Lake Erie’s thinning walleye population troubling

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The coming summer’s Lake Erie rod and reel fishing forecast may be even less enthusiastic than those of recent years. At least the numbers point in that direction.

Ohio’s Division of Wildlife test nettings aren’t encouraging. Let’s start with walleyes, the number one draw for the big lake, which may still be considered the walleye capital of the world, but only by those who focus on what was rather than what is.

Recent year hatches have been disappointing at best, hardly the kind of hatches that replenish the walleye population to “capital” standards. The last big hatch was 10 years ago, and the senior citizen fish left from that spawn are still providing some, however limited, thrills for sport anglers.

Dwindling

But there is no denying the herd is thinning and without another super hatch, Lake Erie’s walleye fishing is less and less of a draw each year.

Lake Erie walleye numbers are driven by the hatches spawned in the shallow western basin where reef structures serve as nurseries for walleye fry.

However there are proven populations, including natural spawns, in other areas, including rivers from Detroit to Fairport Harbor –but these hatches are insignificant in comparison to the western basin spring hatches.

Over the years, some concerned conversation has suggested a dedicated supportive stocking program and a pre-spawn closed walleye season, when trophy-minded anglers focus on huge egg-laden females, fish that are thus removed from the spawn before it happens.

Obviously DOW biologists have never supported those suggestions and regulation makers have given them no credibility, feeling apparently that Lake Erie is big enough to take care of itself. Just as obviously, it’s not.

Netting results

Recent autumn test netting results are not good. Netting numbers are taken by actual count after pulling the nets over a specific area.

Biologists take counts in three general areas of Ohio’s piece of the lake and have historically proven quite accurate in predicting the impact each species netted will play in future years.

The areas tested include the western basin, the west-central basin and the east-central basin, a progression of depths west to east, shallow to deep.

Western basin walleye young of this year amounted to just two fish per netting, well below the average count of nine. Biologist suggest that this year’s hatch is similar to that of 2006 and 2009 and will add about 3-4 million fish to the lake after two years of growth.

Low count

Yellow perch numbers are also down. Nettings indicate the western basin hatch is seriously low while the counts in the west-central basin and the east-central basin are better than those of 2011 but still below average.

According to DOW reports, Ohio sport anglers harvested about one million walleyes last summer and 1.8 million pounds of perch.

Notice that the perch count is by the pound. Considering that it takes an average of about four perch to make a pound, well, you do the math.

About the Author

Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer, and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian. More Stories by Mike Tontimonia

3 Comments

  1. Joseph B. Barrett says:

    The Lake is very sick. It is ecologically out of balance. The mechanism that removed waste build up is disabled. That same action prepared the spawning beds. The culprit…, The Ice Boom. Google Joe Barrett/ice boom for the details but basically the 12,000 year old process of ice conveyor has been stopped and most all our problems can be traced back to that fact. Doubt me? read my “Ice Boom theory” at http://www.bantheboom.com Good luck walleyes, JBB

    • Dave Berry says:

      I love to walleye fish as we’ll as the next guy. But I also believe you need to let nature take its course and DON’T mess around with the fish during spawn. If you want to call yourself a trophy catching fisherman ? Then catch them like a real man! AFTER the SPAWN. When the fish have already laid their eggs . I wish that people could understand what a couple of years would do to increase the walleye population for the lake . Each year drastic decreases of fish occur. Female fish loaded with eggs aré removed. This accounts for millons of eggs. Lets work together to make sure the fish population stays alive ? Walleyedave.

      • Tim Zimmerly says:

        I agree. Let the females lay there eggs. In just several years we would see a great impact !!!

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