Cash in on Lake Erie’s Nearshore, Open-water Fishing

October is a transition month on Lake Erie, the mirror-opposite of March. It can come in like a lamb and go out like a lion. Lately, mild fall weather has allowed many days on the lake during prolonged periods of “Indian Summer,” even into November or later.

If the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the NOAA winter forecasts are correct, we may not get a platform of ice to fish from this winter.

Walleyes have moved west to bulk up on nearshore baitfish and begin staging in preparation for spawning season in the spring. This is also a great time of year to cash in on huge schools of yellow perch, which have been growing all summer on the abundant prey produced in this rich nursery area.

After a streak of successful local yellow perch hatches that have occurred, locally, since 2013, the Western Basin of the lake is stuffed full of these delicacies—known by some as Erie Gold.

Normally, Western Basin anglers have to settle for the more abundant, but smaller fish that call this portion of the lake home, where four yellow perch to the pound is typical.

Bigger fish and bigger catches
However, the abundant numbers of perch produced from 2013 to 2015 here, that have avoided the gauntlet of nets and baited lines so far, are now solid specimens which are running three fish to the pound.

The Ontario Association of Commercial Fisheries posted the landings of Yellow perch from Lake Erie/St. Clair last year as 4,821,495 pounds, with a dockside value of $17,942,148.53.

According to the 2017 Ohio Division of Wildlife Lake Erie Status Report, Ohio’s sportfish catch was estimated to be about 2.8 million fish weighing 900,000 pounds, mostly caught in the Western Basin.

Ohio’s commercial yellow perch catch in Lake Erie was 1.5 million pounds, mostly in the Central Basin. They strictly follow quotas set by Ohio’s Division of Wildlife Fisheries Biologists at the Sandusky and Fairport Harbor Research Stations in cooperation with their Ontario and Michigan counterparts.

Get out after walleyes and smallmouths
Walleyes and smallmouth bass are also fair game, with bulking up a high priority. Shallow water structure, close to shore, can open opportunities for those with even modest vessels, with proper respect for the weather.

Lately, more largemouth bass than smallmouth bass are being sought and landed along the armored piers, breakwalls, coves and harbors.

With clearer water more prevalent since the establishment of zebra mussels, the thriving aquatic vegetation that returned provides ideal habitat for largemouth bass. Round gobies continue to affect smallmouth bass nest production.

At a time when Lake Erie fisheries are bursting at the seams and attracting a lot of attention to those who are willing to abuse the resource, the Law Enforcement Unit on Lake Erie remains short-handed.

Due to retirements, they are still down two officers and the Supervisor is being forced to split his time between Lake Erie and Findlay, since the retirement of the District 2 Supervisor.

A new $10 non-resident spring fishing license to fish in Lake Erie and its tributaries goes into effect next year. If used as promised, additional income that this tag will produce shall be directed toward fisheries access, exotic species control, research and law enforcement efforts.

A red-letter day for all fishermen
Governor’s Fish Ohio Day, a huge press event that has typically been held in Port Clinton in July, usually showcases the fantastic Western Basin walleye fishing. During one of the earlier years, former Governor James Rhodes first declared Lake Erie “The Walleye Capital of the World.”

Recently, with the widespread popularity of trolling in this part of the lake, the biggest decision that needed to be made during this event was whether the captains have his/her VIP passengers cast or troll for walleyes.

Those headed out consist of novice to practiced anglers, including elected officials, their staff members, Ohio Department of Natural Resource staff, EPA and other state government administrators, outdoor media and other invited guests.

But, by having the 39th Annual Governor’s Fish Ohio Day on August 14, later than the usual mid-July date, the slight southwest breezes and clear skies allowed the captains to choose between chasing walleyes or introduce the participants to the local area’s also exceptional yellow perch fishing opportunities.

Many boats returned with fine catches of perch, considering the limited time that the groups got to fish before returning for the afternoon program of presentations by the President of the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Visitor Center, ODNR Director, Ohio’s Lt. Governor, President of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association and Ohio Senate leaders.

With Lake Erie so well known as a walleye lake, it is not often internationally recognized as a recreational perch fishing destination like Lake Simcoe (Ontario), Devils Lake (North Dakota), Saginaw Bay (Michigan) and The Finger Lakes (New York).

However, in addition to having “The Walleye Capital of the World” moniker, Lake Erie consistently produces more yellow perch than any lake in North America.

So, let me be the first to suggest that Ohio tourism officials begin a new campaign to have Lake Erie also declared the “Perch Capital of the World.”