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Spring 2004 Issue

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2004 Lake Erie Fishing Outlook is Promising:
Near-record walleye hatch recorded in 2003

Year after year, Lake Erie anglers have experienced some of the finest and most diverse fishing on the Great Lakes and this year will be no different, say fisheries experts with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.

"Great opportunities abound for veteran anglers and those new to the Lake Erie fishing scene," said Roger Knight, Lake Erie fisheries program manager at ODNR. "The lake’s famous walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, steelhead trout and white bass are again plentiful this year."

Knight noted that good fishing and a large charter boat fleet in the western and central basins, as well as numerous public boat ramps, private marinas, and shoreline access continue to make Ohio's Lake Erie waters a popular fishing destination.

The 2004 Lake Erie walleye fishery will be dominated by the 1999 and 2001 hatches. Fish from the 1999-year class will range from 18 to 22 inches and fish from 2001 will range from 15 to 18 inches. Walleye from the 1996 and 1998-year classes will provide 22 to 28-inch fish, with “Fish Ohio” walleye (over 28 inches) being from older year classes. Sampling during the 2003 season found fish up to 21 years old remaining from the large 1982 hatch.

Anglers are reminded that new walleye regulations are in place for the 2004 fishing season. The bag limit during March and April has been reduced to three fish, while the bag limit from May through February remains at six. A new 15-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season. Another new regulation also prohibits the use of treble-hooked lures in Sandusky and Maumee bays during March and April.
State fisheries biologists believe the 2003 walleye hatch to be one of the largest in recent history. August and September trawls sampled numbers comparable to the 1982 and 1986 hatches, two of the largest on record. By last September, anglers fishing with shiners were already catching walleye hatched in spring 2003. Individuals from the 2003-year class should reach 12 to 13 inches by fall of 2004. With the new 15-inch minimum size limit in effect, any fish caught from the 2003-year class should be gently handled and released as soon as possible. The fish from the 2003-year class will reach 15 inches during the 2005 fishing season.

Yellow Perch
The excellent perch fishing that anglers have experienced since the mid-1990s should continue through 2004. Fish from the excellent hatch in 2001 will enter into the fishery as 8 to 9-inch fish just in time for the peak season in August through October. Anglers also had some success fishing for yellow perch during non-traditional months of June and July this past year, especially in the central basin. However, fall is when the catch rates are the highest. Limit catches of large yellow perch should again be attainable during 2004. Ten to 12-inch fish from the 1998 and 1999 hatches and a few Fish Ohio-size fish (over 13 inches) from the 1996 hatch will be available.

Conservative regulations for sport and commercial fishermen, coupled with improved spawning success, have helped Lake Erie's yellow perch stocks to gradually recover after low levels in the early 1990s. Ohio's daily bag limit for yellow perch remains at 30 fish per angler for the 2004 season.

Smallmouth Bass
Excellent smallmouth bass fishing exists in many Ohio areas of Lake Erie. Traditional "hot spots" such as the Lake Erie islands, the western basin reef complex, Sandusky Bay, Ruggles Reef, and harbor breakwalls from Lorain to Conneaut, all produce good numbers of smallmouth bass and also the potential to catch a trophy over 5 pounds. In the spring of 2003, a smallmouth bass weighing slightly less than the state record of 9.5 pounds (caught in the Bass Islands area in 1993) was caught near Conneaut. Smallmouth bass anglers can expect to land "smallies" from 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999-year classes, now ranging in size from 14 to 19 inches and weighing 1.5 to 4 pounds.

New smallmouth bass regulations will take effect for the 2004 season. A closed season will be in effect from May 1 through June 26 to enhance reproduction. Fishing during the closed season will not be unlawful, but all black bass (smallmouth and largemouth) must be immediately released. The daily bag limit after June 26 will remain at five fish with a 14-inch minimum.

Steelhead Trout
Anglers should look for peak steelhead action on the waters off Vermilion to Conneaut during June through August, with catches measuring 17 to 29 inches. The typical method for capturing steelhead in the open waters is depth-controlled trolling with downriggers or dipsy divers with spoons. Many charter guides now offer steelhead charters as an alternative to traditional walleye charters. Once Lake Erie's steelheads move into central basin streams in the fall, these feisty fish provide additional angling opportunities for wading anglers throughout the fall, winter, and spring months. The ODNR Division of Wildlife maintains this popular fishery by releasing approximately 400,000 steelhead trout each spring in the Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin, and Grand rivers, as well as Conneaut Creek.

Fishing conditions on Lake Erie can change hourly. Adjusting fishing methods according to current conditions is the key to success. Anglers should take into account such factors as season, cloud cover, water clarity, boat traffic, wave action, and amount of prey fish present. Electronic equipment to mark fish is helpful. Once a school of fish is located, anglers should try various techniques including drifting, trolling, and jigging at various depths in the water column.

The ODNR Division of Wildlife maintains a series of web pages describing its Lake Erie research and management programs, fisheries resources, and open lake and steelhead fishing reports, maps and links to other Lake Erie web resources.

During the season, ODNR provides an updated, recorded Lake Erie fishing report at
1-888 HOOKFISH. ODNR Division of Wildlife staff members are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at Fairport Harbor (440-352-4199) for central basin information and at Sandusky (419-625-8062) for western basin information. For additional information on lodging, charter boat services, and local launch ramps, contact one of the following lakeshore visitor’s bureaus:

Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau 800-337-6746
Lake County Visitors Bureau 800-368-5253
Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland 800-321-1001
Lorain County Visitors Bureau 800-334-1673
Sandusky/Erie County Visitors Bureau 800-255-8070
Ottawa County Visitors Bureau 800-441-1271
Greater Toledo Convention & Visitors Bureau 800-243-4667
Ohio Division of Travel & Tourism 800-BUCKEYE

For additional news check out the ODNR Press Room.

For Further Information Contact:
Roger Knight or Jeff Tyson, ODNR Division of Wildlife
(419) 625-8062
Jane Beathard, ODNR Media Relations
(614) 265-6860

This article reprinted courtesy of the ODNR Division of Wildlife