2004 LAKE ERIE FISHING OUTLOOK
Near-record walleye hatch recorded in 2003
COLUMBUS, OH -- Year after year, Lake Erie anglers have experienced
some of the finest and most diverse fishing on the Great Lakes
and this year will be no different, say fisheries experts with
the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
"Great opportunities abound for veteran anglers and those
new to the Lake Erie fishing scene," said Roger Knight, Lake
Erie fisheries program manager at ODNR. "The lake's famous
walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, steelhead trout and white
bass are again plentiful this year." Knight noted that good
fishing and a large charter boat fleet in the western and central
basins, as well as numerous public boat ramps, private marinas,
and shoreline access continue to make Ohio's Lake Erie waters
a popular fishing destination.
The 2004 Lake Erie walleye fishery will be dominated
by the 1999 and 2001 hatches. Fish from the 1999-year class will
range from 18 to 22 inches and fish from 2001 will range from
15 to 18 inches. Walleye from the 1996 and 1998-year classes will
provide 22 to 28-inch fish, with "Fish Ohio" walleye
(over 28 inches) being from older year classes. Sampling during
the 2003 season found fish up to 21 years old remaining from the
large 1982 hatch.
Anglers are reminded that new walleye regulations
(download in .pdf format) are in place for the 2004 fishing season.
The bag limit during March and April has been reduced to three
fish, while the bag limit from May through February remains at
six. A new 15-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the
entire season. Another new regulation also prohibits the use of
treble-hooked lures in Sandusky and Maumee bays during March and
April. State fisheries biologists believe the 2003 walleye hatch
to be one of the largest in recent history. August and September
trawls sampled numbers comparable to the 1982 and 1986 hatches,
two of the largest on record. By last September, anglers fishing
with shiners were already catching walleye hatched in spring 2003.
Individuals from the 2003-year class should reach 12 to 13 inches
by fall of 2004. With the new 15-inch minimum size limit in effect,
any fish caught from the 2003-year class should be gently handled
and released as soon as possible. The fish from the 2003-year
class will reach 15 inches during the 2005 fishing season.
The excellent perch fishing that anglers have experienced
since the mid-1990s should continue through 2004. Fish from the
excellent hatch in 2001 will enter into the fishery as 8 to 9-inch
fish just in time for the peak season in August through October.
Anglers also had some success fishing for yellow perch during
non-traditional months of June and July this past year, especially
in the central basin. However, fall is when the catch rates are
the highest. Limit catches of large yellow perch should again
be attainable during 2004. Ten to 12-inch fish from the 1998 and
1999 hatches and a few Fish Ohio-size fish (over 13 inches) from
the 1996 hatch will be available.
Conservative regulations for sport and commercial
fishermen, coupled with improved spawning success, have helped
Lake Erie's yellow perch stocks to gradually recover after low
levels in the early 1990s. Ohio's daily bag limit for yellow perch
remains at 30 fish per angler for the 2004 season.
Excellent smallmouth bass fishing exists in many
Ohio areas of Lake Erie. Traditional "hot spots" such
as the Lake Erie islands, the western basin reef complex, Sandusky
Bay, Ruggles Reef, and harbor breakwalls from Lorain to Conneaut,
all produce good numbers of smallmouth bass and also the potential
to catch a trophy over 5 pounds. In the spring of 2003, a smallmouth
bass weighing slightly less than the state record of 9.5 pounds
(caught in the Bass Islands area in 1993) was caught near Conneaut.
Smallmouth bass anglers can expect to land "smallies"
from 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999-year classes, now ranging in size
from 14 to 19 inches and weighing 1.5 to 4 pounds. New smallmouth
bass regulations will take effect for the 2004 season. A closed
season will be in effect from May 1 through June 26 to enhance
reproduction. Fishing during the closed season will not be unlawful,
but all black bass (smallmouth and largemouth) must be immediately
released. The daily bag limit after June 26 will remain at five
fish with a 14-inch minimum.
Anglers should look for peak steelhead action on
the waters off Vermilion to Conneaut during June through August,
with catches measuring 17 to 29 inches. The typical method for
capturing steelhead in the open waters is depth-controlled trolling
with downriggers or dipsy divers with spoons. Many charter guides
now offer steelhead charters as an alternative to traditional
walleye charters. Once Lake Erie's steelheads move into central
basin streams in the fall, these feisty fish provide additional
angling opportunities for wading anglers throughout the fall,
winter, and spring months. The ODNR Division of Wildlife maintains
this popular fishery by releasing approximately 400,000 steelhead
trout each spring in the Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin, and Grand
rivers, as well as Conneaut Creek.
Fishing conditions on Lake Erie can change hourly.
Adjusting fishing methods according to current conditions is the
key to success. Anglers should take into account such factors
as season, cloud cover, water clarity, boat traffic, wave action,
and amount of prey fish present. Electronic equipment to mark
fish is helpful. Once a school of fish is located, anglers should
try various techniques including drifting, trolling, and jigging
at various depths in the water column. The ODNR Division of Wildlife
maintains a series of web pages describing its Lake Erie research
and management programs, fisheries resources, and open lake and
steelhead fishing reports, maps and links to other Lake Erie web
resources. This information is available on the Internet at: ohiodnr.com/wildlife/fishing/fairport/index.htm
During the season, ODNR provides an updated, recorded
Lake Erie fishing report at 1-888 HOOKFISH. ODNR Division of Wildlife
staff members are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at
Fairport Harbor (440-352-4199) for central basin information and
at Sandusky (419-625-8062) for western basin information. For
additional information on lodging, charter boat services, and
local launch ramps, contact one of the following lakeshore visitor's
Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau
800-337-6746 Lake County Visitors Bureau 800-368-5253
Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland 800-321-1001
Lorain County Visitors Bureau 800-334-1673
Sandusky/Erie County Visitors Bureau 800-255-8070
Ottawa County Visitors Bureau 800-441-1271
Greater Toledo Convention & Visitors Bureau 800-243-4667
Ohio Division of Travel & Tourism 800-BUCKEYE
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