Meat or trophies, that is the choice this time of year for western Lake Erie walleye fishermen, and this year the lake is catering very nicely to both tastes.
Catches of 22- to 28-inch walleye continue to come from the Kelleys Island area, particularly north and east of Kelleys on up to Pelee Island and beyond in Ontario waters of the lake.
At the same time, the reliable early summer “triangle” is producing limit catches of prime eating-size walleye. This is the area marked by West Sister Island to the Toledo Ship Channel's end marker, or Turn-Around Buoy, and down to the area marked as Gravel Pit, between West Sister and the Channel.
On the Michigan side, similar results are coming about four miles off Bolles Harbor near the E-Sailing Buoy.
“The grade has been phenomenal,'' said Rick Ferguson, at Al Szuch Live Bait in Jerusalem Township. He said most fish being kept are averaging 21/2 to 3 pounds.
East-northeast winds at mid-week dirtied up conditions somewhat, but prospects are promising for a return to good fishing for the weekend. “They're on the feed right now,” Ferguson said.
In the drifting-and-casting department, the usual suspects are the best choices: Weight-forward spinners with nightcrawlers, or mayfly rigs such as Weapons. Best colors for spinner blades include gold, copper and “baitfish,” an amalgam of green, yellow and orange. No drifting-and-casting boat, however, should be without at least a couple “dragging rigs,” that is, worm harnesses tied to bottom-bouncers.
Trollers are doing well on Jet Divers with spoons or plastic crankbaits. The latter choices right now are revolving around minnow-like stickbaits, such as Thundersticks and Ripsticks, both run off Jet Divers, or Reef Runners trolled “clean.”
It will be some time yet before the status of the 2003 walleye hatch is known, though May weather, usually critical to survival of just-hatched, young-of-year fish, was cool and windy, as in 2002. Such conditions hardly are ideal to good year-classes.
But anglers are reported catching good numbers of “throw-backs,” 12- and 13-inch walleye, said Ferguson. Handle them carefully - actually as little as possible, jiggling them off the hook over the water without netting them if you can. They will be the fishery next year, for better or worse, this after the poor hatch in 2000 and the almost nonexistent hatch in 2002.
Pro anglers in the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour's Lake Erie event, which ended Saturday in a storm-shortened, boat-swamping finale, again demonstrated that the lake still has plenty of trophy walleyes.
Winner David Kolb, of Riverview, Mich., managed to land five fish weighing 29 pounds, 6 ounces, while trolling in eight-foot waves and 35-knot winds east of Pelee Island on Saturday. That is a respectable, nearly six-pound average on a day when local veterans had advised RCL officials to cancel fishing because of the dangerous weather.
Kolb, who took home $50,000 and a new boat for his efforts, weighed in 10 fish weighing 80 pounds, 14 ounces during the first two days of the event, good enough to make the first cut, which trimmed the 156-boat field to 20. He then weighed five fish weighing 42 pounds last Friday to make it to the final 10 boats.
Kolb's co-angler, Phil Petersen, of Lowell, Mich., took home $15,000 and $1,000 worth of electronics gear. Kolb's trophy-catching pattern was to run spinners with nightcrawlers behind two-ounce weights and in-line planer boards in 18- to 20-foot depths on the first two days, then at 23- and 24-foot depths the final two days. Others trolled similar setups, or crankbaits.
Most of the top anglers in the field fished the Pelee area, including Mosquito Bay and off Lighthouse Point northeast to the electronic navigation platform to the northeast.
Kolb won because competitor Pat Byle, of Hardford, Wis., was swamped by four giant, eight-foot-plus waves and had to issue a Mayday. Byle had five fish weighing more than 30 pounds, enough to win the finale. But two swam off during a stormy rescue-transfer to the boat of pro Bob Domek, of Hawthorn Woods, Ill., who came to his aid. Byle ultimately finished sixth, winning $10,000 with just three fish weighing 15 pounds, 15 ounces. Domek, eighth, weighed three fish at 13-12 in the finale to take home $8,000.
To make the cut after the first two days, the top 20 averaged 75 to 86 pounds for 10 fish, five a day. The top 10 on the third day averaged 35 to more than 44 pounds for five fish.
“It's estimated that half the walleyes in North America reside in Lake Erie,” the magazine says. “The majority of them begin a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the inland seas with the start of summer.”
The article goes on to laud the western basin for giving up big numbers of walleyes year-round, especially to open-water trollers.
The other go-to walleye lakes listed were Chautauqua Lake, N.Y.; Leech Lake, Minn.; Lake Sharpe, S.D., and Lake Winnebago, Wis.
The project includes installation of courtesy docks near the ramp. The work is being done by the Ohio Division of Wildlife through its boater angler fund, which receives a share of Ohio's motor boat fuel tax. The division receives an eighth of a percent of the tax to fund access improvements.