2004 LAKE ERIE FISHING OUTLOOK IS PROMISING|
Near-record walleye hatch recorded in 2003
COLUMBUS, OH -- 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
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.
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
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.
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
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. This information is available on the Internet at:
During the season, ODNR provides an updated, recorded Lake Erie fishing
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