By D'Arcy Egan, special to The Plain Dealer
SANDUSKY, OHIO — This week the final results were in from the Ohio and Ontario trawling surveys of young-of-the-year walleye done in August, and they were record-setting, said Lake Erie fish management program administrator Travis Hartman of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Gary Isbell, the head of fisheries management for the ODOW until his retirement in 2006, said it best, according to Hartman.
“After the tremendous 2003 walleye hatch, the largest we’d ever seen on Lake Erie, Isbell told everyone then that we are now enjoying the good old days of Lake Erie fishing,” said Hartman.
Isbell was right, of course. And after a couple of more tremendous walleye hatches, including this year’s explosive hatch of young walleye, Lake Erie anglers are guaranteed a decade of fabulous fishing.
Hartman said Ohio’s trawl surveys showed the 2018 hatch in the Western Basin was slightly below 2003. But once the Ohio numbers were crunched with the addition of Ontario’s trawl surveys in the Western Basin, they revealed the basin-wide totals were the largest ever recorded.
“The interagency index from Ohio and Ontario won’t be final until February, but early in our calculations it revealed that 2018 was the biggest walleye year class anyone had ever seen,” said Hartman.
Not only was this a great year for walleye, the numbers are showing the 2015 walleye hatch was quite exceptional, as well.
The good to excellent walleye production year after year has surprised the fisheries experts. After the tremendous 2003 hatch, walleye reproduction had generally been poor to fair over the next decade. Many of the trophy walleye from 2003 are still around, and with a steady string of good hatches, they’ve been joined by millions of walleye of various sizes.
Hartman was especially pleased that the ODOW yellow perch trawls recorded the sixth straight year of average or above average yellow perch hatches in the Western Basin. Carrying the west Lake Erie perch fishing right now is a very good 2014 hatch, providing sport anglers with very good catches of jumbo yellow perch.
“The interagency index with Ontario shows the 2018 yellow perch hatch is even better than the 2014 hatch,” said Hartman.
Fisheries biologists have long sought the conditions that would produce good hatches of walleye and yellow perch. It was thought that an extremely cold winter would help the fish eggs become more viable, and a late spring spawning season would provoke a good hatch.
“That’s what we saw in 2014 and 2015, and the 2015 hatch was exceptional,” he said. “But in 2017 we didn’t have much of a winter, and we had a mild winter in 2018. But in 2018 we had a miserable, windy March and walleye eggs didn’t appear on the reefs until early April, much later than usual.”
The biologists discovered that Mother Nature could delay the spring spawning season, even after a mild winter. They also noted that high water years, such as Lake Erie has been experiencing in recent years, seems to make a big difference in spawning success.
Another surprise has been the number of small walleye being caught along the Ohio shoreline of the Central Basin, including Cleveland, Lorain and Fairport Harbor. Since young walleye do not migrate east in spring and summer as readily as much older walleye, Hartman believes those youngsters being caught had been born in the Central Basin.
“There seems to be walleye spawning going on all over Lake Erie these days,” Hartman said. “Since the Ballville Dam has been removed on the Sandusky River, we expect to see vastly improved spawning success there, as well.”
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