February 20, 2001
LAKE ERIE EXPECTED TO OFFER MIXED BAG OF FISH DURING 2001
SANDUSKY, OH -- Lake Erie's mixed bag of fish entertained anglers throughout 2000 whenever weather and lake conditions cooperated. Fisheries biologists expect the trend to continue this year, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. As was the case last year, fishing for yellow perch, walleye, smallmouth bass and steelhead trout is expected to be good to excellent, depending on the time of year, weather, and a number of other factors that affect Lake Erie fishing.
"Anglers can expect good fishing this year when weather and lake conditions are favorable," said Roger Knight, supervisor for the ODNR Division of Wildlife's Sandusky Research Unit. "Across the western basin, yellow perch was definitely the 'catch of the day' last year with many limit catches taken from spring through the fall. Smallmouth bass fishing remained good at many of the traditional haunts especially in the spring. Walleye fishing had both high and low periods throughout the summer, then turned on with a vengeance north of the Huron area in September."
Yellow perch and steelhead trout fishing were the highlights on the lake's central basin, according to Kevin Kayle, supervisor for the Fairport Harbor Research Unit. "Walleye anglers did pretty well trolling offshore during mid-summer, but certainly the highlight was the fantastic yellow perch fishing action close to shore throughout the summer and fall. Central basin anglers also locked in on some great steelhead action in July. Then the steelhead provided stream anglers even more fantastic fishing once the fish moved into tributaries in early fall."
Perch fishing was a popular pastime for many anglers all across the lake from spring through fall during 2000. Anglers began perch fishing off the Marblehead/Catawba area and downtown Cleveland breakwalls as early as April. Limit catches were not only plentiful, but many of these excellent table-fare fish were in the 8 to 10-inch range. Schools of perch stayed fairly close to shore in many areas.
"The top perch spots included areas in both basins too numerous to mention," said Kayle. "If anglers weren't doing well, all they had to do was move to another location. Perch fishing remained excellent through October as long as weather conditions allowed anglers to get out on the lake."
The excellent perch fishing anglers have experienced the past four years should continue through 2001 and beyond. Conservative regulations for sport and commercial fishers and improved spawns in the mid- to-late-1990s have helped Lake Erie's yellow perch stocks to gradually recover after low levels in the early 1990s.
For this year, anglers can expect to see many fine catches of perch from a large 1996 year class, the largest hatch in 10 years. These fish will measure 8.5 to 10 inches. Added to the catch will be perch from the 1998 year class now in the 8 to 9-inch range, and 1999-spawned perch now measuring 7.5 to 8 inches.
Catch rates (number of fish caught per hour of fishing) should peak in September and October, the traditional peak perch fishing months. Catch rates for these two months in 2000 equaled more than three fish per hour of fishing.
Ohio's daily bag limit for yellow perch remains at 30 fish per angler.
As was the case in 1999, the 2000 walleye fishing season was unpredictable. There were some good periods throughout the summer, but the best action took place from late September through October in the area off Huron that divides the western and central basins.
"Walleye fishing was spotty last year until the fall," said Knight. "The most consistent action occurred in the extreme west end of the lake. Cool water temperatures from numerous cold fronts, coupled with relatively low numbers of fish from the 1998 hatch, did not create ideal fishing conditions. However, a late fall walleye feeding frenzy provided the best walleye action of the year with many Fish Ohio-size catches reported. It was a great way to end the fishing season."
Anglers caught close to 1,000,000 walleyes in 2000, similar to the 1999 harvest. About 625,000 of the fish were taken in July and August, and another 67,000 harvested during September and October. The catch rate for private boat anglers was one fish caught for every three hours of fishing while the catch rate for anglers fishing with charter boat services was almost one fish every two hours. Catch rates peaked in July in both western and central basins.
Walleye angling is expected to be fair to good during 2001. But, for success, anglers will need to adjust fishing methods to match the current conditions. Anglers should take into account such factors as season, cloud cover, water clarity, boat traffic, wave action, and amount of bait fish present. They should also try various techniques, including drifting, trolling, and jigging at various depths in the water column.
Two-year old walleyes from a good hatch in 1999 should show up in good numbers this year and help boost fishing. Lake Erie ice anglers this winter reported many catches of these fish now in the 12- to 15-inch range. Other year classes that should make a showing include walleyes from a large 1996 hatch now in the 19- to 22-inch range, and fish from the 1997 hatch measuring 16 to 18 inches. Anglers should also continue to land some trophy-size fish from earlier year classes.
"This past year, Ontario and the U.S. states that share jurisdiction of Lake Erie waters agreed to institute strong measures to help boost the walleye population," Knight said.
One measure includes reduced bag limits during the spawning period of March and April. Effective March 1, Ohio's daily bag limit is four walleyes during March and April and six walleyes the remainder of the year.
Improved habitat and fair to good spawns over the past decade have provided excellent smallmouth bass fishing opportunities across Lake Erie. Anglers target smallmouth from spring through fall with the best action occurring in May, June and September.
Anglers caught nice size smallmouth bass at a rate of two fish every three hours --which does not reflect the actual harvest because most of these fish were released back into the lake. Angler pressure for smallmouth bass declined in 2000 primarily due to poor weather and rough lake conditions during the two principal bass fishing peaks: May and September.
Just over 53,000 smallmouth were harvested from Lake Erie, down from 92,000 the previous year. This only represents a portion of the smallmouth bass actually caught by anglers because of the implementation of the new 14-inch minimum size limit and the desire of many bass anglers to practice catch and release.
Fishing for Lake Erie's third most popular sport species should remain good to excellent during 2001. Bass anglers can expect to land smallies from spawns of 1995, 1996, and 1997 now ranging in size from 14 to 17 inches. If recent trends continue, anglers will see catch rates similar to that of 2000. Hot spots should include the Bass and Kelleys islands areas, western basin reef complex, Sandusky Bay, Ruggles Reef, and harbor breakwalls from Cleveland to Conneaut.
"Ongoing research coupled with recent regulation changes should help ensure that the lake's smallmouth fishery continues to be among the best anywhere in the country," Knight said.
The daily bag limit for smallmouth bass is five fish with a minimum length of 14 inches.
Central basin anglers can expect the same excellent steelhead fishing in 2001 that they experienced last year. Anglers continued to take good numbers of steelhead trout in the 22- to 30-inch range from the open waters of the central basin and adjoining streams. The number of steelhead catches by both steelhead and walleye anglers on the open lake increased substantially in the area from Lorain to Conneaut during July and August.
"When steelhead are biting with a vengeance on Lake Erie in July and August, it is an indication that there are high numbers of fish waiting to run the rivers and streams when the water begins to cool in October," Kayle said.
The fall stream fishing was excellent until December's deep freeze shut fishing down.
"Anglers should be aware steelhead fishing on the tributaries remains good throughout the winter months until about mid-April as long as they can find an open pool in the ice," said Kayle.
This successful stream fishery was created when ODNR's Division of Wildlife began annually stocking steelhead trout in four central basin tributaries. These fish travel into Lake Erie to spend the summer months and migrate into central basin rivers each fall to spawn.
For Further Information Contact:
Melissa Hathaway or Doug Johnson, ODNR Division of Wildlife
Kevin Kayle or Tim Bader
ODNR Division of Wildlife, Fairport Harbor
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