When it’s tournament day, he’s there to bring it.
Ricky Deubel, a 2004 Kenston graduate, was a two-time state champion for the Bomber matmen, capturing his first title by way of a 13-1 major decision as a 103-pound freshman and his latter by a 16-0 tech fall as a 119-pound senior to conclude a perfect 38-0 campaign.
He went on to win the National High School Coaches Association senior tournament national title, before going on to become a three-time Division I NCAA qualifier at Edinboro University.
Since then, Deubel had assistant coaching stints at the University of Buffalo for four years and at Brecksville-Broadview Heights for three seasons, before taking the varsity reins at Kenston in 2016. He just finished his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater.
One constant through all of his wrestling days has been fishing.
“I actually went to Edinboro because they had a good steelhead stream, and I needed something to do while I was cutting weight to get my mind off of food,” Deubel said. “I used to fish the Chagrin (River) in high school and do the exact same thing. When we used to do the senior skip day at Kenston on St. Patty’s Day and go to the parade, I went fishing.”
Deubel sits in the corner to coach his grapplers during tournaments throughout the winter sports season, but his own tournaments now come in the summertime.
The 34-year-old said he absolutely considers fishing a sport, particularly walleye tournaments in Lake Erie and the New York waters of Lake Ontario.
“The tournaments are really competitive,” he said. “I feel like I did when I used to wrestle, man. Nervous reeling in a fish, hoping you don’t lose it. It’s heartbreaking in a tournament when you lose a nice one. Even if it’s not a tournament, catching a fish and losing it, it hurts, man. You think about it. You think about what you did wrong; how’d you lose it; why’d you lose it.”
Deubel’s wrestling bloodline runs through his dad, Rick Deubel Sr., who wrestled for coach Mike Milkovich at Maple Heights and was a 119-pound state runner-up in in 1975. His uncle, Jim Deubel, won a state title in 1978, and cousin, Ron Deubel, won a state title in 1994 – both Maple Heights grads.
But Deubel’s fishing bloodline runs through his mom, Liz Deubel.
“I grew up on a boat,” he said. “My family had a boat, and we went walleye fishing all the time. So, I was on the water constantly, every weekend throughout the summer. But really, my mom got my dad into fishing from my grandpa. He took my dad out walleye fishing and got him hooked. So, he bought a boat right away. Then, ever since I was born, that’s basically what I did my whole life.”
Deubel’s maternal grandfather, the late Mario Barbetta, was a gas station owner and a truck driver.
“But he loved the outdoors,” Deubel said. “Any chance he’d get, he’d be out fishing as well.”
Deubel grew up fishing on a 23-foot Rinker, a recreation watercraft converted into a boat to cast his lines. But he didn’t care. He just liked being on the water and got spoiled at a young age, catching 8-pound walleyes when he was 5 years old.
He would spend a lot of time on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, but Deubel said he’d fish everywhere. He used to fish the LaDue Reservoir, in Auburn and Troy townships, all the time for walleye, before an invasive species of white perch took over.
Deubel will fish for yellow perch, considered by most people the best table fare Lake Erie has to offer, but perch fishing in Lake Erie, especially in the western and central basins, hasn’t been good for several seasons now.
For Deubel, whose boat is docked in the city of Huron, just east of Sandusky, he sticks to his bread and butter – walleyes.
“That’s been a conversation with a lot of people,” he said about the poor perch fishing. “I think the problem is that’s the walleye’s No.1 food, and there’s so much walleye. I think the walleye are eating them all up. That or I know Canada nets a crapload of perch. But there’s no perch on the west side. I haven’t perch fished in three years.”
Other theories include a change in diet for perch, as well as mild winters leading to poor hatches.
While walleye fishing is still good, Deubel said he’d like to see the catch-and-release requirements increase from 15 inches to 18 inches on Lake Erie.
“Then you get more trophy fish,” he said. “I remember when I was younger, like late-90s or early-2000s, my average fish was 24 inches. But the charter guys are going two or three trips out with clients. So, they’re getting over 100 fish a day, and they’re keeping the 15-inch size, and they can’t grow.”
A 15-inch walleye generally weighs in the vicinity of 1 1/4 pounds, while an 18-inch walleye is about 2 1/4 pounds and a 24-inch walleye averages around 5 1/5 pounds.
When Deubel goes out for walleye tournaments, boats are generally judged by the total weight of their top six catches. Last summer, he was part of a team that won back-to-back tournaments, including the Big Dawg Walley Invitational out of Dunkirk Harbor in the eastern basin of Lake Erie in New York.
“We had six fish, and we had 51 1/2 pounds total,” Deubel said. “We had about an 8-pound average, but our biggest fish was 11.89 pounds. Once you get to 10 pounds, then it’s a really big trophy fish. And then our other tournament, I think we won by like half a pound. I think we had like 48 1/2 pounds from six fish.”
The monster they reeled in at Big Dawg was about 30 inches.
Deubel was on Mark Lewandowski’s boat that day – a former wrestler of his at the University of Buffalo who finished college with 111 wins as a three-time NCAA national qualifier.
“I don’t know why, but all the wrestlers I know love fishing, or at least the majority of them,” Deubel said. “I just think it’s an outdoor thing, because a lot of the guys I know like to hunt too. But the majority of the kids I knew that wrestled came from the country, rural areas. So, it’s in their blood.”
Just last week, Deubel took out Kenston 2020 graduate Nick Nastasi – a two-time state qualifier who had his senior state tournament robbed of him by the coronavirus – to show him some of the tricks of the trade.
Nastasi crushed the fish, Deubel said. And then Nastasi went out again two days later on his dad’s new boat and crushed them some more, he said.
“I love taking people who have never gone fishing for walleye,” Deubel said. “Like, ‘Hey, I want to go.’ First, I ask them, ‘Well, do you get seasick?’ because, once I’m out there, I stay out there. Or people are like, ‘Hey, we’ve got this. How do you catch fish?” I’m like, ‘Why don’t you just come out, and I’ll show you how I do it.’ But people fish differently. Like, I fish totally different than my dad.”
Deubel’s old man likes to keep it old school and continues to do what’s worked for him, while Deubel likes to test out new techniques or new tackle. But Deubel said he loves stick-baits, or slender torpedo-shaped plastics, hard or soft, that can float, suspend or dive.
“Now, there’s time stick-baits won’t hit and they only want a worm, or they don’t want a worm or a stick-bait, they only want a spoon,” he said. “You have to know when to change it up.”
But location is key, Deubel said.
Some boats use Fish Hawk electronics, which provide critical water temp and depth information to help locate the thermocline, a steep temperature gradient where a thin but distinct layer exists in a large body of water. It’s where the temperature changes more rapidly with depth than it does in the layers above or below it.
The thermocline is important to fishermen because, as temperatures rise during the summertime, the water column below the thermocline won’t have any dissolved oxygen, which is needed for fish to survive. And the water above the thermocline might be too warm.
“On my boat, I basically read the fish finder and see the surface temp,” Deubel said. “I always want a colder water, and I watch where they’re at, the level of the fish, and that’s where the break of the line will be – the thermocline. I can read it off my fish finder, because I’m so used to mine.”
That aspect of fishing is also instrumental in the four other Great Lakes, which are significantly deeper than Lake Erie. The colder temperatures of deeper waters are what make salmon fishing more abundant outside Lake Erie.
Three weeks ago, Deubel was out catching some 25-plus-pound kings on Lake Ontario.
“Lake Huron, Superior, Michigan, Ontario all are known for salmon, brown trout, lake trout fishing, because the water’s so deep and the water’s so cold,” he said. “Lake Erie is the shallowest lake in all the Great Lakes, and we do have salmon – it’s just hard to catch.”
Deubel said he typically throws salmon back, unless he has someone asking for some. He prefers to stock up on walleye, which is his primary food source through the winter. His big thing is to steer clear from other fishing boats, because he generally reels in his biggest catches away from pack, he said.
Also, part of the excitement is to explore new territory and find hot spots where nobody ever fishes, he said.
And during the pandemic, when people stormed groceries to panic buy, Deubel said he found a peace of mind in his survival skills, which also include hunting.
“I haven’t been to the grocery store in a while, but I think you’re still only allowed a certain amount of meat at a time per household,” he said. “So, I was busy eating my deer steak and going fishing.
“And when it’s tournament day, I’m on it.”