Lake Erie Charter Service
Lake Erie Fishery News 2014
Walleye: Although the overall number of Walleye in Lake Erie remains lower than fishery biologists would like to see, there is still a healthy number of fish throughout Lake Erie’s three basins. The western basin provides spring spawning grounds and hatching areas for most of Lake Erie’s Walleye. The central basin offers deeper and cooler water where Walleye are found during mid-summer. The eastern basin contains the deepest water and is home to mature Walleye during late summer and also the final destination for fish making their annual migration. This year as we begin our charter fishing season in late March, anglers aboard the Tommy C boats should expect to see good creel numbers of Walleye from the 2007 hatch. Fish ranging in size from 19 to 22 inches will be most common with occasional larger fish from previous hatch years dating back to the late 1990s. Many of these larger fish will be from the enormous 2003 hatch and will range in size from 27 to 31 inches.
How will we catch them this year? In late March/early April we will begin fishing on the many reefs and hard bottom shallow water structured areas of the western basin casting hair jigs tipped with minnows. We will fish these areas until late April/early May. Then the Walleye action will move to the areas around the Bass Islands with the fish still responding to jig fishing tactics and now also to casting night crawler harnesses as the water slowly warms. By mid-May the ever warming water will permit trolling which has gained in popularity with Walleye charter groups as it can be a very productive method for harvesting good–often limit–numbers of fish. We will use this method (as well as casting for anglers who prefer that method) through mid-August.
Overall I expect to see another good year for Walleye anglers on Lake Erie. The prime times for harvesting Walleye in the western and central basins of Lake Erie including Canadian waters are late March just after the ice has melted through late April (jig fishing) and late May through July (casting and trolling). Trolling will likely remain the best method for limit catches on a day-to-day basis. Lake Erie Walleye daily limits will be set on May 1 each year. Prior to that time, regulations from the previous season will apply. As of this writing the daily limit per angler for Lake Erie Walleye is 4 fish from March 1 – April 30 and 6 fish from May 1 – last day in February. A minimum size limit of 15 inches also applies.
Yellow Perch: The forecast for Yellow Perch in all three basins of Lake Erie is very good again this year. The western and central basins of Lake Erie and Canadian waters will offer the best fishing opportunities for Yellow Perch anglers. At Char-Tom Charters we will begin fishing for Yellow Perch in April and continue offering charters for these tasty fish until the close of our season. The prime times for Yellow Perch are early May and late August through September. Some of the best Yellow Perch fishing of the season on Lake Erie takes place during the first two weeks of May. Although fish range in all sizes, 9 to 13 inch fish are very common and in abundance many days. The late August through September period is another excellent time for large fish and large numbers in the cooler. As owner of Char-Tom Charters, I must say Yellow Perch is my favorite on the dinner plate when I’m choosing a Lake Erie platter! Lake Erie Yellow Perch daily limits will be set on May 1 each year. Prior to that time, regulations from the previous season will apply. As of this writing the daily limit per angler for Lake Erie Yellow Perch is 30 fish. There is no minimum size limit.
Smallmouth Bass: The outlook for Smallmouth Bass at Lake Erie for 2014 is good. Although Smallmouth population numbers are still below desired levels, creel surveys indicate a lake-wide increase in the number of Smallmouth Bass. Assessment surveys also show the Smallmouth Bass population is increasing. Last season was a very productive year for our customers aboard the Tommy C boats. Several Smallmouth weighing nearly 5 pounds were boated, and some over 6 pounds were taken as well. I can’t recall a single day when those few anglers who kept fish failed to take a limit. We enjoyed several great days when more than 60 Smallmouth were brought aboard before being released. Overall my best observation was Smallmouth Bass are reproducing well as evidenced by the amount of 6 to 8 inch fish caught and released.
The worst enemy for Smallmouth Bass in Lake Erie is the Round Goby that was introduced several years ago into all of the Great Lakes through the discharge of ballast water from ships. Other enemies quite possibly are Bass anglers themselves even though many now practice catch and release. As fish that make nests at spawning time, Smallmouth Bass deposit their eggs and remain on the nests until fry are hatched. Round Gobies surround these nests picking at the eggs at every opportunity. When spring anglers catch nesting Smallmouth, the waiting Gobies rush in to eat the now unguarded eggs. Even if Bass are released quickly, by the time fish return to their nests the eggs have often been consumed.
Overall I do predict another really good year for Smallmouth Bass anglers. The prime time is late August through September, and the Canadian waters surrounding Pelee Island are absolutely the best areas western Lake Erie has to offer. As of this writing the daily limit per angler for Lake Erie Bass (Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Spotted singly or in combination) is 5 fish from the last Saturday in June – April 30. A minimum size limit of 14 inches also applies. Bass are illegal to possess from May 1 – last Friday in June.
Steelhead Trout: The Steelhead Trout fishery is very good and continues to get better each year. Steelhead prefer the deeper, cooler water east of Kelly’s Island stretching toward Lorain. June through August is a good time to begin the search. Canadian waters around Pelee Point and eastward can also be very productive from late July through August. Steelhead Trout range in size with fish exceeding 30 inches a common occurrence. Trolling is a must when targeting Steelhead on Lake Erie. Leaping high out of the water and tail walking on top of the water from hook-set to net, a Steelhead Trout is a fun fish to catch and a very worthy adversary for any angler. For those who prefer to employ different tactics such as casting or flipping flies, take a good look at the Rocky River area near Cleveland. Good lure colors are white, hot pink and chartreuse. For information on how the bite is going at the Rocky River and other tributaries, consult the Division of Wildlife’s web site at www.wildohio.com or check the Cleveland Metro Parks web site at www.clemetparks.com.
Our base of operations at Catawba Island (Marblehead, Ohio) made adding Steelhead charters a logical choice, so Char-Tom Charters began offering Steelhead trips to our customers two years ago. I encourage customers who are thinking about a Steelhead charter to consider choosing a Walleye/Steelhead combination package. Walleye are often caught when targeting Steelhead and considered a bonus fish. As of this writing the daily limit per angler for Lake Erie Trout and Salmon (singly or in combination) is 5 fish from May 16 – August 31 and 2 fish from September 1 – May 15. A minimum size limit of 12 inches also applies.
Pan Fish (Crappie/Bluegill): Char-Tom Charters does not offer pan fishing trips. But anglers with the mobility of smaller boats should not overlook the great Crappie fishery that Lake Erie has to offer. With a little effort looking for the right spots, Sandusky Bay can prove to be an excellent area for big spring Crappies. Other areas to consider are marinas. Most marinas do not permit fishing from their docks. However, by boat many marinas can be fished without difficulties. Additional areas to consider for some really good fishing opportunities in the spring and fall months include West Harbor and East Harbor as well as shorelines offering a lot of underwater structure.
Invasive Species: Zebra Mussel, Alewife, White Perch and Round Goby are perhaps the most well known of several invasive species that were all introduced into the Great Lakes through the discharge of ballast water from ships. As a whole the threats from these invasive species of marine life are not at intolerable levels at this time. However, local marine biologists are keeping all under close observation annually. And measures are currently underway to establish national regulations for the treatment of ballast water in ships operating on the Great Lakes. Zebra Mussels (whose numbers have declined over the last few years) contributed greatly to the cleaner water in Lake Erie but are now thought to be a factor in record-setting algae blooms. The biggest threat to Lake Erie from Alewife and White Perch is that they compete for the same food as young Walleye and Yellow Perch. The Round Goby is a serious threat to the reproduction of all fish because they consume innumerable unhatched eggs at spawning time. Conversely, Gobies have proven to be a good food source for Lake Erie’s Walleye, Yellow Perch and especially Smallmouth Bass. Another invasive species, the Asian Carp, has not yet been found in Lake Erie. Continuing large scale efforts are being made to control these fish in rivers where they are known to exist and to stop any migration into Lake Erie.
Algae: Algae is a growing problem on Lake Erie. Last summer the algae bloom may have been the worst in recorded history. The algae bloom has increased each year over the last few years. Researchers seem to have a grip on the sources causing the algae bloom and know why it has grown larger over the years. The question is how and where to begin resolving the problems contributing to record blooms.
Some known contributing reasons for larger blooms are the run-off of phosphorus found in fertilizers that makes its way from agricultural areas to tributaries that feed into Lake Erie and the run-off from sewer treatment plants. A report released by the National Wildlife Federation last October blamed invasive mussels as another cause of excessive algae blooms in Lake Erie.
Currently state and national leaders are being urged to move ahead politically to enforce regulations to eliminate combined sanitary and storm sewer systems, regulate the discharge of industrial treatment water, establish practices to minimize nutrient run-off from fertilizer, eliminate discharge of untreated wastewater and establish national regulations for ballast water treatment for all ships operating on the Great Lakes. These regulations and others pertaining to the Great Lakes and their fisheries are now before Ohio’s legislature and the governor.