Erie's Fall Fishing is Fabulous

Melissa Hathaway

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Lake Erie anglers are having another fall fishing bonanza, as declining water temperatures stimulate fish to begin feeding, according the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Yellow perch fishing is going strong across the lake with some limit catches of up to 13-inch perch being taken across the lake. Good perch fishing should continue as long as the weather permits anglers to get out on the lake.

True to tradition for September, bass anglers are reeling in many lunker smallmouth bass, especially in the islands area and off the reefs. Meanwhile, anglers wait in anticipation for walleye and steelhead trout to take off in normal fall fashion. "As water temperatures cool in the fall, fish form schools and feed more heartily to store reserves for the approaching winter months," said Doug Johnson, fisheries biologist with the ODNRís Lake Erie Research Unit in Sandusky. "Several factors make fall an excellent time to fish Lake Erie: Anglers often see some of the best action of the entire year, there is less boat traffic and booking accommodations is easier because itís the off-season for many Lake Erie visitors."

Donít own a boat? Shoreline anglers can get in on the fall action by fishing for yellow perch and smallmouth bass from piers and breakwalls. Steelhead trout can be found along central basin breakwalls, especially at Headlands Beach State Park, Fairport Harbor and Conneaut Harbor. These fish will later enter the lakeís central basin tributary streams and provide even more action for wading anglers. In late fall and early winter, along the western basin, walleyes move in close to shore in late night feeding frenzies. Huron is usually the number one hot spot for this unique fishery.

Central basin anglers are also enjoying great fall fishing. "Traditional fall perch fishing is well underway and smallmouth bass action is picking up along the Fairport, Geneva, Ashtabula and Conneaut breakwalls," said Kevin Kayle, supervisor of ODNRís Lake Erie Research Unit at Fairport Harbor.

"Weíre also expecting another fantastic fall steelhead season. Earlier this summer, steelhead were biting with a vengeance on the open lake, which traditionally indicates excellent fall stream fishing." Anglers should expect to see steelhead entering into the rivers within the next several weeks as cool rains begin moving into the region.

During the early portion of the spawning run, the lower stretches of Lake Erieís tributaries hold a majority of the fish. As the season progresses and the region gets more rain, the steelhead move further upstream, increasing action in the tributaries of the main channels. Fishing will remain good throughout the entire winter as long as anglers can find an open pool in the ice.

Weather conditions are always a big factor for Lake Erie fishing and fall is no exception. Strong winds and heavy wave action can keep anglers off the lake for several days at a time. Colder water temperatures and rough lake conditions can spell disaster for unwary and unprepared small boat operators and their passengers. Anglers should get a Lake Erie marine forecast before traveling to the region and again before venturing out on the water.

Depending on individual angler preferences, thereís a mixed bag of quality opportunities in store for fall anglers.


Perch seekers find success in Sandusky Bay, the island areas and the reef complex in the Western Basin. Central basin anglers fare very well in nearshore waters one to four miles offshore. However, anglers should keep in mind that schools of yellow perch can be found anywhere in the lake.

Fall also provides excellent perch fishing opportunities for shore-bound anglers. Some of the best shore fishing locations include public fishing piers at Metzger Marsh, Catawba Island State Park, the Mazurik and Dempsey fishing accesses and breakwalls at Port Clinton, Sandusky, Huron, Lorain, Cleveland, Fairport Harbor and Mentor Headlands State Park.

Perch spreaders or crappie rigs tipped with shiners or minnows are the tried and true methods for this popular table fare fish. Most catches are in the 7 to 13-inch range with central basin perch slightly larger.

Anglers should note the daily bag limit for yellow perch is 30 fish per person.


Increased weed growth from increased water clarity and several excellent hatches in recent years have boosted yet another great fishery for Lake Erie anglers ó smallmouth bass. Fall bass fishing is particularly good around the Bass and Kelleys islands areas, western basin reef complex, Sandusky Bay, along rocky shorelines in the western basin, Ruggles Reef, and along harbor breakwalls from Cleveland to Conneaut. The live bait of choice is a softcraw, but anglers also use leeches, large minnows or work jigs along rocky shorelines.

Most fish are in the 14 to 17-inch range. There is a daily catch limit of five smallmouth bass per angler with a minimum size length of 14 inches.


The current state record walleye (16.19 pounds) was caught off Cleveland in November 1999, by an angler who was perch fishing. Western basin walleye anglers drift with worm harness rigs; cast weight-forward spinners fitted with a bottom bouncer; or cast or troll crankbaits, especially over reefs. Central basin anglers troll with worm harnesses, dipsy divers, spoons and deep diving lures. Most catches measure 18 to 28 inches.

The number one hot spot in late fall is an area between Vermilion and Huron. As the season progresses, these walleyes will move to shore after dark in pursuit of bait fish seeking out warmer shoreline waters. Many anglers take advantage of this shoreline walleye fishery and line up along piers and breakwalls across the western basin and Cleveland area throughout November and December. Anglers cast vibrating, noise-producing lures that imitate baitfish. This fishery is very unpredictable with no way of forecasting when the feeding frenzy will turn on. When it does, however, it usually lasts only a few minutes. But the rewards can be huge with very large fish hooked.


More central basin anglers are targeting steelhead trout, especially when the walleye fishing is challenging. By late October, these fish move into central basin tributaries to begin spawning runs, providing wading stream anglers a quality trout fishery during the cold-weather months. The ODNR Division of Wildlife stocks a total of 400,000 steelhead annually into the Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers, and Conneaut Creek.

Steelhead catches typically measure 19 to 28 inches. In the early fall, anglers should pursue steelhead from piers, beaches and lower parts of the rivers (near river mouths). With a spinning rod, use spoons, spinners, or hair jigs tipped with maggots under a bobber. With a fly rod, use a larger weighted fly pattern such as nymphs and streamers.

After cooler weather and fall rains, anglers should follow steelhead upstream and fish with spawn bags (trout or salmon eggs tied together in a mesh bag). As the season progresses, spin-casters also use jig and maggot combinations and minnows. Fly rod anglers use yarn flies, egg patterns, nymphs and streamers. The daily bag limit for steelhead is two fish from September 1 through April 30, with a minimum size limit of 12 inches.

For more information on central basin steelhead fishing, access the Fairport Fish Stationís web site through