Lake Erie fishing: It doesn’t get much better

Despite all the problems with toxic algae blooms, Lake Erie’s fishery couldn’t be in much better shape than it is this spring.

Heading into the popular days of fishing on the reef complex of the western basin and the Maumee and Sandusky Rivers, the chances of catching walleyes are very good. And since the toxic blooms don’t usually show up until July or August, Lake Erie fishing is quite pleasant during spring and early summer.

“There are a good number of older fish out on the reef complex. And we’ll see them in the rivers any time now,” said Jeff Tyson, head of the Lake Erie research unit for the Division of Wildlife, based in Sandusky.

While many anglers will be going after the trophy walleyes, Tyson said the majority of the fish caught will be from some really good hatches the past two years. Fish from the 2014 hatch are now over the 15-inch minimum length. Those from last year are in the 10-14-inch range, but some will be legal toward the fall. So while the 2015s will be pests that take your bait and then you have to throw back, it looks like you’ll be getting plenty of action this year.

It’s hard to imagine, but there is still a strong possibility you will catch a 13-year-old fish (25-30 inches and 8-12 pounds) because the super hatch of 2003 is still a significant part of the walleye population in Lake Erie. Tyson said their surveys show 21 percent of the walleyes caught in 2015 were from the 2003 hatch.

Spring walleye fishing is, of course, best around the reefs and in the rivers because that’s where they go to spawn. Popular places to catch spring walleyes are in about 10 feet of water over rocky areas. That’s where you will find boaters dragging hair jigs, perhaps tipped with a shiner and having good results.

The current bag limit is four walleyes until May 1. The state wildlife agency will soon announce new bag limits for May 1 and after. For the past several years that has been six through the last day of February. The limit will likely remain six and four during the spawning months of March and April.

While Lake Erie is called the “walleye capital of the world,” it’s also the best place to catch yellow perch. The bag limit is 30 and is likely to stay that way.

“We’ve had three good years (of hatches) in a row and that’s something we really needed,” Tyson said. As in past years, perch fishing will be good all along the coast, from as far west as the Toledo shipping channel to the eastern edge of Ohio waters at the Pennsylvania line. On the average, the larger fish will be found in the deeper central basin, east of the Huron Point Lighthouse.

Tyson pointed out that unlike walleyes that spawn on the reefs and in the rivers, perch will drop eggs all over the lake on small rock piles and other structure.

While smallmouth bass seem to have benefited from the closed season (catch-and-release only during May and June), the catch rate is now .7 fish per hour according to creel surveys last year. Interestingly, the largemouth bass fishery that has expanded from a few marinas to the entire coast has a catch rate of 1.5 fish per hour. So while you can still catch smallmouth bass off the reef complex and around the islands, you are more than twice as likely to catch a largemouth by staying close to the mainland shore.

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