Lake Erie Walleye Magazine
Spring 2002 Vol. 8, No. 1
HOT OFF THE PRESS
More Great Fishing Ahead
Lake Erie anglers in 2002 will be rewarded with more of the same world class fishing experienced last year. Anglers who traveled to the state’s number one fishing destination during 2001 tapped in on excellent angling action for walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and steelhead trout.
"Lake Erie anglers saw some of the best fishing in recent history," said Roger Knight, Lake Erie Fisheries Program Manager for the Division of Wildlife. "Mother Nature’s cooperation throughout much of the year and good numbers of key sport fish provided anglers a mixed bag of popular angling opportunities that rival any lake in the country."
Walleye fishing was excellent throughout the summer. Limit catches of walleyes ranging in size from 14 to 27 inches were common in July and August across the Western Basin. The walleye harvest for 2002 on the Ohio waters of Lake Erie was 1.2 million fish, slightly higher than the two previous years. Despite favorable weather conditions and fast action, angler pressure at 2.5 million angler hours was only slightly higher than in 2002 at 2.2 million angler hours.
"That may be because of after two years of slow walleye fishing in 1999 and 2000, and high fuel prices early in the season, anglers were not as anxious to travel to Lake Erie in 2001," Knight said. "Fishing pressure will most likely pick up during 2002 once word spreads across the Midwest about how great the fishing was last year."
Walleye catch rates during 2001 were the highest since 1998. Overall private boat harvest in 2001 was 32 percent greater than in 2000. Western Basin anglers saw a harvest increase of 53 percent of 2000.
About 35 percent of the walleyes that filled anglers coolers were fish from a strong hatch in 1999. These two-year-old fish average 14 to 16 inches. A reduced bag limit, which took effect in March 2001, will help conserve these young fish. Ohio’s reduced bag limit was part of measures taken in a walleye management agreement with the Lake Erie states and Ontario to help rebuild Lake Erie walleye stocks from lows in the late 1990s.
The 1996 year class of fish also made a big showing at 20-22 inches. Other year classes of fish that made up the harvest included fish from hatches in 1997 and 1998, which measured 16 to 22 inches.
For 2002, anglers will continue to reel in many of the 1999 walleyes (now 17-18 inches). Anglers can also expect to land fish from the 1996 hatch, which will average 22 to 26 inches. Other catches will include fish from the 1998 hatch measuring 18 to 20 inches, as well as some lunker fish from older year classes now in the Fish Ohio Category at over 28 inches. The current state record walleye was caught off Cleveland in November 1999 and weight 16.19 pounds, a remnant of the large 1986 year class. (Walleyes can live to be more than 20 years of age.) There will be few fish measuring 13 to 15 inches to add to the fishable population resulting from a poor hatch in 2000.
The reduced bag limit for Ohio anglers remains in effect at four walleyes during March and April and six walleyes the remainder of the year.
Limit catches of exceptionally large yellow perch were common across the lake throughout 2001. Many were in the 9 to 12 inch range and longer.
"Perch fishing was great throughout the Western and Central Basins. If anglers weren’t doing well, all they had to do was move to another location on most days," said Knight.
Ohio perch anglers caught 5.5 million yellow perch, similar to the 2000 harvest. Angler pressure also remained about the same as in 2000 at just under 2 million angler hours.
Excellent perch fishing should continue through 2002 and beyond. Conservative regulations for sport and commercial fishermen and improved spawns have helped Lake Erie’s yellow perch stocks to gradually recover after low levels in the early 1990s.
In 2002, anglers can expect many fine catches of perch from a large 1996 year class, the largest hatch in 10 years. These fish will measure 10 to 12 inches. Added to the catch will be perch from the 1998 year class, in the 8 to 10 inch range, and 1999 spawned perch that will be 8 to 9 inches. Catch rates should peak in September and October and rival those of 2001. Ohio’s daily bag limit for yellow perch remains at 30 fish per angler per day.
Smallmouth bass anglers continued to reel in Erie’s lunker smallmouth bass. Typical catches were in the 14 to 18 inch range and weigh 1.5 to 3.5 pounds. Fishing was good at many of the traditional haunts especially in the spring and fall.
Successful spawns over the past decade have provided excellent smallmouth bass fishing opportunities across Lake Erie. Angler pressure remained high with anglers spending over 400,000 angler hours in pursuit of Lake Erie’s famous smallmouth.
Creel interviews reveal that most bass anglers practice catch and release with six out of seven smallmouth bass released after being landed.
Fishing for smallmouth bass should remain good to excellent during 2002. Bass anglers can expect to land smallies from spawns of 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 now ranging in size from 14 to 18 inches. If recent trends continue, anglers will see catch rates similar to that of 2001. Hot spots should include the Bass and Kellys islands areas, western basin reef complex, Sandusky Bas, Ruggles Reef, and harbor break walls from Cleveland to Conneaut.
"Ongoing research coupled with recent regulations changes should help ensure that the lake’s smallmouth fishery continues to be among the best anywhere in the country," Knight said.
The daily bag limit for smallmouth bass is five fish with a minimum size length of 14 inches.
Central Basin anglers experienced a steelhead bonanza on the open lake during August and September. Five-fish limits were the norm when wave conditions were favorable. The total harvest was similar to the previous year at 28,000 steelhead trout.
"The Division’s steelhead stocking program adds yet another angling option for Lake Erie anglers," said Kevin Kayle, supervisor of the Fairport Fisheries Research Unit. "Steelhead fishing on the lake and Central Basin streams has become top notch and continues to lure anglers form near and far as word spreads about this fantastic fishery."
Steelhead continue to entertain anglers fishing shore areas and lower stream reaches as these cold water fish prepared to make annual fall spawning runs. Once steelhead moved into streams, these feisty fish provided more great angling opportunities for wading anglers.
The Division maintains this popular fishery by releasing approximately 400,000 steelhead tout each spring in the Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers and Conneaut Creek. The Vermilion River will be added to the stocking program beginning this spring. These stocked fish migrate out into Lake Erie and spend the summer in the cooler part of Lake Erie’s Central Basin. Adult steelhead then return to stocking streams from falls through spring.
On the open lake, steelhead trout are landed by anglers targeting steelhead, as well as anglers trolling for walleyes. Peak action occurs in July and August off Lorain to Conneaut. Catches measure 19 to 28 inches and longer and weigh up to 12 pounds. Many charter guides now offer steelhead charters as an alternative to traditional walleye charters.