Eastern Lake Erie Fishing Forecast for 2000
By Joe Fischer 

Will 2000 be as good of a fishing year for the offshore Eastern Lake Erie walleye fishermen as 1999 which was considered to be one of the best in recent years? This is the question I have heard several times in the last few weeks from some of the most experienced Lake Erie walleye anglers. It appears that the year 2000 will be very similar to 1999 as the lake appears to be relatively stable on water clarity, nutrient levels and forage. The only unknowns are the effect of the Goby, weather conditions, cormorants and the Low Lake Eric water levels. The late summer of 1999 produced some of the best offshore walleye fishing in recent memory with limit catches of 5-101b walleyes commonplace in August and September. This was undoubtedly due to the warm summer, which caused a migration of western basin walleyes into the deep waters off Dunkirk harbor. If these same weather conditions occur I would expect to see a very similar scenario to take place in late summer.  

Most of the Charter Captains I interviewed for this article anticipate similar conditions to last year with fishing being fairly slow in late spring and early summer and then improving rapidly as mid-summer arrives. Deep-water tactics will once again include the use of wire line, Dipsy Divers, Jet Planers, etc. The bottom line will be as always, to locate the fish, find out what they will hit and when they are feeding. I call this the 3 W's of walleye fishing; Where, what and when! If anyone one of the three W's are missing you will probably not be successful.   

The forecast for next year is not as good for the near shore early season walleye fishermen. Continued extreme water clarity coupled with rapidly rising water temperatures moved the post spawn walleyes quickly into deeper water with a resultant poor early season for the night shallow water trolling fishermen and the near shore daytime walleye fisherman. Much of the same is anticipated for the spring of 2000. Most of the relatively successful night fishing occurred of some of the shoals and reefs between Dunkirk and Barcelona. These spots remain cold longer in the spring and do not see the heavy nighttime boating activity that takes place off Athol Springs and Hamburg. The only problem with the Dunkirk area is distance. To get to a number of the good shoals requires a trip of over 5 miles down the lake at night. You might think that this is not a problem but if one of Lake Erie's early season windstorms quickly comes up and you are in a relatively small boat you could have a problem!  

The good news is that the preliminary results of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) annual fall trawling studies for 1999 are in and appear to be very promising for the future of the Eastern Basin Lake Erie walleyes. "The 1998-class year of walleyes appears to be the best year since the benchmark year of 1984." Commented Don Einhouse, Senior Biologist at the DEC office in Dunkirk. "The majorities of these fish are approximately 13" and should become legal size in another year" Don went on to say. The fact that these fish are 13' is important, as they are no longer considered prey for the vast majority of fish in Eastern Lake Erie.  This would constitute the first exceptional spawning year in 15 years. The short winter of 1997-8 coupled by the very rapid spring warm-up probably was responsible for this excellent class year.  

This should greatly improve the near shore fishery as these fish tend to stay in shallow water near structure until they increase in size. The combination of the deep water nomadic summer walleyes coupled with an exceptionally large 1998 class year of walleyes could produce excellent fishing by the year 2001 for the near shore and off shore fishermen.  

The same year (1998) also appears to be a good spawning year for perch, which by many is still considered the best eating of all the fresh water fish. These yearling fish are really "not out of the woods" as they are quite small (3-5") and are perfect food for all the 1998 walleye and our Eastern Lake Erie world class Small mouth Bass fishery. A good class year for perch is very good news as the population of this fish has been on a precipitous slide for many years. Hopefully most of these delectable little fish will survive and rejuvenate the perch fishing in 2 years.  

The DEC at this time do not anticipate as severe a problem as the eastern end of Lake Ontario has had with cormorant predation. The cormorants prefer islands for nesting sites and the eastern basin of Lake Erie is devoid of islands. The only place the cormorants presently nest are Strawberry and Motor islands in the upper Niagara River and the DEC has programs in place to control this population. Without an established residence Eastern Lake Erie only has to deal with the migratory cormorants in late summer and early fall so for the present time the cormorant effect needs to monitored. I guess the bottom line is that the prediction on the year 2000 fishing would be for a stable fishery very similar to 1999 and future years could be even better as the 1998 class year of walleyes continues to mature.