The Lake Erie walleye population is still good, and there are good-sized fish out there to catch this year, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reports.
Fishing forecast: 2015 Strong walleye numbers could mean good season
PORT CLINTON — Although there are fewer walleye in Lake Erie than in the fishing heyday of the 1980s, Lake Erie is still one of the best walleye fisheries in the world, a wildlife official said.
There are healthy numbers of the fish out there, and that means 2015 could be another good year for fishing on Lake Erie, said Chris Vandergoot, fisheries biologist supervisor at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Sandusky Fish Research Station.
“Just because the population has declined doesn’t mean the catch rates aren’t good,” Vandergoot said earlier this month at Ohio Sea Grant’s annual charter captains conference in Huron. “They continue to consistently be above catch rates for North America.”
The catch rate for Lake Erie walleye is 0.53 fish per hour for private anglers and 0.59 fish per hour for anglers on charter boats, he said.
That’s more than twice the catch rate for what would be considered a good North American walleye fishery.
“It’s a great fishery,” Vandergoot said.
“Catch rates here continue to be and have historically been very good.”
The best walleye hatch on record was in 2003, and fish from that year class will continue to be caught this year. They range in size, he said.
The catch will be dominated, however, by walleye ages 3-7, he said.
“We’ve had a series of mediocre hatches,” he said. “That may sound bad to you, but it’s actually good for our fishery.”
Those hatches provide a steady number of fish that are big enough to be harvested and eaten, he said.
“We have had consistent (hatches), so it’s kind of been a constant trickle of young-of-year walleye coming into the population,” Vandergoot said. “So that’s actually a good thing.”
The catch rate for yellow perch on Lake Erie is about three per hour, Vandergoot said.
The fishable population will remain strong and be dominated by perch ages 4-7, he said. Those fish are about 6 to 12 inches long.
In the past, the Western Basin had the strongest yellow perch fishery. But in recent years, the Central Basin’s perch have come to dominate the population, he said.
The rise of near-shore largemouth bass fishing on Lake Erie continues, Vandergoot said. The fish’s population in the lake is increasing, and it has good numbers on the Sandusky Bay and in East Harbor.
Higher water temperatures could help explain the largemouth’s increasing numbers because it is a warmer-water fish.
In recent years, ODNR has seen more anglers targeting largemouth bass instead of smallmouth on Lake Erie.
“Historically smallmouth bass were king on Lake Erie,” he said. “There are quite a few largemouth bass out there, and when guys fish for them, they’re pretty successful.
“These are some pretty nice fish.”
In recent years, ODNR had seen anglers spend less time trying to catch smallmouth bass, Vandergoot said. But in 2013, the number of hours they spent targeting these fish actually increased.
The Lake Erie smallmouth population appears to be rebuilding, he said. ODNR does not have a good means of determining a smallmouth year class’ strength, making it difficult to determine a smallmouth hatch year class’ strength.
The fishable smallmouth population is moderate and improving, he said. Fish ages 6-9 will dominate the catch this year