The Eastern Lake Erie 
Fishery Report

by Joe Fischer

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The big news for 2001 to most veteran Eastern Lake Erie walleye fishermen is the International Lake Erie committee’s recent proposal regarding walleye creel limits. The committee, which has representatives from 4 states and Canada, recognized that walleye stocks throughout the take have diminished by as much as 70% in the last ten years and that decisive steps must be taken to reverse this downward trend before a walleye population crisis appears. All stakeholders are being asked to share in a significant reduction of the sportfishing and commercial walleye catch (TAC) for the next three years. The eastern basin (New York) is considering a daily creel reduction from 5 to 4 walleyes while Pennsylvania is proposing to keep their daily limit at 6 but will close the spring spawning season for walleye fishing. Canada’s eastern basin sportfishermen will reduce their daily limit from 6 to 4 with Canada’s commercial fleet reducing their catch from 3.3 million fish to 1.47 million, which is a reduction of 56%.

The Ontario ministry of Natural Resources (OUNR) is taking considerable "heat’ because of their drastic reduction in the commercial walleye harvest. The commercial fishermen have fully recognized the need for walleye restrictions but had hoped that a significant increase in the TAC for Lake Perch might help them survive the next three years. The perch population is forecasted as being on the increase but didn’t justify the large increase that the commercials hoped for. Rumors persist that many of the commercial fishermen are being laid off and some of the smaller operations are closing down. If all of the proposed changes do take place the yearly Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of walleye for Lake Erie will be reduced from 7.7 million fish to 3.4 million. This will be in place for a period of 3 years upon which time the status of the walleye fishery will be reevaluated. If the stakeholders feel that a significant improvement has taken place the quotas will obviously be increased.

As previously reported many veteran New York fishermen feet that they are being asked to once again take a cut in the daily creel limit when New York State has been a leader in walleye conservation with closed spring seasons, a ban on gill nets and a daily creel limit of 5 walleyes. They feel that if the rest of the lake’s stakeholders would have followed these conservative regulations the walleye population downward spiral might have been averted. Their major concern however is for the conservation and preservation of the walleye resource in the future. New York does have the advantage of being on a 2 year program in regards to regulation changes which means that they will not be able to institute their proposed walleye creel reduction until October of 2002. By this time the other stakeholders will be well into their new regulations and New York will have a preliminary indication on how well the new regulations are working or if any of the other stakeholders are deviating from the lakewide walleye regulation agreement. I certainly hope these regulations work and the walleye doesn’t go the way of the blue pike!

The spring to early summer fishery in the eastern basin should be somewhat improved by the presence of a good mature 1998 class year of walleye. Most of these fish should be legal size and will make excellent table fare. These fish will be closer to shore and in shallower water and will probably respond to standard daytime shallow water walleye tactics such as worm harnesses, jigs and stick baits. Long line trolling after dark with stick baits in relatively shallow water can be very productive until the water warms up to summer temperatures. These fish generally are structure oriented but the extreme water clarity.

I drive them deeper in the daytime but they will feed in shallow water after dark. The Lake Erie water level is projected as being lower than normal so be careful when trolling in shallow water especially if your boat is relatively large.

The summer walleye fishery, as stated in previous columns, is totally dependent on the arrival of the suspended nomadic large female walleyes from the western basin. This proved to be later than usual last year, as these fish didn’t arrive until late July. This year will undoubtedly be very similar unless we have very warm early summer temperatures, which will drive the western basin bait and walleyes to the cooler deeper water of the eastern basin earlier than usual.

Summertime deep-water walleye tactics on Lake Erie are based on finding the suspended deep-water walleyes and getting the proper bait down to their depth. These fish can be sometimes be found in water exceeding 100 feet and will suspend at depths of 40-80 feet in tight schools. Dipsy Divers, Wire line and Jet Planers are some of the tackle employed by veteran offshore summer walleye fishermen to get the lures at the proper depth. "The extreme water clarity requires the use of the new thin super lines such as Fireline to get your lures deeper without detection" stated veteran Eastern Lake Erie Charter Captain Jerry May at a recent Southtowns Walleye Association seminar. Once again the baits of choice will be spinner and worm combinations of various colors, body baits like the Renosky plug and spoons of various colors. In the morning hours colors such as purple, firetiger and black seem to work well but as the sun rises fishermen change to blue, green and silver. Watermelon and various shades of pink also have produced walleye strikes. A rule of thumb is if you are over fish and do not get a strike in 30 minutes pull your lures in and change colors. This takes a lot of work but most veteran offshore fishermen employ a variation of this tactic.

The fall perch fishing should be improved, as 1998 was a strong class year for perch. This is indeed good news as next to walleye this is the most desirable and best eating fish in Lake Erie. These fish will be found in water 40-60 feet deep and the best way to catch them is with Lake Minnows. The area from Sturgeon Point to the Cattaragus Creek is usually where these fish school up in the fall. Be sure to check the local weather forecast before you venture out in the fall as Lake Erie is noted for its fall windstorms, which can come up in a matter of minutes!

Smallmouth Bass fishing will continue to be world class in the summer of 2001. The amount and size of these fish are incredible with many people catching and releasing 20 to 40 smallmouths during one outing! Jigs continue to be the top choice of most bass anglers but crank baits also work quite well. This should be a good year for most fishermen as long as the capricious Eastern Lake Erie weather doesn’t interfere. Good luck!