It’s been a frustrating start to the fishing year with the constant flooding and old man winter not letting go.
However, I think we may have finally turned the corner and we are ready for some fishing weather. I have been hearing some good reports on Lake Erie already with some monster walleyes being caught towards Canada. Lake Erie anglers should experience another year of diverse fishing opportunities in 2018, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Great walleye hatches from 2014 and 2015 are expected to contribute to exceptional fishing opportunities in Lake Erie this year. Anglers pursuing yellow perch in Lake Erie’s Western Basin will likely find excellent numbers and size.
Lake Erie walleye and yellow perch fisheries are managed through an interagency quota system that involves Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Each jurisdiction regulates its catches to comply with annually determined safe harvest levels that minimize the risk of over-fishing these species. Quotas for the upcoming fishing season are determined through consensus agreement by these jurisdictions through the Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which were just recently announced for 2018.
Currently, the walleye daily bag limit is four, and the yellow perch daily bag limit is 30 per angler in Ohio waters of Lake Erie until April 30. As a result of the 2018 quota allocation, the daily bag limit will be six walleye from May 1 through Feb. 28, 2019. From March 1, 2019, through April 30, 2019, the daily walleye bag limit will be four. A 15-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season for walleye. The yellow perch daily bag limit will be 30 from May 1 through April 30, 2019, with no minimum size limit. Lake Erie anglers can find walleye and yellow perch bag limit information at ODNR offices, in special publications at bait and tackle shops and at wildohio.gov.
Ohio walleye anglers will catch fish mostly from the 2015 and 2014 hatches, with some fish from the 2010 through 2013 year classes. Additional trophy opportunities from 2007 and 2003 will also be encountered by anglers. Many of the previously undersized walleye from the 2015 hatch will range from 15 to 20 inches during the 2018 season. Walleye from the 2014 hatch will range from 16 to 24 inches and accounted for just over half of the 2017 harvest of 1.3 million fish. Fish from the 2003 and 2007 hatches will continue to provide “Fish Ohio” opportunities (greater than 28 inches) and may give Ohio a new state record walleye. The 2017 walleye hatch was near average, giving the population its third average or larger year class in the past four years.
Anglers should expect to catch undersized walleye until these fish grow to legal size late in the 2019 season. Anglers are encouraged to release these fish with as little handling as possible so they can contribute to the fishery in the future.
Anglers can expect excellent perch fishing in the Western Basin in 2018. Perch anglers in the west will primarily catch fish from 2014 and 2015, providing a good range of sizes. Fall fishing in 2017 produced both excellent sizes and catch rates. The largest perch in the Western Basin will come from 2013 and older year classes. In the Central Basin, anglers should expect perch fishing to be similar to 2017. Central Basin yellow perch populations have declined from the record levels set 10 years ago, but remain near their long-term average despite lower than expected catch rates. Anglers fishing in the Central Basin will primarily catch fish from the 2014 year class, and older year classes will provide the potential for trophy yellow perch.
Smallmouth bass fishing in 2018 is expected to be consistent with recent years. In 2017, smallmouth bass catch rates remained strong for the sixth consecutive year, and in 2018, anglers should expect more of the same, including an excellent size range of 14 to 22 inches and fish weighing up to 6 pounds. The best fishing for smallmouth bass will continue to be in areas with good bottom structure, which is the available habitat across much of the entire Ohio nearshore and islands.
Continuing the trend from previous years, largemouth bass fishing should be excellent in 2018. This fishery continues to produce exceptional catch rates and some large fish in nearshore areas and harbors across Ohio’s Lake Erie. All black bass (smallmouth and largemouth) must be immediately released from May 1 through June 29. Beginning on Saturday, June 30, the daily bag limit for bass will be five, with a 14-inch minimum length limit.
Steelhead anglers should enjoy another year of great fishing in 2018 in Ohio’s Lake Erie open waters and in tributaries. Peak summer steelhead action on Lake Erie can be found offshore from June through August between Vermilion and Conneaut, with catches measuring 17 to 29 inches. Most Lake Erie anglers troll for steelhead in deep waters using spoons with divers or downriggers until fish move close to shore in the fall. The daily bag limit remains at five fish per angler from May 16 through Aug. 31, and two fish per angler between Sept. 1 and May 15, 2019. A 12-inch minimum size limit is in effect throughout the year.
White bass continue to provide excellent seasonal fishing opportunities in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers and in the open lake. The 2018 catch will again be dominated by fish from the 2012 and 2010 year classes, along with younger fish from 2016. Fish from older year classes could be as large as 16 inches. Anglers should focus on major Western Basin tributaries during May and June and nearshore areas of the open lake during the summer. There is no white bass daily bag limit or size limit.
Anglers are reminded that fishing conditions on Lake Erie can change hourly, and adjustments are often necessary to improve success. Anglers should take into account factors, such as water temperature, cloud cover, water clarity, boat traffic, wave action, structure, currents and the amount of baitfish in the area. Anglers are also reminded to carefully monitor Lake Erie weather and to seek safe harbor before storms approach.
Updated Lake Erie fishing reports are available at wildohio.gov or by calling 888-HOOKFISH (888-466-5347). Information is available from ODNR Division of Wildlife staff from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the Fairport Harbor station (440-352-4199) for the Central Basin and at Sandusky Station (419-625-8062) for the Western Basin.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.