Sandusky River walleye make surprise run at spotlight

Coe Whitt of Fremont displays a 13-pound walleye he caught last month in the Sandusky River near Walsh Park. Anecdotal reports have the Sandusky River experiencing a strong run this season.
Coe Whitt of Fremont displays a 13-pound walleye he caught last month in the Sandusky River near Walsh Park. Anecdotal reports have the Sandusky River experiencing a strong run this season.

FREMONT — The bulk of the attention during the walleye spring spawning run usually has been directed at the Maumee River, which has the largest watershed of any river in the Great Lakes and annually hosts one of the most significant migrations of freshwater fish in the eastern United States.

But in 2013, the Sandusky River is playing a rather loud second fiddle. There’s a stringer full of anecdotal reports of the Sandusky holding more fish and bigger fish than it has in the recent past, at least throughout the first few weeks of the walleye run.

“For some reason, they seem to be in there thick,” said Bernie Whitt of Angler’s Supply, which is just a block or so away from the downtown stretch of the Sandusky that is a magnet for fishermen each spring.

“I’m not sure if it’s the low water we had at the start of the run, or the lower bag limit having some kind of impact on the number of fish, but we’re definitely seeing more fish come out of the river this spring. I’m not sure if the experts can explain what is going on.”

Biologists from the Ohio Division of Wildlife were in the river recently and collected the walleye they needed for an age study in a single trip, which is something they have not been able to do in the past.

Jeff Tyson, the Lake Erie program administrator for the division at the Sandusky office, said informal reports from fisheries staff and law enforcement along the river appear to back up the contention that the Sandusky is experiencing a strong run this year, but no formal data have been compiled.

Tyson theorized the extremely low water levels, which were experienced before the recent flush of heavy rain, could have simply been concentrating the fish in smaller areas and making it seem like there were greater numbers than most years.

The Sandusky River lore is rich with accounts of the glory days of the run decades ago, when it seemed to attract more anglers than the Maumee run did.

Those in the know with a broad grasp of the history of the walleye run on the Sandusky will tell you without hesitation that the fishing deteriorated significantly after a floodwall was constructed downtown about 40 years ago. The river channel was widened, deepened, and straightened for that project, eliminating an oxbow that provided a major spawning area for walleye in the heart of downtown.

Larry Goedde, a retired biologist with the Division of Wildlife who has a lot of familiarity with the walleye runs on the Sandusky River, said low water conditions earlier this spring could have put more fish in less water, “but that doesn’t always mean they will bite more,” Goedde said.

“The run on the Sandusky tends to peak quickly, and earlier than what takes place on the Maumee, so it’s possible what they have just experienced was the peak of the run,” he said. “There are also a lot of different stocks of fish in Lake Erie, and it’s possible that the stock that uses the Sandusky River to spawn could just be stronger in numbers this year.”

Just a few days ago, Whitt was predicting another spike in action once the river received a surge of water from a significant rain event, and Goedde added that generally, fishing is better after a high-water event, when the level starts to recede.

“When the water warms up a little bit, I think it will be crazy,” Whitt said. “They are going to put a heck of a bite on.”

The water level on the Sandusky River had come up two feet as of Thursday afternoon, and it was still on the rise. Whitt said with the volume of warm water added to the mix from the heavy rains, the next push of fish could include spawning white bass from Lake Erie, as well.

FISHING REPORT: After a somewhat slow start, there has been a flood of successful walleye spring outings on Lake Erie and elsewhere, according to the angler accounts, and some very impressive photos. View a selection of spring walleye fishing photos on The Blade Outdoors Blog.

Capt. Ross Robertson of Bigwater Guide Service and his client caught 10 walleyes that went 28 inches or better, and three that cleared 30 inches, fishing out of Port Clinton and west of the islands on Tuesday. They trolled Husky Jerks, Reef Runners, and Rogues, and found fish high in the water column in some areas, and low in others. All but two of the fish went back in the water.

Skipper Mike McCrosky of Hawg Hanger Charters, fishing out of Wild Wings Marina earlier this week, reported a limit catch for his party working on the reefs in 13 feet of water with hair jigs. Stinger hooks were an essential part of the rig. McCrosky said the fish were not huge, but there were plenty of them sitting on the reef complexes.

Gary Lowry at Maumee Tackle reports the river is rising, and he expects another good run of fish once the water level starts to drop. He added that scattered accounts that the spring run was tapering off are inaccurate. During periods of high water, Lowry recommends fishing Orleans Park, the White Street Access, and along the Towpath.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.