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Lake Erie Walleye Magazine
Spring 2002 Vol. 8, No. 1

Feature Article

Scorpion Stinger Spoons

Lake Erie Fishing Maps

Central Basin - West
Central Basin -East


The Eastern Lake Erie Fishery Report
By Joe Fischer

The 2002 fishing forecast is undoubtedly tied in with what actually happened in 2001. Many Lake Erie experts forecasted some of the "happenings" listed below although there were a few that were totally unexpected.

The big surprise was the quick rebound of the poor yellow perch fishery. Perch fishing had an excellent start in the spring of 2001 and virtually continued unabated until fall. Many devoted walleye fishermen were, due to the relatively poor walleye fishery, targeting the yellow perch with excellent results. Walleye fishermen were experiencing a by-catch of large perch on their deep-water walleye tackle. Most veteran Lake Erie fishermen simply had to look for the small cluster of boats that usually ‘indicated fishermen working a perch school and start fishing! If the fish stopped biting they simply move again to relocate the school. The areas where the perch were found were generally between the Cattaraugus Creek and Dunkirk harbor ‘in anywhere from 45 to 70 feet. One wizened veteran Canadian Commercial fishermen remarked "The perch fishing this year was the best in 20 years". He went on to say that the commercial perch quota should have been higher because of the severe reduction in the walleye quota but that’s strictly his vested opinion on a controversial subject, which is not the focus of this article!

I suspect that the perch fishery will continue to be good in 2002 with many more fishermen because "the word is out on the great year in 2001. The good news is that the perch will generally be larger than the ones caught in 2001 with many being in the 10-13" size range.

An outbreak of Botulism E killed many fish and waterfowl. This outbreak started in late summer and continued into late fall. Most of the fish killed were fresh water drum (sheephead) but other near shore warm water species such as Smallmouth bass were also affected. At last count over 20 Lake Sturgeon were also killed.

The mortality rate among waterfowl was high with many gulls, mergansers and loons dying from botulism. Ken Roblee, a biologist at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) office in Buffalo, estimated that 800-1000 loons perished along the New York State shoreline of Lake Erie! This is the second year that the loon population has been severely impacted by the botulism E. The cause of this epidemic is not known at present but the round goby and zebra mussel appear to be playing a major role. The goby has been found in almost all the dead fish and birds stomach contents and gobies have tested positive for the presence of botulism E. Ward Stone, chief pathologist for the DEC, has been unable to find botulism E in the Zebra Mussel but with millions of Zebra mussels in the lake it is statistically difficult to obtain a representative sample. Assemblyman R. Smith, D 146 district N.Y. is calling for a unified effort of all of Lake Erie’s stakeholders with Sea Grant as the coordinator to investigate this serious problem and establish the root cause. It is the hope of the NYSDEC that this outbreak will be similar to other outbreaks in the upper Great Lakes which gradually subsided over a period of years.

The walleye fishing, for the first time, was generally poor throughout the summer in the New York waters of Lake Erie with no apparent eastern migration of Western basin walleye stocks taking place. The New York DEC felt that this could have been due to many factors including good forage supply in the western basin, weather conditions and a slightly reduced population of mature walleyes in the eastern basin. The 2000-class year of eastern basin walleyes appears weak and will not be abundant in future years. To paraphrase the old saying "go west young man" into "go east young walleye" sort of sums up the outlook for 2002. The Western Basin of Lake Erie is predicting excellent fishing with a good class year of young walleyes between 14-17". If these abundant walleyes run low on forage and move to the east in search of forage the Lake Erie Eastern walleye fishery will be very good so the general outlook for 2002 appears to once again hedge on the summer migration of western basin walleyes. "Lots of forage generally causes poor fishing as the fish are well fed and possibly will not migrate" commented Doug Einhouse, senior biologist at the NYSDEC Dunkirk fisheries station. The general forecast would be that if the forage base is low and we have a good hot summer the walleye fishing could improve over the poor 2001 season.

Smallmouth Bass fishing was relatively poor in 2001 compared to recent years but this world class fishery still had many days when bass fishermen could catch and release over 20 fish. Why this fishery was somewhat slower was not totally understood, as the population of mature bass was high. The suspicion is that the bass had plenty of forage with adult gobies present!". The good news is that the 1999 class year of bass was excellent and would classify as the best I have ever seen", commented Einhouse. Don went on to say that these fish should enhance the already excellent population of Smallmouth Bass in the eastern basin and contribute to this world class Smallmouth Bass fishery in the coming years. Smallmouth Bass between 1.5 -3.5 pounds are common in this prospering fishery. This fishery has gotten more attention in recent years and last year for the first time more fishing hours were spent bass fishing than walleye fishing in the Eastern Basin according to NYSDEC surveys. Eastern Lake Erie’s habitat of rocky shorelines, coupled with abundant forage and the recent excellent spawning years should continue to enhance the reputation of this world class fishery.

Another Eastern Lake Erie warm water fishery that has recently gained international status is the Muskellunge. The area around Buffalo’s Small Boat Harbor and the Upper Niagara River has been producing muskies in excess of 50 inches for several years now. 2001 was not especially a good year as the catch rate per hour dropped but as any devoted musky fishermen knows, musky fishing is more about quality than quality! Many fish caught were in excess of 30 lbs. and should continue to grow so a 55-60 inch musky will probably be caught in the not too distant future. This fishery should continue to produce world class size muskies in 2002 because of the catch and release policies and habitat protection programs of the Niagara Musky Association. This club of approximately 200 devoted musky fishermen, quickly recognized the fragility of their superb fishery and worked with many of the local politicians and NYSDEC personnel to protect and enhance the muskie’s sensitive underwater habitat at the Buffalo waterfront.

With the return of the perch fishery and the continued world class Smallmouth Bass fishery many of the local fishermen are optimistic about 2002. If a heavy migration of western basin walleye stocks occurs during the summer local fishermen could have a banner year in 2002!

Michigan Stinger Spoon

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