Here's what Ohio anglers can expect this summer as they chase walleyes, smallmouths and perch. (May 2010)
As Buckeye State anglers prepare for their annual assault on Lake Erie they can rest assured the big lake's game fish populations are in good to excellent shape.
Here's a rundown on the current status of Erie's premier species, based on information provided by Roger Knight, Ohio Division of Wildlife Lake Erie Fisheries Program administrator:
Lake Erie's status as one of North America's most prolific walleye fisheries shouldn't be in jeopardy, based on Knight's assessment of last year's action and projections for the coming year.
"Last year there were a lot of fish from the 2003 year class, which was the strongest walleye hatch we've seen in the last 20 years," said Knight. "We also had some recruitment from the 2007 hatch, which was just below average."
Knight said more 2007 walleyes showed up than expected, a result of faster-than-normal growth rates.
"Some walleyes from the 2007 year class were legal, 15-inch fish by mid-summer.
Typically it would be fall before they would reach that size," he said.
Knight said he expects 'eyes from the 2003 hatch to be the major contributor for 2010 catches, fish that will run from 20 to 27 inches in length. Three-year-olds (from the 2007 hatch) should be common and will measure from 15 to 17 long.
"There are also some fish from the 2001 and 2005 hatches that should show up in certain areas of the lake throughout the season," noted Knight. "Those fish will be anywhere from 19 to 25 inches in length. And, there are certainly some walleyes from hatches of the early '90s fish in the population. We see fish in excess of 20 years old every season."
The walleye bag limit will remain six fish, with a 15-inch minimum length, through the end of February. During March and April the bag limit drops to four.
Anglers accustomed to having the bag limit jump back up to six fish in May should be aware that a new regulation is in effect that may alter this.
"This new rule allows us to set the bag limit wherever it needs to be to follow quota allocations from the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission Lake Erie Committee," explained Knight, adding that the bag limit will be announced prior to May 1, with information available on the agency's Web site.
"Anglers may need to get used to a major shift in bag limit strategies for both walleyes and yellow perch, and get used to checking on the season's bag limits before they begin fishing in May each year," he noted.
In regard to walleye fishing down the line, Knight said there were moderate hatches in both 2008 and 2009, which he termed as "below average, or less than half of what was produced in 2007, but still enough to make a contribution.
Lake Erie's yellow perch fishery is an important resource to anglers.
"Last year's yellow perch fishing was quite similar to the walleye fishing," said Knight. "Most of the perch caught were from the 2007 and 2003 year classes."
These hatches will again play heavily in angler catches during 2010, along with perch produced in other recent springs.
"We should see better contributions for perch than for walleyes from the 2005 through 2008 year classes," he said. "There should be a good mixture of fish in the 7- to 14-inch range."
Presently, yellow perch limits in the western basin stand at 25 fish. The limit is 30 perch in the central basin. Knight said the same evaluation process should apply to perch as it does to walleyes, and that there could be changes as of May 1.
"It all depends on where the Lake Erie Committee quota falls," said Knight. "If it's above a certain threshold, there is a possibility we could get the bag limit of up to 30 perch throughout Ohio's waters."
Like walleyes, Erie's smallmouth bass fishery has a world-class reputation. Recruitment issues related to nest predation by round gobies aside, expectations are good for smallmouth bass, particularly for large-sized fish.
"Last year's smallmouth bass fishing was fair to good," said Knight. "Harvests of smallmouth bass are very low, especially since we closed the spring season (to harvest) in 2004. Most of the fish are being released during the open season, which starts the last Saturday in June."
Knight said fishing pressure directed toward smallmouth bass has decreased, in part due to the spring catch and release season, which runs from May through late June.
"The spring closure, which we started in 2004, happened because research indicated round gobies to be having an effect on smallmouth bass during the nesting period," said Knight. "We are now at the point where we should start seeing some recovery if the regulation was effective."
Knight said the regulation has reduced fishing pressure during the spawning season, keeping the males on the nest, where they can protect their young from goby predation.
"Now we need to see if the fish start reproducing better," he said. "There are some indications that there are some young fish out there. Smallmouth bass aren't as easy to sample as walleye and perch are, so we don't have as much information on them as we do other species."
Knight said he expects 2010's smallmouth bass fishery to be comprised of year classes back as far as 1993.
"It's a fairly robust population," he said. "Most of the fish people catch will run from 15 to 22 inches, from 2 to 6 pounds. So, there are some really nice smallmouth bass to be caught, perhaps not as consistently as some people would like to see, but we feel we are headed in the right direction."
Additional information on Lake Erie fishing may be obtained by visiting the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us.
Travel information is available at www.discoverohio.com.