The Eastern Lake Erie Fishery Report

by 
Joe Fischer

A BOAT LOAD of useful walleye information in each issue from seasoned tournament fishermen and Lake Erie fishing experts.

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The Eastern Lake Erie fishing report for 2001 is a "mixed bag" as usual with some surprises. The late spring near shore fishery for walleyes was generally slow with the best results coming on late night trolling stints off Hamburg and Dunkirk. "I usually caught between 2 to 4 fish on an all night trolling trip using the old reliable No. 11 Rapalas" commented seasoned nightfishing veteran Dave Goodberry. Daveís catch was actually above average because of his vast knowledge of the nearshore structure in the Hamburg area. The usual "hotspots" around Van Buren point and Lake Erie State Park also were erratic with fishermen sometimes catching near limits one night only to "strike out" the next night, Most of the fish caught were males from the relatively good 1998-spawning season. These fish run from 17"- 22"and are excellent table fare.

The early season trophy Smallmouth bass fishing was good with bass exceeding 4 pounds common. This bass fishery continues to be world class and is attracting attention nationally as the pro bass circuit is contemplating making a tournament stop of the New York waters of Lake Erie next year.

The big surprise was the return of the yellow perch. Anglers started catching these excellent eating fish early in the year in water 20 to 40 feet deep. The fish were in the 8-10" range with some exceeding 12". Catches of ten to twenty were common with some veteran Lake Erie "perchers" catching their limit. Generally you could easily spot the perch fishermen as they usually were found in close clusters of ten to twenty boats hovering over a school of perch. The key to catching these fish was to keep moving until you found the school and then be ready to move once again to stay with the nomadic schools of perch. The preferred bait was a live Lake Erie minnow. These fish continued to bite most of the summer but did move gradually down the lake into waters 40-80 feet deep off Cattaraugus creek and Dunkirk harbor. I would expect a great fall run as this delectable little fish tend to school up and feed before winter. Our local New York State Department of Environmental Conservation did predict that we would see a return of the perch but I doubt if anyone expected to see such prolific numbers.

I have always considered the annual Southtowns Walleye tournament as the one of the best barometers for determining the status of the local eastern Lake Erie walleye population. The tournament was scheduled the last week in June this year to enable more kids to fish as school would be out and also that being later in the season might hopefully improve the walleye fishing. The goal of more children fishing the tournament was attained but the overall walleye fishing was quite poor. The tournament had a total entry of 2,100 plus fishermen but only 306 walleyes were weighed in. This was during a 10-day tournament! The total catch was undoubtedly more than 306 fish because one of the tournament rules calls for a minimum size of 26" before a fish will be weighed in but this still was the lowest number of entered walleyes in recent memory. The winning fish was caught by Dan Kroll and weighed 12.171b. Incidentally Dan and his crew also had a great week as his crew boated over 40 walleyes fishing in or near Canadian waters. Two hundred fish cashed in this tournament with low weight being slightly over 8 pounds. Body baits and spinner and worm rigs coupled with Dipsy Divers, Jet Planers and Downriggers were once again the rigs of choice. The weather was a big factor as most of the days were windy with 4 to 7 foot waves common. This tournament for some reason has been cursed with some very rough fishing weather in recent years! If you have ever gone out on Lake Erie and experienced its unique ability to create a 2-4 foot chop in minutes you will not forget it.

Another local tournament held in July (Canadian 4X4), is a 2-day team total weight type tournament that produced similar results with better than half the teams not even weighing in any walleyes on 1of the 2 days! These results are very poor considering that this tournament annually attracts some of the finest local Eastern Lake Erie walleye fisherman from Canada and New York State.

The Professional Walleye Trail Eastern Pro-Am Tournament (PWT) came to Dunkirk Harbor in early August for a 3-day tournament. There were 126 professional entries competing for a top prize of approximately $49,000. This tournament runs over 3 days with each contestant allowed to weigh in 5 walleyes daily. Amateurs also fished with randomly selected professionals every day for a separate division of prizes. The fishing once again was spotty with only 1 pro bringing in a creel limit of 5 walleyes each day. Some of the pros were even shut out one day of this 3-day tournament. The winner of this event was George Barach of Barryton, Michigan with a total weight of slightly over 89 pounds, which is less than 6 pounds per walleye. The amateur winner was Greg Seese of Bryceton Mills, West Virginia with a total weight of 86.30 pounds. These are still impressive numbers considering the difficult fishing conditions.

These pros ventured the entire length of the New York waters of Lake Erie in search of nomadic walleye schools and baitfish with mediocre results. This year is totally unlike the mid- summer of 2000 when there was a heavy concentration of Ohio walleyes present in the eastern basin and most veteran walleye fishermen were bringing in limit or close to limit catches of walleyes in excess of 6 pounds. The type of lures used by the professionals was almost identical to the lures used during the aforementioned Southtowns tournament.

Cormorants are starting to show up in mass along the eastern Lake Erie shoreline as they start their annual fall migration. They also will deplete the tenuous walleye fishery. The round nose Goby also is now very well established in the eastern basin of Lake Erie as almost every fisherman Iíve talked to has caught many of these exotics. The effect of these invaders has yet to be totally determined but I will predict it wonít be positive! Its very obvious to most veteran fisherman that Lake Erie is at a transition point and important decisions and sacrifices must be made by all stakeholders to protect and preserve this wonderful resource for future generations. We do not need a repeat of Nova Scotia.