Welcome to the new good old days of walleye fishing on Lake Erie.
Most of the 2015 walleye hatch – one of the largest ever in Lake Erie – is now big enough to keep, under Ohio law. And the excitement is justified.
“It’s going to be one of the best walleye seasons we’ve had in a long time,” said Travis Hartman, Lake Erie program administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. “I think this is absolutely going to compare, or be better than the 80s, or 2006-07.”
The Great Lakes Fish Commission met Thursday to discuss the fisheries and set bag limits for each state.
Lake Erie charter captains met earlier this month — and they’re excited, said Mike Sawyer of Erie Express Fishing Charters in Catawba.
“There’s a ton of anticipation for this year,” Sawyer said. “People are wondering what they’re going to do in the afternoons.”
That’s because normally, charters leave about 6 a.m. and return around 2 p.m. Sawyer provides all the rods and reels, so all you need to bring is “sunscreen and lunch.” But with so many fish, anglers could catch their legal limit of six fish well before then.
Sawyer, whose charter business has been in the family for about three decades, is considering running two trips a day at the beginning of June, which he says is prime time.
Last year, anglers caught an average of 2 walleye per hour in July, one of the highest catch rates Hartman can remember. Many of the fish had to be thrown back because they were less than required 15 inches long. But they’re all over the lake — not just in the western basin.
“What’s really unique about the ‘15 year class is it’s so widespread,” Hartman said. “We’re seeing these three year old walleye now literally from Toledo to Buffalo. It should be really good everywhere.”
Many charter captains are putting their boats in the water this week. In April they’ll take charters jig fishing in the cold waters.
“The fish are spawning, so they’re all on the rocks. It’s just what they’re looking for that time of year,” Sawyer said.
Generally, the colder the winter and the later the spring, the better the hatch, Hartman said. That’s because fish put off spawning until the water is warmer and the spawning period is more concentrated.
Lake Erie had a similar walleye hatch in 2003, and the seasons of 2006 and 2007 were huge, in terms of the number of hours anglers fished and their total harvest. While normally 1 million walleye are harvested in Ohio, those years boasted 2 million.
Some of that 2003 class is still around, though, and are now 10-14 pounds and 30 inches long – perfect trophy fish.
Even if you don’t catch a trophy, Sawyer’s partner, Lisa Conley says you’ll catch your fill. She hopes parents take advantage of the bounty to introduce their kids to the sport.
“Someone who’s never fished this year is not going to have a problem fishing,” Conley said.
As for other types of Lake Erie fish, here’s what 2019 is looking like:
Perch: The Perch fishery is great around the Erie Islands, but not so good in the central basin north of Cleveland, and points farther east.
“The western basin we’ve had two straight years of some of the best perch fishing we’ve seen in a long time,” Hartman. “The reality is perch fishing is better than normal in the western basin and not as good as we would expect in the central.”
Steelhead: Steelhead fishing is pretty standard this year, since the state stocks the rivers that feed into Lake Erie, Hartman said.
“We have great steelhead fishing,” he said. “Even though fewer anglers take advantage of it, it’s nationally recognized.”
You can catch steelhead right from the shore in Cleveland, or in the rivers. said Mike Durkalec, an aquatic biologist for the Cleveland Metroparks.
Everything else: “Many species can be caught close to the Cleveland shoreline in spring into summer,” Durkalec said. “Late spring into early summer offers a host of species that can be caught in rocky shoreline habitats, including rock bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, sheepshead, among many other species. A watercraft (even a kayak) offers far greater access to these areas.”