Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass fishing improving

While walleyes and yellow perch fill the needs of Lake Erie anglers most interested in the culinary aspect of the activity, those seeking smallmouth bass tend to be concerned with the sport end of things. Few fish possess the fighting ability of the smallmouth bass; few places offer bronzebacks in the numbers and size as does Lake Erie.

During the early 2000s there was a change in the dynamics of Erie’s smallmouth bass fishery. Though adult fish were still present in good numbers, anglers were seeing fewer and fewer young fish. The introduction of the round goby, and exotic species, was blamed, at least in part. The bottom-dwelling round goby is a nest robber. Research shows that gobies prey on smallmouth nests.

Several years ago, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, instituted a closed season during the spring spawning period. This move led to a reduction of fishing pressure, one that might be having a positive impact on the smallmouth population. With fewer anglers catching bass, there are fewer nests left unguarded. While it’s not known how much an impact this regulation change has made, smallmouth bass numbers are on the increase.

“Smallmouth bass are one place where we’re seeing the catch rates improve,” said Jeff Tyson of the Ohio Division of Wildife’s Lake Erie Research Unit. “They have been bumping up steadily for the past four or five years. They’re still not at the level back in the mid-1990s. But we’re still looking at a catch rate of 0.8 fish per hour, which is a phenomenal catch rate for smallmouth bass.”

As one might expect from this, the outlook for Erie smallmouth, not only in Ohio waters but Pennsylvania, is a good one. While perhaps not quite the same as it was in the glory days of 15 to 20 years ago, it’s still quite good.  The Michigan shoreline from Brest Bay to Luna Pier has seen an uptick in catch rates over the past couple of years. The dumping grounds have also seen much higher catch rates in the past two perch seasons to.

“I’d expect more of the same for smallmouth bass,” Tyson said. “We’re seeing more consistent hatches for smallmouth in recent years. Not every year are we getting a good hatch, but if we see fish in our bottom trawler, it generally means that they’ve had a decent hatch. And we’re seeing that more frequently. We’re seeing an improvement not only in the hatches, but in the age distribution. We have a fair number of younger fish moving into the fishery, which is different from what we saw back in the early 2000s.”

Biologists see good outlook for Lake Erie fishing

Lake Erie walleye fishing charter trip aboard the Stray Cat

Lake Erie walleye fishing charter trip aboard the Stray Cat Monroe Michigan

State biologists in Ohio say Lake Erie anglers should have a variety of sport fishing opportunities this year.

Biologists with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources say the lake’s population of walleye, yellow perch, black bass, white bass and steelhead remains stable. They say there is a broad distribution of sizes for each species.

Lake Erie walleye and yellow perch fisheries are managed through an interagency quota system involving Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Each jurisdiction regulates their catches to meet the quotas and minimize the risk of over-fishing species. Seasonal quotas are determined through a consensus agreement by those jurisdictions through the Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Biologists caution that factors including water temperature and boat traffic can change lake fishing conditions.

Michigan and Ohio’s walleye, yellow perch populations stable for 2014

WINDSOR, Ontario – There will be no changes in the Ohio bag limits for Lake Erie walleye or yellow perch for 2014 after the Lake Erie Committee (LEC) of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission reported at its annual meeting that the walleye population is healthier than expected, while schools of yellow perch are in a mild slump. Michigan will not set walleye bag limits until May 1st 2014 for Lake Erie.

The Ohio walleye bag limit for Lake Erie will remain at six fish per day, four during the spring spawning season from March 1-April 30, said Jeff Tyson, head of Lake Erie fisheries management for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The yellow perch daily bag limit will continue to be 30 for the popular pan-sized fish.

The increase in Lake Erie’s walleye population estimate was a surprise, following mediocre spawning seasons. The jump in walleye numbers was the result of the LEC’s new population assessment model for determining how many walleye are swimming in Lake Erie. The new model increased the estimated size of the walleye population to more than 22 million fish.

“The new model was developed by the Lake Erie Percid Management Advisory Group and Michigan State University,” said Tyson. “It used studies that ran the gamut of fisheries assessments, fish harvested, effort by sport and commercial fishermen, age composition of the harvest, as well as a wide range of other data.”

Tyson is comfortable with the new model, even though the last few classes of walleye have been low to average. The bonanza year class of 2003 still makes up an overwhelming 30 percent of the population. They’re now trophy fish, ensuring Lake Erie’s status as the Walleye Capital of the World, but fishermen and fisheries managers have to wonder how long that single class can buoy Lake Erie’s walleye fishery.

The total allowable catch (TAC) for Lake Erie walleye was set at 4.027 million fish, a noticeable jump from a TAC of 3.356 million in 2013. Ohio gets the lion’s share of 2.058 million fish, up from 1.715 million in 2013, with Ontario allocated 1.734 million walleye. Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York get small shares of the TAC.

Ohio does not allow commercial fishing for walleye, and sport anglers have not come close to catching Ohio’s quota of walleye in decades. In Ontario, commercial walleye fishing dominates. Even with reduced effort in recent years, netters have been able to catch the majority of the Ontario quota.

Tyson is hopeful the 2014 walleye hatch will be a good one.

“We’ve seen a pattern of decent hatches associated with fairly severe winters, like we’ve had this year,” Tyson said. “It’s only one factor, though. The success of the hatch also depends on the right precipitation in the spring, gradual warming rates, survival of walleye eggs on the reefs and forage availability for larval and juvenile fish.”