Lake Erie Fishery Newsletter
The Lake Erie fishery biologist reports, There’s some good news when it comes to the fishing industry on Lake Erie.
This year’s walleye hatch is one of the largest in recent history, according to fisheries biologists with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. In fact, the 2016 hatch index is the highest since 2003. The hatch should start to show up as catchable fish in the next three years.
“With these hatch index results, we are expecting the walleye fishing in Lake Erie in the next three to five years to be exceptional,” said ODNR Director James Zehringer. “This is outstanding news for Ohio anglers and out-of-state anglers who enjoy fishing on Lake Erie, the Walleye Capital of the World”.
The 2016 yellow perch hatch also appears to have been successful in both Ohio and Ontario waters in the western basin. It’s the fifth-best yellow perch hatch in the area since the inter-agency survey began in 1987. “Three good yellow perch hatches in a row should help the perch population in the western basin rebuild and lead to quality yellow perch fishing over the next couple of years,” said Jeff Tyson, head of Lake Erie Fisheries Program for the ODNR Division-of-Wildlife.
Each year in August, wildlife agencies from around the western basin of Lake Erie sample the waters using bottom trawls in search of young of the year walleye and yellow perch. Data from the bottom trawls are combined into a basin-wide index and compared to previous years to estimate the success of the walleye and yellow perch hatches. The process provides biologists with an estimate on how many young fish will enter the fishable population two years later.
Report from our Wheelhouse, Walleyes, this past season was very good for once again starting ice out on, many big fish we captured, the largest fish caught were slightly over 32” Anglers also caught a real good number of fish in the 30 + inch category. In latter July the normal size of fish that our boats harvested was 16 to 22 inches, and that’s pretty normal for the fishery in the western Lake Erie.
Casting charter improved this past season as well, our walleye casting groups saw good numbers to limits on many charters indicating that walleye school sizes have grown. Another positive for the Lake Erie fishery. The early August period fishery wasn’t as good for walleyes this year as last fish seemed to migrate east a bit sooner this year, I attribute this to weather, water temperatures, water clarity, and food supply.
Alga Bloom, The alga bloom didn’t last as long as once predicted this year, it was very prevalent around the islands to and beyond the Michigan / Canadian boundaries west and in the Canadian waters both east and west of Pelee Island in Mid-July through August the period, but with this seasons winds and changing temperatures it lasted only a few weeks and slowly disappeared.
Perch, was real for our boats in early August then seemed to be a bit spotty during the mid-month period but it all came back together latter August throughout September through mid-October. No real big fish were caught, of course a few 13” + were caught and that’s very normal but the average size of fish harvested was 8 to 10 inches. And as usual many smaller throw back 5 / 6 inch fish were caught along the way. This was a noticeable improvement over the 2014 poor season; I’d predict 2016 going back to the normal perch fishery we’ve all enjoyed in years past.
Smallmouth bass Canadian charters were super from the start; anglers that fished latter August through early October creeled limit plus of quality fish on every charter. However by the mid-October period I can recall 3 days that were so-so and I attribute those days to bait, bad weather, or both.
The smallmouth bass fishery in US waters was very productive many days as well, starting in early July on. We’ve developed some areas that have been highly successful over the last 3 years in US waters and they’ve been improving each year it seems.
Fisheries Projection for 2016 thru 2018, For walleyes in 2016 I expect to see pretty much a repeat of the 2015 fishery or creel harvest with one exception, there will be many fish caught in the 12 to 14 inch category, I say this based on two findings, 1 is the huge number of 7 /8 inch walleyes we’d caught perch fishing this past fall and the recent report from area biologist that indicate creel surveys reveal near record hatch numbers of walleyes and yellow perch in 2015, these fish will be 15 to 17 inches in 2017, so expect banner years to come, 2017 through 2018 and quite possibility through 2019 as well.
Yellow perch, I’d expect the perch fishery in 2016 to pretty normal in comparison to our higher yield years past, the fish are out there I predict another good year ahead once again and much better yet in 2017 & 2018.
Smallmouth bass, I have no concerns with this fishery in US. or Canadian waters, most of the charters we’ve ran over the last 3 years has yielded reasonable numbers of small fish throughout the day, that alone tells us that the reproduction of the bass is normal to the area and numbers of fish are average to slightly above. So in 2016 anglers should expect to experience the same great fishing they’ve became accustom to the last 3 years.
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.