By Jeff Hambach
Here in Ohio, we have been blessed with one of the finest fisheries in the world in Lake Erie. A little more than four decades ago Lake Erie was declared “dead” and so polluted it was only able to support minimal marine life. With the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its pollution protection programs and energy conservation efforts, today the lake is crystal clear and boasts a world-class population of walleye, white bass and perch, just to name a few. The most popular catch on Lake Erie is walleye, the biggest member of the perch family and a common freshwater game fish.
While Lake Erie has many shore fishing areas, the best way to fish, of course, is by boat. Charter boats are available for half-day or full-day excursions. If you venture out on you own, a little pre-trip homework will certainly pay off. Some boat launch areas have camping and docking areas. Some charge a fee, but most do not. Many websites will give you the current weather forecast, recent catches, baits used and some even have live web cams that allow you to see the lake conditions for yourself. The website Ohio Game Fishing.com has current information about Lake Erie walleye fishing, how to locate fish, how deep to fish and how fast to troll. Many fishermen who post here share information that took years to acquire. You may also want to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations on Lake Erie as it can become very dangerous when storms approach rapidly. Having proper safety equipment is vital, especially having a ship-to-shore radio and a flare gun or hand-held flares on board.
Walleye fishing on Lake Erie is about to heat up. After their spawn in mid-April, the walleye head into deeper water. The daily catch limit increases from the four of March and April to six fish per person, and anglers will be able to catch their limits on most days. The bulk of the action will be around West Sister Island to Kelleys Island. This large area will be the center of attention until mid-summer when the walleye start to migrate into the deeper, cooler waters to the east. As the season progresses and the water gets warmer, the walleye move farther east into deeper, cooler waters. The area between Vermilion and Conneaut is where they’ll be found at this time of the year. Sometimes, fishermen may have to venture out 10 to 15 miles in order to find the walleye then.
Different times of the year call for different approaches. During the spawn we generally use one- half ounce to one ounce jigs in 6 to 12 feet of water, usually within a quarter to a half mile or more from shore. When the spawn is over, this is the time to visit the island area and to change tactics. During May and June, anglers hit the island area by trolling crankbaits and nightcrawler rigs. Determining the depth of the fish is a bit of a science, and you may have to present your baits anywhere from 20 to 60 feet deep. This calls for special techniques to get your baits that deep. Many people use snap weights, jet divers, leadcore line, down riggers and dipsey divers. Also very important is the color of the lures and the speed that you present them. That’s where a good GPS unit comes in handy. It will show your speed to one tenth of a mph. It will also help guide you around the lake, find reefs, mark waypoints and get you back to the launch ramp should a storm or fog set in and visibility become poor. Most often it’ll take some experimentation to figure out just what these toothy creatures want.
I have to admit that I have quite an advantage fishing Lake Erie due to the fact that my friend and “Captain” Steve Kagarise is such a seasoned veteran when it comes to filling a stringer full of walleye. Kagarise has fished Lake Erie for years, has competed in many walleye tournaments and has made numerous friends who share walleye information with each other. My other fishing buddy, Carroll Howard, and I have benefited greatly from Kagarise’s fishing abilities. In fact, we no longer harass him about wearing a shirt or cap with his home state of Michigan when we fish together. Also joining us on our Lake Erie trips is the father/son team of Bill and Mike Smith, both outstanding walleye anglers. They definitely know how to fill a stringer with a limit of walleye, which proves that dedicated anglers who spend hours on the lake seem to do the best. Howard, who I have fished with for years, is the guy who always catches the biggest and the most fish on every trip. I’ve also caught on to the fact that when we take pictures of our fish, Howard holds his catch out in front of him to make his fish appear bigger than mine. It took me a while to catch on to that little tactic.
When the sun starts to set on the horizon, most fishermen head to the boat ramp. What they don’t realize is they are missing some of the best fishing. This is true about Lake Erie and all of Ohio’s inland lakes. Not every night is productive, but there are many nights that you’ll fare better than in the daylight hours. This is my favorite time to fish; there’s just something special about being out on the lake at night, fishing and listening to oldies on the radio. During the hot summer days, the night air brings cooler temperatures and calmer lake conditions. Odds are you’ll just about have the lake to yourself. A night when the moon is shining is best. It doesn’t have to be a full moon, but I usually don’t venture out on the lake when there is a new moon as the darkness makes it somewhat difficult to maneuver.
If you’re far from the city and other lights, on a clear night the sky will look brilliant. I’ve always enjoyed taking a little time to gaze up into the night sky where you can see shooting stars, satellites, planes and some nights even a planet of two if you know which direction to look. It’s usually very quiet, too. Most often at night I troll crankbaits using my electric trolling motor, since it’s best to keep the noise to a minimum to avoid spooking the fish. You should also upgrade your fishing line to around 20-pound test line, since this is the time when the big ones come up out of the depths to cruise the shallows for forage fish. I also use florescent fishing line. You need to keep an eye on your fishing line and using fluorescent line while lighting the area with a blacklight will make the line near the boat stand out in the darkness.
While walleye are the big draw most of the year on Lake Erie, in the fall many fishermen target the jumbo perch. This cousin of the walleye can average 12 to 14 inches in the deeper waters from Geneva to Conneaut. Anglers usually find perch using minnows and fishing on the bottom of the lake in 30 to 60 feet of water or more. The daily limit per fisherman is 30 fish. Most people think that perch are as tasty as walleye, but both make excellent tablefare.
In Port Clinton you can take your freshly-cleaned catch to the Jolly Roger Seafood House where they will fry them and add a side dish for a very reasonable price. This is a favorite stop any time we are in that area.
Well, this sums up all of my best walleye fishing advice which has been tried and tested over the years. After a week-long fishing trip to Lake Erie, I usually come home with enough walleye to stock our freezer and to share with family and friends. I’m sure you will, too.
Fishing on Lake Erie