Lake Erie Walleye hatch good, yellow perch even better

by D'Arcy Egan, The Plain Dealer


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Lake Erie is resilient, bouncing back from some mediocre spawning seasons over the last decade to produce a 2014 hatch that should boost yellow perch and walleye populations for future fishing seasons.

We won't see evidence of that success for a couple of years. It will take two or three years before those fish reach catchable size. But the results of this year's bottom trawl surveys are official, and they're a welcome relief for Chris Vandergoot, supervisor of the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Sandusky Fisheries Research Station.

"The walleye hatch was similar to the average hatches of 2001, 2007 and 2010," Vandergoot said. "After multiple years of weak recruitment, it was especially gratifying to see the second straight good classes of yellow perch coming down the pike, letting us know that the fish populations and fishing will continue to thrive on Lake Erie."

There had been rumors in summer of another monstrous walleye hatch like Lake Erie experienced in 2003. Fisheries experts were quick to report this year's walleye success was well below that record hatch, but strong enough to support the Walleye Capital of the World.

"It's good to see the lake is resilient, that it is capable of bouncing back," said Vandergoot. "I suspect the bitterly cold winter had something to do with it. We really don't know all of the underlying mechanisms of a good hatch, but suspect that a cold winter improves the quality of walleye and perch eggs, as well as causing a strong winter kill of other species, such as gizzard shad and white perch.

"Generally, though, when we have a long, cold winter, we generally see good perch and walleye hatches."

White perch are an invasive fish from brackish East Coast waters that prey on game fish eggs, and devour young-of-the-year yellow perch. Gizzard shad feast on plankton, the base of the food chain for native game fish. They are susceptible to rapid swings in water temperature, especially in winter and spring.

The yellow perch hatch was good in both the Ohio and Ontario waters of the western basin of Lake Erie. It was the fourth-best hatch since the interagency survey began in 1987.