LAKE ERIE FISHING PROVIDING MIXED BAG OF SURPRISES IN 2000|
SANDUSKY, OH - With Lake Erie's changing environment comes even more changes in the sport fishery, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. As a result, biologists and anglers alike are facing more surprises each year, and this year is no exception. Here is a mid-summer report on the Lake Erie fishing scene:
For the fourth consecutive year, yellow perch have taken center stage on Lake Erie. Different this year was a strong spring and early summer perch season.
"Yellow perch have definitely been the 'catch of the day' this year," said Mike Costello, administrator for the ODNR Division of Wildlife's fish management and research group. "Lake Erie anglers have traditionally waited until late summer to target yellow perch, when the walleye bite subsides and the perch action is at its peak. This year, anglers began fishing for yellow perch as early as April and brought home limit catches of nice-sized fish."
Excellent perch fishing has continued at many traditional hot spots across both basins of the lake with many large fish and limit catches reported. Perch in the 7- to 11-inch range have dominated the harvest. The majority of the catch are perch spawned in 1996, the largest year class of perch in ten years. Perch hotspots include nearshore the Marblehead/Catawba area, Sandusky Bay, off Cedar Point, Bass Islands, Kelleys Island, Cleveland breakwalls and a few miles off Ashtabula and Fairport.
Only recently has the perch action tapered off. However, if tradition holds true, perch will begin a feeding frenzy again by late August and continue into October. The daily bag limit is 30 yellow perch per angler.
Improved hatches in the mid- to late-1990s have helped the yellow perch population rebound from low levels of the early 1990s.
"The Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fisheries Committee established the total allowable catch of yellow perch at 6.57 million pounds, similar to that of 1999, because yellow perch stocks are strong in the central basin," Costello said. "However, there is still concern for perch stocks in the western and eastern basins. The continuing recovery of yellow perch stocks will depend on how much the moderate to strong 1996 and 1998 year classes contribute to the population. A weak year class in 1997, which enters the fishery this year, will add very little to the overall sport harvest."
Another great surprise this summer has been the fantastic steelhead trout catches by anglers trolling for walleyes, particularly in Lake Erie's central basin between Huron and Conneaut. Many limit catches of five trout in the 22- to 30-inch range are being reported as more and more anglers are targeting steelhead. The hot spots so far this year have been the areas north of Avon to Lorain, Fairport Harbor, and Cleveland Lakefront State Park.
"This explosion of the steelhead fishery is a direct result of the division's continued stocking efforts in central basin tributaries," said Costello. "Through the steelhead management project, we have added to the mixed bag of fish species available to Ohio anglers. Continued stockings will bolster this fishery even more."
It is no coincidence that the "Bass Islands" of western Lake Erie are so-named. The rocky shorelines and drop-offs around the islands were historically known for quality smallmouth fishing. The biggest surprise in the smallmouth fishery is that the island areas aren't the only places to locate these feisty gamefish, which are featured on the special edition 2000 Fish Ohio angler award pins.
Lake Erie is teeming with smallmouth bass. Smallies are taken around all the western basin islands and reefs, along rocky shorelines across the entire mainland, the nearshore areas and breakwalls from Huron to Conneaut, and various areas out in the open water.
The popular angling magazine In-Fisherman recently ranked Lake Erie one of this year's "world's best smallmouth bites." The excellent smallmouth bass fishing experienced by anglers over the past decade has continued this year. Smallies that are being caught include those from hatches of 1993, 1994, and 1995 measuring 14- to 18-inches.
The Division of Wildlife is working to maintain this world-class fishery and implemented new regulations for smallmouth this year including a 14-inch minimum size limit, and a daily bag limit of five fish per angler.
This year's walleye fishery is a different story. The only good surprise on the walleye front actually occurred last November when a perch angler landed a new state record walleye off Cleveland. It weighed in at 16.19 pounds, surpassing the previous state record of 15.95 pounds.
After a slow start in 2000, the walleye action just recently picked up over the past few weeks. Only recently has the perch action tapered off. However, if tradition holds true, perch will begin a feeding frenzy again by late August and continue into October.
Limit catches of walleyes have been reported along the international boundary in the areas of F-Can, the area bordered by Toledo water intake, Toledo Harbor outer light, the turn-around buoy at the end of the Toledo Shipping Channel and West Sister Island. Other good walleye fishing areas included the area north of the Reef Complex, and between West Sister and Middle Sister islands. Walleye fishing has also improved recently in the Central Basin north of Fairport Harbor and Cleveland Lakefront State Park. The fish that are being caught are mostly from the 1994, 1996, and 1997 hatches measuring 17-to-24 inches.
Until recently, walleye fishing this year has not been much different than 1999 when the harvest for walleyes in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie barely topped the 1 million mark. Anglers continued to mark fish, they just haven't been taking the bait. Hoards of emerald shiners and gizzard shad continue to keep walleyes well fed in addition to another significant mayfly hatch that occurred in June. Weather has also played a role with constant bouts of wind, rain, and muddy water from April through June.
Another contributing factor is the lack of a decent year class of walleyes entering the fishery for two years now. Fisheries managers are hopeful to see a boost in numbers of 14- to 16-inch walleyes in 2001, when a large walleye hatch from 1999 enters the fishery. Some of the fish are now showing up, but are not yet the desirable "keeper" size.
In response to continuing concern for walleye, fisheries managers surrounding the lake have been meeting recently to discuss some immediate actions to protect the walleye stock.
"We are working with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the other agencies of the Lake Erie Committee and hope to have a formal announcement at Governor's Fish Ohio Day on Lake Erie," Costello said. "The agencies of the Lake Erie Committee have agreed to implement more cautious harvest strategies for walleyes, which will include setting the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for walleyes at a very conservative level, and not increasing it for at least three years. The reduced TAC and the conservative management approach will necessitate regulation and/or harvest policy changes for all agencies, including Ohio."