Ohio Division of Wildlife|
SANDUSKY, Ohio — Lake Erie is a four-star general when it comes to sportfishing opportunities --- walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, steelhead.
Despite the grumbling about low water levels, higher marine fuel prices, and a drop in last year’s take of walleyes, anglers continue to find Lake Erie a top U.S. fishing destination area that is a "must-do" on just about anyone’s fishing schedule. This could also be a big year for fishing here on the lake as one national publication this winter put the word out that Erie is among the world’s top freshwater fishing lakes, particularly for smallmouth bass and walleye.
In a special edition of In-Fisherman magazine titled "Angling Adventures 2000", editors said Lake Erie’s western basin is the No.1 smallmouth bass fishing area in the world. Smallies over nine pounds roam these shallow western basins and now through mid-June is the best time of year to catch these prized sportfish. Anglers are allowed to keep a daily limit of five smallmouth bass, down from eight in recent years.
The Division of Wildlife has forecasted that the excellent smallmouth bass fishing seen last year should again repeat itself this year. Anglers caught 92,200 smallmouth bass last year, an increase of 17,000 fish from 1998. Angling pressure also continued to increase as it has over the past decade. The smallmouth is Lake Erie’s third most sought-after gamefish species, behind yellow perch and walleye. The best fishing locations are around the reefs and near the islands in the western basin, and near the harbor breakwalls in the central basin.
But the walleye is what brought fame to Lake Erie, especially during the late 1980s. Former Ohio Governor James Rhodes was so enthused by walleye fishing opportunities here that during a Governor’s Fish Ohio Day event, he proudly proclaimed Lake Erie as the "Walleye Capital of the World" and the title has remained ever since. In-Fisherman magazine said that Lake Erie’s western and central basins remain among Top 10 picks for big-water walleyes in North America.
Just like a company’s stock that hits a 52-week low share price, the walleye catch last year bottomed out at a disappointing one million, the lowest catch in 25 years. But the upswing is anticipated to be gradual this year and to be much bigger in 2001. "The walleyes were there last year, but just not taking the bait," said Roger Knight, supervisor of the wildlife agency’s Sandusky office.
"The population is down from the high levels seen in the 1980s, but that certainly does not mean the fishing will be poor this year. Even in an off year, Lake Erie’s catch rates rival those of any other walleye fishery in the country," Knight said.
The third general’s star is found in Lake Erie’ yellow perch fishery. For a third consecutive year in 1999, yellow perch took center stage among the fishing stories in the Great Lakes region. Erie is about the only one of the five Great Lakes that offers any measure of yellow perch fishing and that measure gets its highest grade in Ohio. The perch action last year heated up in August and lasted through October. More than 5.6 million yellow perch, mostly measuring 8 to 10 inches, filled anglers’ coolers in 1999.
This year, yellow perch should be slightly larger and just as abundant as last year. Optimal conditions along with regulations have led to a highly successful reproductive effort that is allowing perch stocks to become replenished. This means that fishing will again remain excellent this year and next.
A pleasant surprise, but one that has been well-earned nonetheless, came from In-Fisherman’s discussion on steelhead trout waters where the Grand River was among the magazine’s Top 10 picks. When the general fishing season cam to a close last fall, steelhead anglers arrived in droves along the tributaries of northeast Ohio and experienced perhaps the best fall season of steelhead fishing seen anywhere in the Great Lakes. Steelhead give Lake Erie its fourth general’s star.
Years of cultivation and management of this sportfishery by the Division of Wildlife is continuing to make huge payoffs in fishing success. More and more anglers are catching steelhead in the central basin, as well as now in the western basin, during the traditional months when smallmouth bass and walleyes are caught. Just recently, the wildlife agency completed stocking approximately 400,000 steelhead into Conneaut Creek and the Rocky, Chagrin, and Grand rivers --- more than double the number stocked in recent years.
"Lake Erie offers among the finest freshwater sportfishing opportunities found anywhere in North America. It continues to be praised by national outdoors magazines and anglers for the excellent fishing opportunities it offers and Lake Erie should be on everyone’s fishing schedule," said Division of Wildlife Chief Michael J. Budzik.