The Walleye Fact
Rebuilding Walleye Populations in Lake Erie
For years, anglers could load their gear, head forthe Lake, and expect to catch 6 to 10 walleyes without a problem. Lake Erie was an anglerís dream and a local economyís delight with over 3 million walleye consistently harvested each year in the mid-1980ís.
Because of ideal weather conditions, the 1980ís symbolized the pinnacle of walleye productivity in Lake Erie. Low winds kept nests undisturbed and mild springs permitted faster incubation and growth periods for the walleye. Severe winters caused some exotics and walleye predators to die. These weather factors along with ample numbers of walleye spawners produced record walleye hatches in the 1980ís. Ohio anglers were delighted.
But as the decade expired, so did the walleye numbers. High winds and strong water currents disturbed smallmouth bass and walleye nests, decreasing numbers of young. Predatory fish like white bass, catfish, and white perch continued to compete with and consume walleye fry and eggs, impacting recruitment. The introduction of aquatic nuisance species such as the zebra mussel, round goby, and spiny waterflea, also added stress to the walleye by altering the ecosystemís equilibrium. Invading the Lake, these species altered the structure of planktonic communities by consuming food needed for walleye and other sports fish. Increased water clarity caused by phosphorous reduction and zebra musselsí efficient filtration also changed walleye behavior. Walleye fishing became increasingly rough and inconsistent across all of Lake Erie.
By the late 1990ís the Ohio walleye harvest fell to less than 1 million fish a year, a 500 percent decrease from the height of the 1980s. No longer could one expect to take home 10 walleye from a day of fishing.
To begin to restore the walleye populations, the Great Lakes Fishery Commissionís Lake Erie Committee adopted a new strategy this past spring designed to stop the decline in walleye populations. The Committee, consisting of fisheries managers from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, agreed to substantially reduce the total allowable catch (TAC) from 7.7 million in 2000 to 3.4 million fish in 2001. The TAC will not increase beyond 3.4 million fish over the next three years and may go lower depending on walleye spawning success this spring.
For over twenty years, the Lake Erie Committee has met annually to determine the status of the Lake Erie walleye stocks and to establish international harvest quotas for each of the jurisdictions surrounding the Lake. These harvest quotas are established by a formula based on surface area within each jurisdiction.
Ohio has traditionally been delegated 51.4 percent of the quota, while Ontario and Michigan have received 43.3 and 5.3 percent, respectively. Although the new strategy doesnít change percentages, it does change fish totals. As of March 2001, the daily bag limit per angler-for walleye in Ohio waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries was reduced to four fish per day through April 30, and six fish from May 1 through the end of February 2002. Other agencies have reduced harvest limits as well. The Committee hopes that conservative harvests by fisheries lake- wide will give the strong walleye classes of í96 and í99 a chance to mature and grow. "With favorable weather conditions and reduced quotas, the potential for high reproduction should increase and allow walleye populations to rebuild," says Roger Knight, fisheries biologist at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife. For more information, contact the ODN-R Division of Wildlife at 614.265.6300.
Lake Erie Walleye ActionWas HOT this Summer
Lake Erie is maintaining its title as the Walleye Capital of the World. This past summer both the weather and the fish cooperated. Local walleye anglers are touting this year as the best fishing season in a decade, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
"Overall, the walleye fishing has been very good this year, beginning with some excellent ice fishing last winter and pre-spawn fishing on the reefs and in Maumee Bay. Fishing in the western basin has really heated up since mid-June, especially along the Toledo Shipping Channel," said Roger Knight, supervisor of ODNRís Lake Erie Fisheries Unit in Sandusky. "Fishing success is affected by many factors and this year, many of the right factors are coming together."
Disappointing walleye fishing for many Lake Erie anglers for the past two summers was attributed to poor weather, an abundance of bait fish in the lake and lack of a large spawning class entering the fishery. This year, walleyes from an excellent spawn in 1999, now measuring 14 to 16 inches, are adding significantly to the fishery. Anglers are filling coolers with a mixed bag of walleyes ranging in length from 14 to 30 inches.
Fishing from private boats, charter boats and "walk-on" charters (larger boats that can accommodate up to 50 people) have all been successful, with many reporting limit catches, often in just two or three hours of fishing. The hot spots are concentrated west of the islands to the Michigan state line.
"Lake Erie gained its national reputation throughout the 1980s due largely to reef fishing in June and July. The lake was ideal walleye habitat, with moderately turbid waters that allowed walleyes to be active throughout the day. Moreover, record numbers of fish were present in the walleye population. Yet, walleye fishing was generally over for most anglers by mid-August." Knight said. "But since the 1980s, water clarity has increased, walleye abundance has declined to a moderate level, and walleye feeding behavior has changed. Walleye schools tend to be distributed in patches and anglers often have to search for these schools to be successful."
To compensate for these changes, walleye anglers have adopted new tackle and fishing methods. Weight-forward spinners that were once the rage of Lake Erie anglers are now just another lure in the walleye anglerís tackle box. Worm harnesses, mayfly rigs, small spoons, and crankbaits are now equally popular baits.
"While casting is preferred by many anglers, our data clearly show that trolling produces more fish per hour expended, probably because trollers cover more water and are more likely to encounter an active school of fish. Walleye anglers should not give up on late summer and fall fishing, as we have observed high catch rates in late-August through October in recent years."
Some of the recent hot spots include the area between the Toledo Shipping Channel and the Michigan state line, West Sister Island area, south of Middle Sister Island in Ohio waters, C and B Cans, the Reef Complex and north of Niagara Reef.
The legal bag limit for walleyes on the Ohio waters of Lake Erie is six from May through February, and four during March and April.
Most anglers are fishing for walleyes, but Lake Erie also provides excellent fishing for yellow perch, smallmouth bass and white bass.
A fishing report is available by calling 1-888-HOOK FISH (1-888-466-5347). Callers in the local Sandusky exchange should call 625-3187.
Despite the current trend in lower-than-average water levels on Lake Erie, all ODNR fishing and boat access facilities are open and fully operational at this time. However, boat anglers are reminded to follow navigational charts.
Populations of double-crested cormorants have exploded in the eastern half of the United States due to improved water quality in the Great Lakes and catfish fanning in the south, which allows for greater winter survival of the birds. But this federally- protected, deep-diving water bird is wearing out its welcome with sportfishing groups across the Great Lakes that fear cormorants are depleting key sport fish stocks.
Lake Erie researchers, as well as those on other Great Lakes, have determined that cormorants are very opportunistic. That is, they consume prey fish that are most readily available. Researchers have found that the primary diet of cormorants on western Lake Erie is freshwater drum and baitfish (gizzard shad and emerald shiners), while walleye, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch are seldom consumed.
ODN-R Division of Wildlife biologists are closely monitoring colonies of cormorants on West Sister, East Sister, and Middle Sister islands in Lake Erie for habitat destruction and nesting competition with wading birds. Over time, the cormorantsí ammonia-rich guano can kill low-growing vegetation used by other nesting birds. West Sister Island is a crucial nesting site for black-crowned night herons, great egrets, and great blue herons. In fact, the island supports the largest colonies of these wading birds on the Great Lakes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been issuing depredation permits in 13 states (not Ohio) for the limited killing of cormorants to protect fisheries. The Service is currently developing a regional plan to control growing populations of cormorants that are harming fish and wildlife populations. Measures may include egg oiling, egg addling, and nest removal.