Friday, May 25, 2018
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Matt Markey

Robust 2003 hatch still class of Lake Erie’s walleye school


Lake Erie guide Ross Robertson, right, and angler Bruce Samson of Minnetrista, Minn., with a monster spring walleye they caught in April west of the Bass Islands in Lake Erie. The fish measured 29 inches long and weighed 10 pounds.


That rock-solid, gangbusters Lake Erie walleye class of 2003 just keeps on producing. Nearly a decade after fish biologists celebrated a very strong hatch, those fish are all grown up and stressing tackle across the western basin.

“The real quality in the walleye fishery is in that 2003 class,” said Jeff Tyson, Lake Erie program administrator in the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Sandusky office. “Those 2003 fish are now 25 to 30 inches-plus in length, and there’s a good number of them.”

While the lake is not as likely to produce the quick limits of a decade ago, due to average or poorer hatches since 2003, Tyson said the fishery is serving up more trophies these days.

“Having the possibility of an eight-pound fish every time you go out — that’s a real bonus,” he said.

“We’re not in a place like we were in 2006, with a ton of fish out there, but it’s not just a numbers thing — it’s a quality thing.”

Tyson said wise management of that 2003 hatch and the rest of the fishery has enabled the lake to produce a bevy of trophy fish.

Large hatches from more than a decade ago “were exploited pretty heavily,” he said.

The recent experiences of Capt. Ross Robertson have him singing the praises of that hearty 2003 class, and the sensible utilization of that prized group of fish.

Robertson, a Toledo native and Lake Erie junkie, said it has taken some work but he’s been able to put his clients on “giant ’eyes” repeatedly over the last couple of weeks.

Robertson said the most minor adjustments in speed, depth and presentation have turned on the bite and produced dozens of big walleye that checked into the elite class of 28 inches or longer, qualifying them for the “Fish Ohio” award, and several real trophies over 30-inches.

Relentless Oregon angler Bryan Johnson reported a recent two-phase bonanza from out near Kelleys Island, where he and his fishing companions spent nearly seven hours trolling north of the island earlier this week, but recorded a limit catch that included five walleye in the “Fish Ohio” club.

After lunch on Kelleys, Johnson’s group got into some chunky yellow perch in 30 feet of water near Kelleys.

Tyson said while the western basin has not experienced strong yellow perch hatches in recent years, the fishery has continued to perform reasonably well.

The further east you go on Lake Erie, the healthier the yellow perch fishery you will encounter, Tyson said.

“The fishery is still performing well, but we have some concerns about the outlook for yellow perch,” Tyson said.

“We’ll have to think hard about what we need to consider in the future.”

Tyson said the smallmouth bass population in the western end of the lake continues to get progressively better.

Aggressive management and the widespread practice of catch-and-release fishing by the overwhelming majority of smallmouth anglers have allowed the fishery to show encouraging signs of strengthening.

Ohio’s 2013 regulations require all black bass (smallmouth and largemouth) be immediately released from May 1 to June 28. Following that closed portion of the season, the daily bag limit for bass is five, with a 14-inch minimum length limit. The walleye daily bag limit is six through Feb. 28, 2014, with a 15-inch minimum size limit in effect. The yellow perch daily bag limit is 30 through April 30, 2014, with no minimum size limit.

There is no daily bag or size limit on white bass, and Tyson expects the western basin to serve up these feisty fighters in both numbers and size. “The prevalence of three-pound-plus fish is better than ever before,” he said.

White bass have charged onto the scene in the area rivers, surging up the Maumee and Sandusky on their annual spawning run. Bernie Whitt at Anglers Supply in Fremont said that as the river continues to clear, fishermen have been hitting the white bass with minnows, floating jig heads, and even some tight-line fishing.

“They’re killin’ them down here,” Whitt said this week.

“There are a lot of females full of eggs, and the fishermen are telling me the fish are bumping into their legs as they wade the river.”

Whitt said he has had fishermen from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Alabama, and throughout Ohio in his shop over the past week.

The Maumee River remains a bit high as it continues to flush out after the recent rains, but the water level is steadily dropping and anglers are still taking some limit catches of walleye from a variety of locations along the river, according to reports from Maumee Tackle.

Many fishermen are starting to encounter the “mixed bag” catch as white bass begin their move up the river to spawn, and with continued warm weather and a receding river, the white bass run on the Maumee River should take off very soon.

LAKE ERIE HARVEST QUOTAS: The walleye and yellow perch populations on Lake Erie are managed through an interagency quota system that involves Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. The walleye harvest quota for Ohio in 2013 is 1.715 million fish for sport and commercial fishermen, while Ohio’s yellow perch quota is set at 4.895 million pounds. Michigan’s quota for Lake Erie walleye is 196,000 fish, while the yellow perch quota for Michigan is set at 164,000 pounds.

MICHIGAN LIMITS: Michigan did not experience a change in its Lake Erie walleye size or bag limits for 2013.

For the Michigan waters of Lake Erie, the daily bag limit is six fish, with a 15-inch minimum size. The daily perch limit is 50.

JUDGES NEEDED: The public is invited to serve as the judges in the “People’s Choice Photo Contest” that runs through Saturday in conjunction with the Outdoor Writers of Ohio annual conference. Photos will be on display at the Niagara Event Center in Put-in-Bay. The winner of the competition, which is sponsored by Sony and Dodd Camera, will be announced on Saturday evening.

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

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