Outdoors: Lake Erie — the welcome mat is out

The glory days of walleye and perch fishing have returned to Lake Erie. A string of strong hatches have put the “never better” tag on fishing on Ohio’s portion of the big lake.

“It’s a great time to fish at Lake Erie,” said Travis Hartman, Lake Erie program administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. “I think walleye fishing will be a lot of fun. It’s will be like it was in ’06 and ’07 and on top of that we’ve got some great western basin perch fishing.”

When you look back to that time, 11 or 12 or years ago, the thing that stands out is the walleye hatch of 2003, one of the greatest in Ohio history. That hatch was so great that when those fish matured, Lake Erie became a first-class fishery, perhaps earning that title of “Walleye capital of the world,” as proclaimed by Gov. James Rhodes in 1980.

There have been some large hatches in recent years, but perhaps the most exciting thing about the fishery is the 2003 hatch is still a major player. The fish still around from the 2003 hatch are now in the trophy 28-31-inch range and weigh up to 15-16 pounds. Don’t be terribly surprised if the state record walleye — now 16.19 pounds, taken by a man fishing for perch near Cleveland in November of 1999 – comes out of Lake Erie in the near future. And there are even older fish than the ’03s swimming around, some from the 1990s.

“It may not be this year, but I would think in the next couple of years we’ll see a new record,” Hartman said.

Most folks who fish Lake Erie are not looking for a state record. With the major motivation for anglers being the filling of freezers, most won’t be disappointed. The 2014 hatch was exceptional — nothing approaching 2003, but way above average nonetheless. Those fish became legal (15 inches) last year. Indications are the 2015 hatch was even larger. Those fish should be 15 inches by fall.

Hartman said the huge fish will likely migrate toward the deeper, colder water of the central basin when the weather warms up, but that will leave big numbers of the smaller, but legal, fish in the western basin.

Perch: According to Hartman, there have been four better-than-average yellow perch hatches (2013-14-15 and 16) in the western basin. That means — like the walleyes — perch fishing will be outstanding this year and years to come.

“The best perch fishing right now is around the islands,” he said.

The 2014 fish will likely be 8 inches and longer this year. Most perch fishermen will take that. In a few years there will likely be plenty of them around still, only they’ll be jumbos by then, 12 inches or larger.

Bass: At one time, when you talked about bass on Lake Erie, it was a smallmouth discussion. Smallies are still going strong, especially around the islands and reefs, but largemouth bass have been coming on all up and down the shoreline.

“It’s not just smallmouth, now it’s a bass fishery,” Hartman said. “On a day when the wind is blowing out of the south, you can put your boat in at Mazurik (boat ramp near Lakeside) and catch largemouth all day.”

He said smallmouth bass have rebounded in recent years, thanks to a closed season on keeping bass from May 1 through June that was put in place several years ago.

Algae: Conditions on Lake Erie can change, pending the severity of a year's toxic algae bloom. A wet spring could increase runoff, putting more phosphorus in the lake, feeding the algae and deteriorating conditions.

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