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Published: Thursday, 7/29/2010

When the walleye action slows, Erie gives us perch

MENTOR, Ohio - They were beautiful walleye, about 10 of them, mostly six and seven-pounders, stacked up thickly in the boat cooler.

They were fish of a size that leaves no doubt why Lake Erie is the envy of walleye anglers everywhere. A couple of smaller cousins, two-to-three-pounders, also graced the box. Not a limit for a party of six and crew of two, but who cares?

It was about a day on the lake, trading stories, tips, and information among veterans with nothing to prove. It has become an annual event, which we lightly call Fish Ohio Day - East, more about which a bit later.

Those big fish that we boxed, it was agreed, likely were the 2003 class, certainly not the last of that wondrous mega-class that has carried the lake's walleye fishery for at least five seasons since reaching age two and 15 legal inches in length. But the lake keeps fewer and fewer of them every year, the result of natural attrition and fishing - hooks and lines here, nets "over there" in Canada.

The smaller fish probably were "Oh-Sevens," graduates of the class of 2007, the only other year-class since 2003 to produce a fair or better number of walleyes. Yes, there are walleyes from other year-classes out there, but not enough to carry the mail. So, the worry-flags are flying about next year and beyond.

We won't know, of course, exactly what next year will bring till biologists lakewide finish their 2010 surveys, tally up catches, and work up the figures next winter. But you can be sure there will be fewer '03s and '07s and not much else to prop up the fishery. Get ready for reduced limits, at least for a season or two.

It is hoped the 2010 year-class will be a good one, but young-of-year only now are being sampled in trawls, the numbers still being crunched. In any case, even if 2010 is a good class, we won't be catching them for at least two years.

Such was the gist of at last some of the on-deck conversations Tuesday as Jeff Frischkorn, outdoors writer for the News-Herald in Lake County, called together a boatload of fellow writers to sample what Ohio's "other Lake Erie" has to offer, walleye-wise. It was an unofficial sequel to the recent 32nd annual Governor's Fish Ohio Day, a local and state-sponsored promotion held on the "west end" at Port Clinton.

Bigger walleye seem to gravitate to the baitfish schools "down east" after spawning on the western reefs in the spring, and skipper Ron Johnson knows where to find them. So he drove his 31-foot Thumper 20 miles out and dropped lines. With the help of skipper Mike Langer, who served as mate for the day, Johnson fished 73 to 75 feet of water where a thermocline zone had set up at 58 feet.

"With walleye," Johnson said, "you want to get down in their time-zone." So he motored very slowly on a near-flat lake, Langer running Dipsy Divers and new Tru Trip 50 Divers as far back as 175 to 180 feet. The idea was to get an array of spoons - brightly colored copper-backed Scorpions and Stingers - as deep as possible. Langer also tried a few worm harnesses with double willow blades in copper. Johnson figured the baits were running as deep as 60 to 62 feet down.

He likes to run his baits about two feet above where walleye are lurking. Steelhead trout, also found in central lake waters, will "feed up" as much as 5 to 10 feet, Johnson noted. If you can find them.

We didn't, not this time. Steelies are just unpredictable. After last year's Fish Ohio Day - East, in which we found a few steelies, Johnson learned that we had just missed trolling onto a steelhead bite. He drove another party the next day to "the numbers" and they caught 35 trout and 13 walleyes - "we were done by 10 o'clock." So it goes - the shoulda-been-here-yesterday story.

As walleye action slows into August, yellow perch action picks up here and across the lake. Calling attention to the excellent central basin perch fishery is the annual Lake County PerchFest, set this year for Sept. 10-12.

The festival, which includes a perch fishing derby, kids fishing pond, entertainment, and, of course, perch dinners, draws some 30,000 visitors, said Bob Ulas. He is executive director of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, which hosted "Fish Ohio Day - East." He said more details on the September weekend can be found at PerchFest.net.

For details on fishing and other regional offerings down east, contact Ulas' shop at 1-800-368-LAKE or visit lakevisit.com. Johnson be reached at thumpercharter.com, and Langer at rampageouscharters.com.

Elsewhere on the lake, the best fishing in the western basin continues to be northwest of West Sister Island, west of the Bass Islands up to the international line including Northwest Reef, and five miles east of Gull Island Shoal along the international line, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Casters are using mayfly rigs or drifting bottom-bouncers with worm-harnesses. Trollers are catching fish on spoons with Dipsy or Jet Divers, or on worm-harnesses with in-line weights.

The best yellow perch reports in the west have come from between Marblehead and Kelleys Island, northwest of Kelleys, and north of Ballast Island. Perch spreaders or crappie rigs with shiners fished near the bottom produce the most fish.

Inland, catfishing remains a steady bet, as evidenced by a catch by Aaron Gade of Bowling Green. Last Friday he landed an 18-pound flathead catfish below Providence Dam on the Maumee River. He caught it on a four-inch chub under a bobber in the evening.

Contact Steve Pollick at:

spollick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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