On Pennsylvania side, Lake Erie walleye fishing remains strong

Erie, Pa. — Anglers are walloping walleyes on Lake Erie this summer, and the bite should stay strong for years to come.

That’s the word from Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission biologist Chuck Murray, who had predicted a record-setting catch-rate based on indicators last year.

“Many people are limiting out in just a couple of hours,” Murray said July 16. “Even casual anglers are limiting out. The numbers are exceeding steelhead and even bass, which typically (yield) very high catch rates.”

Second-generation charter boat captain Steve Small, called the fishing fantastic. “I’m 52 and it’s the best walleye fishing I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Small, who represents 40 captains as president of the Pennsylvania Erie Charter Boat Association.

“There’s no excuse for anyone to not have a good year.”

In June, anglers averaged .875 walleyes per hour, which is nearly triple the long-term average of 0.3 walleyes per hour, Murray said, noting that it was the second highest catch rate since a record-setting 2003.

Although last year’s June catch rate was slightly higher, the harvest rate in June of this year was better, Murray said. “The harvest rate this year was .67, which shows a throwback rate of about 23 percent. It was the highest harvest rate going back 14 years.”

Many keeper-size walleyes now being caught were spawned in 2015, which was a banner year for recruitment, Murray said, indicating that all of the elements that make a great fishery happened to be in sync that year.

They likely included an abundance of the phytoplankton that walleye fry feed on, a lack of water-temperature inversion in the lake, and an absence of the strong or frequent storms in mid- to late-spring that can wipe out a year class.

“Mother Nature provided the right formula, and all the stars lined up perfectly,” said Murray.

The payoff is in this year’s big numbers, observed Small. “There’s just this abundance of 18-inch fish. We’re really blessed.”

About 99 percent of the lake’s charter captains offer deep-water trolling with Dipsy Divers, planer boards, or downriggers, Small said. “I can think of just one captain who offers jig fishing.”

If there’s a down side to the walleye bite, it’s that perch fishing has taken a hit, as walleyes gobble whatever forage they can find, including perch.  Head boats that typically target perch have switched to drift-fishing for walleyes.

While the best catches are in the open lake, anglers are also finding walleyes in Presque Isle Bay and in the channel that connects the bay to the lake, Murray said.

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