Dan Engel of Cincinnati uses a stepladder to fish at a wall along the Sandusky River in downtown Fremont.
The very meticulous and thorough biologists with the Ohio Division of Wildlife took 119 pages crammed with charts, graphs, tables, and maps to painstakingly detail what the difficult 2011fishing season provided.
Rick Ferguson summed up what the first five months of 2012 has been in four words.
"The fishing's been great."
Ferguson, whose post running the operation at Al Szuch Live Bait in Curtice puts him in the high traffic lane for activity on and around Lake Erie, said the spring season that is winding down has been a banner one.
"It's been a very good spring -- the best one we've had in quite a few years," said Ferguson. "We've had less wind and less rain than in any recent spring, and once mother nature cooperates, the fish usually cooperate."
That glowing assessment of the spring of 2012 comes on the heels of the Lake Erie Fisheries report from the ODNR units in Sandusky and Fairport Harbor that document how 2011 was a much tougher year, and why. While weather has been the fisherman's supportive companion in recent months, its posture last year was markedly different.
"The conditions have been good, making this one of the better spring fisheries we're had in recent years," said Jeff Tyson, fisheries biologist supervisor at the Sandusky station. "And that's largely driven by weather. We had a phenomenal stretch of weather in March and into April, which was in real contrast to what we've experienced in a number of other spring periods."
Richard Creque of Napoleon, Ohio, shows off walleye he took from Lake Erie, together topping 13 pounds.
The bonus served up this year has been courtesy of the bumper walleye class of 2003. Most of the fish from that robust hatch are now appropriately wearing the "trophy" tag.
"That's been the expectation for the 2003 class, and those fish are coming in now at about 25 to 30 inches," Tyson said.
"Those 2003 fish are really showing up in numbers," Ferguson said. "There have been numerous walleyes caught this spring that are in the 29-to-31-inch category. The great spring weather allowed a lot of fishermen to get out on the lake early and often, and they have consistently been bringing in nice fish."
Minnesota native Kevin McQuoid won the recent pro walleye tournament on Lake Erie by hauling in a three-day total of 118 pounds and four ounces for his 15-fish limit. That is an average of just under eight pounds per fish, which McQuoid said puts Lake Erie in the king's throne as a walleye fishery.
"A lot of other places, a four-pound walleye would be a pretty nice fish," he said. "But out here on Lake Erie, they are peanuts."
Richard Creque of Napoleon, who admits to a 30-year love affair with walleye fishing on Lake Erie, recently hooked up with the best daily-double of his many days on the lake. With his wife Becca, assisting with the landing net, Creque brought two wall-hangers back that combined went better than 13 total pounds.
"I've been chasing walleyes out there for along time, and that was a day I'll remember," Creque said.
"It's exciting to see some really big fish like that come out of the lake. I hope it means we're in for a great summer of fishing."
Tyson said if the temperature stays mild, the bigger walleye should remain close to the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan fishermen, instead of quickly pushing east into deeper, cooler water.
"The longer we hang on the cooler side of things, then the longer those bigger fish will hang in the western end of the lake," he said. "If we have a cool summer, those fish will hang around for awhile."
Ferguson expects the trophy-sized fish, plus another strong hatch from 2010 that is growing into keeper size, to lead the summer parade in Erie's Western Basin.
"There's a nice, diverse size of fish out there, so we should have quite a summer ahead of us," Ferguson said.
On the Maumee River, the walleye run started off with a bang, then rode the customary yo-yo pattern as weather and water level dictated the movements of spawning fish.
Dennis Bryant, owner of ZAP Custom Lure Co. in Toledo sets up shop from his van parked along West River Road near Side Cut Metropark, where he can sell his wares and keep a finger on the pulse of the spring run, the largest of its kind on any tributary of the Great Lakes.
"It's been another interesting spring on the river, with a lot of fish caught in very little time some days, and then a lot tougher fishing other days," Bryant said. "Fishermen got in the river earlier, due to the very warm weather we had in March, but things down there can change every day, and change several times during the day. Patience and sticking with it were the keys, as usual."
The walleye run on the Sandusky River served up the same roller coaster ride. Now both rivers are producing strong catches of white bass, which move up the rivers as the walleyes retreat to the lake.
The lakes in Michigan's Irish Hills experienced an earlier than usual move to the spawning beds by crappies, corresponding with the warm stretch earlier this spring. Some crappies are being caught on Devils Lake in four to six feet of water, according to native Toledoan John Zuelke, who is now a full-time resident on the 1,300 acre lake, the largest in Lenawee County.
"There's a lot of activity right now," Zuelke said. "The sunfish are on the beds, and the bluegills are starting to move in to spawn now. The bass are on the beds all around the docks."
Zuelke said the walleye stocked in Devils Lake last year should be around eight inches in length by now and could show up as anglers concentrate their efforts on the lake's strong population of panfish.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.
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