Short walleyes exciting to anglers on Lake Erie

Port Clinton, Ohio – Fishing was excellent at the 37th Governor’s Fish Ohio Day on July 12.

But, it was the walleyes tossed back and not the “keepers” that excited the 100 anglers and their captains.

Fish Ohio Day is sponsored annually by Lake Erie Shores and Islands, the Ohio DNR, and Lake Erie Charter Boat Association to bolster North Shore tourism.

State wildlife chief Ray Petering called the day’s fishing “the best he’s ever seen.”

But, he estimated 50 to 75 percent of walleyes caught by participants measured just under the 15-inch limit and were released. Their survival means days and years of good fishing to come.

“Next year will be unbelievable,” said Dave Spangler of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. “We’re bringing the (walleye and perch) populations back up to where they should be.”

Fisheries biologists attribute excellent hatch and survival rates for walleyes in both 2014 and 2015 for the current surge in smaller fish.

Kristin Fussell, of Ohio Sea Grant, said Lake Erie’s thick ice cover, coupled with favorable on-shore currents, likely fostered reproduction those years.

It’s all good news to Larry Fletcher of Lake Erie Shores & Islands, the local visitors’ bureau.

Fletcher said tourism – especially fishing-related tourism – is big business in the eight Ohio counties that border the lake. Those counties saw $14.1 billion in tourism revenue in 2015 – a 5 percent increase over 2014.

Harmful algae blooms have plagued the Western Basin in recent years. But, the lake appeared clear and mostly free of algae in mid-July.

Spangler noted he could see 20 feet below the surface in some places.

“I can’t believe what the Western Basin looks like right now,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, once again a stand-in for Gov. John Kasich at the event, said Ohio is committed to reducing the amount of algae-feeding nutrients now flowing into the lake from tributaries like the Maumee River.

Under terms of an agreement signed last year with Michigan and Ontario, Ohio must curb those nutrients by 40 percent before 2025.

“Future generations will have the same experience we had today,” Taylor promised.

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said the agreement will safeguard water drawn from the lake for drinking and home use. The lake is a domestic water source for 3 million people.

However, both Taylor and Butler cautioned full restoration of lake waters will take time – and some experimentation.

“We’re building a plane as it goes down the runway. We hope it takes off,” Butler said.

DNR Director Jim Zehringer said the Kasich administration “has its foot on the gas” when it comes to Lake Erie issues.

Petering ended the day by urging continued conservation of the lake’s walleye resource.

“We must take care of the two recent hatch years,” he said.

Current Ohio administrative rules set the daily bag limit for walleyes at six fish.

“I recommend it stays there going forward,” Petering said.

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