The so-called Polar Vortex that brought Ohio to its knees might play an important role in the fishing prospects for coming years. Unlike recent mild winters, when most of the Great Lakes remained ice free or nearly so, this year’s frigid weather placed a frozen cap on 92.2 percent of the surface on all the Great Lakes.
Although remarkable in today’s changing climate, the deep freeze is still short of the record of 94.7 percent ice cover set in 1979. The Great Lakes chain was already building plenty of ice when an Arctic style super-freeze in February extended the ice cover to the near record. US Army Corps of Engineers predict a formidable rise in water levels as ice and snow melt soon.
Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Jeff Tyson, head of the Lake Erie area fisheries, said he likes the heavy ice cover because it is one of many factors that can add to the success of the spring walleye spawns. The annual spawn is what drives the number of walleyes in Lake Erie.
“We estimate that last year we had about 27 million walleyes in the lake and that’s a number we are comfortable with,” Tyson said.
He suggested the ice cover won’t hold up the spawn significantly but may delay it several days. The peak of the Lake Erie walleye spawn is typically around the first of April. Walleyes tend to be triggered to spawn by lengthening daylight and water temperature.
Yellow perch, on the other hand, aren’t affected by ice-over, water temperature, wind, or anything other than the changing amount of light. Tyson did not offer any real evidence that late ice affects a spawn but he said it’s often part of the mix of spring-time weather factors, all of which are out of human control. He said last year’s spawn was slightly better than the year before.
Asked why the off-shore waters north of Ashtabula continue to be Lake Erie’s summertime honey hole, Tyson explained larger walleyes tend to migrate farther and sooner than smaller fish that tolerate the warmer western basin. In short, larger walleyes, which for the most part return to the shallow western basin for the cold months, search out cooler water, better water conditions, and more fat-building forage for the summer months.
Two Lake Erie tributaries, the Maumee and Sandusky rivers are already off and running with walleye activity. Most successful anglers don waders and toss jigs in hopes of action. First fish upriver are jacks, or males, that are more active and more aggressive than the egg laden females that follow.
Jigs, twister tails and other bottom bouncers are the ammo and a four-fish limit is in effect. River fishing is often elbow to elbow near river access points. Spring angers need to keep in mind that snagged fish are off limits and must be released unharmed.