booking afternoon/morning combinations.

On the recent trip Fetterhoff and his mate Eric Manley, a Syracuse native, worked constantly, changing lures and running depths to find fish. Their efforts paid off. Salmon were caught on both the afternoon and morning trips, while steelhead and brown trout were caught in the afternoon.

"Right now we've been having some of the best salmon fishing in years," Fetterhoff said. "This year has been slower than last year, but the salmon are here and they'll be showing up closer to shore as they prepare to make spawning runs in September.

"It's just a matter of finding the fish and trying to figure out how they're going to react to the changing weather conditions. Sure, it's a challenge, but it's one I enjoy."

Clearly, Fetterhoff is not about to turn back from his decision to set sail anytime soon.

For information about fishing on Lake Ontario with Midway Charters, contact Capt. Jim Fetterhoff by calling (570) 640-9861, emailing midway@citlink.net or accessing the website at www.midwaycharters.com; for information about lodging at School House Inn, access the website at www.theschoolhouseinn.net.

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