OAK HARBOR -- Mike McCroskey is not afraid to admit he's an "old trout fisherman" who occasionally calls on that background when times get tough.
At first, that trout knowledge might not seem like much of an asset when you make your living as a Lake Erie charter boat captain chasing walleyes all over the Western Basin. But the veteran skipper makes a quick connection.
"Sometimes, you just have to match the hatch, the same way you do when you're trout fishing," McCroskey said Friday after stringing together a series of successful outings on the lake.
The match at this point on the calendar comes when you present a bait that looks a lot like the mayflies the walleyes have been gorging on for the last few weeks. As the mayfly hatch wanes, McCroskey said, you want to put something in front of the fish that resembles that popular main course.
His groups caught upward of 40 fish a day for most of the last week, dropping a gold-colored rig tipped with half a nightcrawler. That was a significant improvement over the sparse catches of just a week or so ago.
"The fishing was pretty tough in June, but it's been nice to see things turn back in a positive direction here recently," said the Toledo skipper, who has logged about 45 trips out on the lake in 2012. "We went from a difficult June bite into a bonanza now in early July."
McCroskey has been fishing in about 26 feet of water, working the bottom and letting the lure imitate the struggle of the similarly colored mayfly as it moves from the nymph stage and life in the muck on the floor of the lake, and pushes toward the surface where it hopes to take flight and find a mate.
"We're working water that's beautiful, crystal clear, and hoping for a little wind to push us along as we drift and cast," he said.
The trips have been timed to avoid the heart of the day when the heat is most intense. McCroskey's "Hawg Hanger" boat has been leaving the dock at Wild Wings Marina around 5:30 each morning and usually returning before noon.
"The water temperature is around 74 or 75 degrees now, so with a breeze it can be really comfortable out there, even when it's close to 100 degrees inland. With a little wind, that natural air conditioning can go to work out on the lake."
McCroskey, who has been fishing Lake Erie since 1977 and a licensed charter operator for the last 15 years, said a patient and deliberate approach has worked the best over the last week or so. He has his clients using touchy graphite rods rigged with high-tech Fireline, which won't stretch.
"Everything about the bite we're experiencing now is sensitive, so that has to be the key with the equipment you use," he said. "A slow, steady retrieve works best, but it's a sensitive bite and you've got to be able to feel it."
McCroskey said he is seeing a lot of fish in the 15-to-25-inch range, and that he thinks some of the fish from the strong 2010 hatch are now part of the "keeper" class.
Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait in Curtice said he too sees the fishing pick up for both the casting and trolling anglers as the mayfly hatch tapers off. Ferguson said the fishermen are finding success in a wide area on Lake Erie, using gold or copper colored lures with spinner blades, and fished close to the bottom.
"The size of the fish we're seeing come in is down a little, but that's normal for this time of year," Ferguson said. "They've been doing pretty well here lately, and maintaining a nice two-to-three pound average on the fish."
Ferguson said yellow perch fishing on Lake Erie has also been picking up, and in just the last few days charter operator Keith Poland has moved to his rig "Snow Pirate" on Lake Ontario to take advantage of some spectacular king salmon and steelhead fishing.
"I guess the kings are averaging 20 to 30 pounds, and the fishing has just been fantastic over there," Ferguson said. "The steelhead are running 8 to 15 pounds and putting on a show."
Maumee Tackle reports that some hardy fishermen are braving the elements to pursue blue gills and largemouth bass in area ponds, and work the waters below the Providence Dam near Grand Rapids for catfish, smallmouth bass, and white bass.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.