Lake Erie and the Year 2000
By Capt. Bob Collins

What can we as Ohio anglers expect the walleye fishing on Lake Erie to be this year?  Well, it all depends who you talk to.  Walleye are the preferred species almost all anglers who fish Lake Erie seek.  As a result, walleye fishing becomes a barometer of the health and productivity of Lake Erie.  Let us for a moment take a look at the entire Lake Erie area and its three basins.  We must realize that Lake Erie touches the shores of the following states New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. 

Each year in early spring the input of data from these four states and Ontario determines the quotas for sport and commercial fishing.  Since commercial fishermen mostly do walleye fishing in Canadian waters, sport anglers who fish the U.S. waters almost always challenge those spring quotas.  Considering that, many times commercial data reveals much about the catchable numbers of walleye that exist in Lake Erie. Sport anglers numbers are gathered by census takers and trawling surveys conducted by states.  Determining quotas on the yearly basis helps wildlife managers make their quota decisions close to the start of the actual fishing season. 

Since most of the U.S. waters lie within the borders of the state of Ohio and most of the sport anglers walleye fishing is done in Ohio waters, division of wildlife estimates of catchable walleye play a major role.  Sport anglers watch and wait for these quota numbers to come out yearly. 

No matter what the quotas are determined to be or what the catchable amount of walleye are estimated to be, the sport anglers measure their success by how many walleye they were able to catch.  Anglers must realize that nets, in particular gill nets, are fished 24 hours a day and catch fish as long as they are in the water.  Hook and line sport anglers however catch fish only when they are biting.  Having said all that lets move on to what we as sport anglers can expect the fishing in the year 2000 be on Lake Erie. 

Let's put one thing to rest very quickly, Lake Erie is still the recognized " Walleye Capital of the World."  No other body of water offers the quality or quantity of walleye fishing to the sport anglers.  Even though many times those of us that fish Lake Erie have experienced what we considered to be lean years, the walleye fishing is better than any other place in America. 

Consider that the success of walleye fishing on Lake Erie will be determined by many factors.  The following forecast will be determined to be a fair and best possible prediction of what can be expected this year. 

The end of 1999 produced a new state of Ohio walleye record.  Tom Haberman of Brunswick, Ohio landed a 16.19-pound walleye while perch fishing on Lake Erie.  It surpassed the old Ohio walleye record of 15.95 pounds. The new record was the talk of Ohio walleye anglers when it was caught November 23, 1999, off Cleveland, Ohio shores.  Tom was fishing with friends for yellow perch with 6-pound test line when he caught the walleye. In addition a total of 9 new Ohio state record fish were certified this year across the state. 

In-Fisherman Magazine recently published a special issue "Angling Adventures 2000," the popular fishing publication named Lake Erie a top 10 angling destination for walleyes, smallmouth bass, and steelhead trout. Stating more PWT records have been set on Lake Erie than any other of their contest sites. And PWT will return to Erie in April this year (2000). 

Chief Mike Budzik stated, “Good walleye spawning success throughout the 1990s is sustaining a healthy population of these popular sport fish, which have long drawn anglers from across the country.”  

At a recent meeting (12-10-99) of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, Roger Knight, Lake Erie fish biologist, gave a presentation regarding expected year 2000 walleye fishing.   

Here is what Rodger had to say. “I'm glad that the presentation was helpful to LECBA and that you and Ohio anglers are trying to become better informed about Lake Erie issues.  As you are learning, this is a very dynamic complex system and we'll never have all of the answers, but we are certainly trying.  Understanding the challenges we face as fisheries managers in developing and improving predictive forecasting ability is important to the future of your charter businesses and sport anglers. We'll do our best to keep you informed.” 

He continued: “Gobies are included in the forage data beginning fall 1996 and, while they have increased every year since then, they still made up less than 10% of the peak monthly prey biomass estimate in 1999.  Shad were by far the dominant species.”  

The following are some of the Ohio Division of Wildlife predictions: 

1.) Walleye anglers should have a better year than 1999 since last year had an exceptionally large bait fish spawn. 

2.) Low water levels experienced in 1999, produced by very dry winter, are expected to rise to normal levels. In 1998 the spawn was poor but 1999 young of the year trawl samples are expected to show a good spawn season. Which is good news for the future. 

3.) Many young 1 & 2 year old walleye never left the Western or Central basins in 1999 and good numbers of walleye were available in the Central basin into September of 1999. 

4.) Gobies are becoming a baitfish that all species of game fish are eating. Gobies are being found in deeper waters than in previous years and the yellow perch are eating them when they are found away from the shoreline. It is expected that the more walleye - smallmouth bass and perch eat them (gobies) the more their availability will go down. 

5.) A new indicator model was developed in 1999 using the available bait fish vs. angler success input.  The new indicator points to a good available baitfish spawn, equals a tough walleye fishing indicator. And poor baitfish spawn equals a good walleye angler success. Gobies are considered in this model and yellow perch, walleye and smallmouth are now eating this invader species. 

The chart, courtesy of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, demonstrates clearly that when forage fish are abundant angler success rates go down. Many other factors determine angler success: weather, water depths, water clarity and much more. 

Anglers may want to consider using baits that will imitate the colors of the goby.  If jigging in spring or trolling the basins in the summer, make sure to add to the popular silver, gold and chartreuse colors some smoke, brown and sparkle motor oil colors. 

Anglers appreciate (usually) the fact that fisheries managers are keeping track of all the data input from various sources but, the final question still remains, “ How is walleye fishing going to be this year?”  

The answer based on all the available sources is… very good!