Erie’s Ohio ‘eyes bountiful, too, and the fishing is on fire
Lake Erie’s walleye population is absolutely phenomenal at this point in time. With some outstanding year classes under the Great Lake’s belt, today’s walleye fishing is some of the best the lake has ever seen – and the future looks even brighter.
While local populations off New York’s shoreline have been increasing, the real kicker to our walleye population numbers is the migrating schools of fish that show up every year from the Western Basin of the lake. As many as 10 percent of the lake’s Western Basin walleye will take a trip from Ohio to the western reaches of the lake – as far as Buffalo.
So far this year, the walleye fishing off Buffalo has left many anglers simply shaking their heads. They can’t believe how good it is. When I received an invitation to fish out of Ashtabula, Ohio, from outdoor writer Rick Henniger with the Ohio Fish and Field newspaper, I jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity to compare our local walleye fishery with what was happening further down the lake in what could be termed the central basin.
Our guide would be Capt. Dave Diver of Canfield, Ohio, operator of Wrek-N-Eyes, running his 34-foot King Cat (a Catamaran with a 12-foot beam). The name came from his passion for participating in demolition derbies, but by the end of the trip, we came to appreciate a dual meaning.
“Get to the boat by 6 a.m.,” said Henniger. “We have to make the bridge.” He was referring to a lift bridge that dictated when boats could head out into the lake, and it was right on time as we stepped on the boat a few minutes before 6 a.m.
As he motored into the lake, Diver didn’t need to run very far. It was less than two miles, in 58 feet of water. His Lowrance HDS 10 looked like it was on demo mode as hooks were piled on top of hooks. It was all about efficiency for Diver as he set out No. 40 jet divers with Michigan Stinger Scorpion Spoons. The lead was an arm and a half length from jet to spoon, made of 17-pound fluorocarbon line. His main line was 30-pound Spiderwire, spooled up into his Penn Squall reels. His rods were Okuma 7-foot, medium-light Dead Eye rods. Church planer boards help him spread his spoons, all 90 to 100 feet back.
The fish started hitting almost immediately. Singles, doubles and triples. The electronics screen continued to look like it was stuck on demo mode. It was less than two hours of actually fishing time and we each had our six fish per angler. Before we could clear the rods, we had another fish on and that went to the captain. A fresh walleye dinner is tough to turn down. What a whirlwind fishing trip.
There were several differences that I noticed while we were on the water. One was that he ran all spoons. We use worm harnesses and stickbaits primarily here. The other was he kept his speed close to 2.8 mph, much faster than what we were keeping our speed at in New York waters. “I run at a faster speed to keep away from the junk fish like sheepshead,” said Diver. “I’ll go that fast as long as it works.”
To say it worked was an understatement. In two hours we had a 24-fish limit of Ohio walleyes between 17 and 24 inches long – perfect eater size, which was the primary focus of our trip. The one time we dropped our speed down to 2.4 mph, we caught a sheepshead. And the timing was perfect heading back in, too. We caught the bridge when it was up. Timing is everything.
We were on the road to head back home by 9 a.m., after we put a hurt on the ‘eyes. Maybe “Demolition Man” would have been a more appropriate name.