More Great Lake Erie Fishing Ahead for 2000
SANDUSKY, OHIO --More great fishing lies ahead for Lake Erie anglers for the
year 2000, according to fisheries information compiled by the Ohio
Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife.
"Fishing for yellow perch and smallmouth bass were fantastic all across the
lake during 1999, and this trend should continue throughout this year and
beyond," said Roger Knight, supervisor of the Division of Wildlife's
Sandusky Fisheries Research Station. "On the other hand, a number of
factors made for some challenging walleye fishing during 1999. Anglers will
have to take a wait-and-see approach for 2000, as weather and foraging
conditions will likely play a key role in determining fishing success. We
expect a boost in numbers of 14- to 16-inch walleyes in 2001, when a large
walleye hatch from 1999 enters the fishery."
Following is wrap up of 1999 and what anglers can look forward to in 2000.
For the third consecutive year, yellow perch took center stage on Lake Erie
during 1999. The good news is that anglers can expect the same great perch
fishing in 2000.
The perch action heated up in early August, and even earlier for some
frustrated walleye anglers. Excellent perch fishing occurred at many
traditional hot spots across both basins of the lake, and lasted through
October and even later for some hardy anglers.
More than 5.6 million yellow perch filled the coolers of anglers who fished
the Ohio waters of Lake Erie in 1999, slightly more than the previous year.
Good-sized perch in the 8- to 10-inch range from the large year class
spawned in 1996 dominated the harvest. These fish were from the largest
hatch of perch in 10 years.
The angler catch rate (number of fish caught per hour of angling) was 3.19
(over three fish per angler hour.) September and October were the peak
months for perch with catch rates of 3.34 and 3.41 respectively.
"Improved hatches in the mid- to late-1990s have helped the perch population
rebound from low levels of the early 1990s," Knight said. "A good number
of fish from the large 1996 hatch will continue to be a part of the harvest
and should measure 9 to 11 inches. Added to the catch will be many perch
from an above average year class of 1998."
Perch jerkers can also look forward to more great fishing into 2001 and
beyond, Knight noted. A hefty 1999 year class of perch will enter the
fishery in 2001. It is the second largest hatch since 1983, second only to
the 1996 hatch, which has made up much of the harvest the past three years.
The popular angling magazine In-Fisherman was right on target when it
recently ranked Lake Erie one of this year's world's best smallmouth bites.
In a special issue Angling Adventures 2000, an In-Fisherman writer wrote,
"From the flatlands surrounding Erie's Western Basin to the rocky, hilly
terrain of western New York, smallmouths inhabit every bay and reef."
The excellent smallmouth bass fishing experienced by anglers in 1999 should
be just as good in 2000. Smallmouth bass is Lake Erie's third most
sought-after species and becoming more popular with each passing season.
Improved habitat and fair to good spawns throughout the past decade have
provided good numbers of nice-sized smallies and excellent bass fishing
opportunities all across the lake. Smallies from hatches of 1993, 1994,
and 1995 made up most of the catch in 1999 with catches in the 14- to
17-inch size range. This trend will continue in 2000.
The 1999 smallmouth harvest was 92,200 fish, an increase of 17,000 from the
previous year. Since the majority of bass anglers release their catch,
creel survey information includes angler catch rates of all smallmouth bass
caught whether released or kept. The 1999 catch rate was .61 fish (at least
one fish caught for every two hours fished). Angling pressure increased
slightly from the previous year, a continuing trend over the past decade
indicating the popularity of this Lake Erie fishery.
The Division of Wildlife is working to maintain this world-class fishery and
reminds anglers of regulation changes affecting Lake Erie smallmouth bass.
As of March 1, 2000, a smallmouth bass less than 14 inches must be returned
to the lake. The legal bag limit is five fish per angler.
Many walleye anglers were disappointed this year with a catch of 1 million
walleyes. The 1999 harvest was a 55 percent decrease from 1998, which was
the best year in recent history for walleye anglers.
"The walleyes were there, they just weren't taking the bait," said Knight.
"Anglers marked plenty of fish, and our net samples produced more walleyes
than in recent years."
Hoards of emerald shiners and gizzard shad in the lake, and continual mayfly
hatches over a two-month stretch kept walleyes fed and uninterested in
anglers' bait and tackle. However, Knight noted that walleyes exposed to
strong numbers of prey fish often produce larger, healthier hatches the
following spring. A good hatch in 2000 could help boost the walleye
population down the road.
Another contributing factor was the lack of a decent year class of walleyes
entering the fishery last year. The walleye catch traditionally increases
two years after a good hatch when the year class of fish become preferred
keeper size. The 1997 year class of walleyes was below average.
Weather was also a factor in last year's slump in walleye fishing. Bouts of
strong wind conditions across the lake during traditional periods of peak
walleye activity kept many anglers off the lake, or created wave conditions
too rough for good fishing.
"The population is down from the high levels of the 1980s, but that
certainly doesn't mean the fishing will be poor," said Roger Knight,
supervisor of the Division's Sandusky research unit. "The catch rates in
1999 were less than we observed in 1998 ( a record year), but were similar
to those from 1992, 1994, and 1997. Even in an off year, Lake Erie's catch
rates rival catch rates of any other walleye fishery in the country."
In-Fisherman's recent Angling Adventures 2000 included Lake Erie's Western
Basin (Toledo to Huron) and Central Basin (Huron to Conneaut) among the top
10 walleye angling destinations in North America.
The majority of the 1999 harvest was from the 1994 and 1996 year classes.
The overall catch rate for private boat angler was .25 (one fish caught for
every four hours of fishing), with peak fishing in June in the Western basin
and July in the Central Basin.
Walleye angling in 2000 may not offer much improvement over 1999. Walleyes
from the 1998 spawn entering the fishery this year are of below-average
abundance, which means the overall fishable population size will be slightly
lower than in 1999. However, numbers of prey fish and general weather
conditions will also play a major role in determining fishing success rates
and are unpredictable, Knight noted.
The majority of the 2000 catch will most likely be from the 1996 hatch
measuring 16 to 19 inches. Other year classes that should make a showing
will be the 1997 hatch measuring 14 to 16 inches, and the 1994 hatch at 20
to 24 inches. Anglers should also continue to reel in some trophy-size fish
from earlier year classes still in the lake. A new state record walleye
caught off Cleveland in November weighed 16.19 pounds, and was a remnant of
the large 1986 year class. It surpassed the old state record of 15.95
pounds caught off Marblehead Lighthouse in March of 1995.
There is some good news on the horizon. Fisheries research indicates the
1999 walleye hatch looks like a fairly large one. Anglers should experience
an upturn in walleye fishing in the year 2001 when this large year class
enters the preferred "keeper size" at age two.
"If walleye anglers can be patient, they will see better fishing ahead,"
said Knight. "Too many factors are a part of the mix that affects the size
of a population, quality of a fishery, and success of anglers. And all of
these factors change from one year to the next."
Central Basin anglers continued to take good numbers of steelhead trout in
the 22- to 30-inch range during 1999. Some anglers target these fish, while
others hook steelhead while trolling walleyes. Those large steelhead caught
on the open lake in the summer return to cold water streams to spend fall
Steelhead action on Central Basin tributaries was excellent throughout the
fall of 1999 and should continue throughout the winter months of 2000, said
Kevin Kayle, supervisor of the division's Fairport Fisheries Research
Station. The majority of the effort occurs on the Grand, Chagrin, and Rocky
rivers, and Conneaut Creek, the four major tributaries in which 200,000
steelhead (50,000 per stream) have been stocked annually the past few years.
The Division is increasing these stockings to 400,000 this spring, which
should enhance the steelhead fishery even more beginning this year.
"Steelhead fishing on both the open water of Lake Erie and main streams of
the Central Basin is becoming more popular each year as angles discover this
exciting fishery," said Kayle. "Through the steelhead stockings, the
Division added to the mixed bag fish species available to Ohio anglers.
Increased stockings in the future will be an added bonus for anglers."