Lake Erie walleye fishing should be superb again this season
I can’t remember the last time I was skunked fishing for walleye on Lake Erie. In fact, we even caught walleye when we were targeting other species like yellow perch and smallmouth bass. That’s how good the walleye fishing is in this Great Lake right now.
It didn’t matter who I was fishing with, how we were fishing, where we were fishing or what the weather conditions were. I fished on a flat lake, I fished in 5- to 6-foot waves. I fished in the warm sun and I fished in the rain. I trolled, drifted and used drop-shot rigs. Every time, we managed to catch some walleye, collecting fresh fish for the frying pan and the freezer.
The numbers are starting to come out from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Lake Erie Unit and 2019 was another exceptional year. At the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo’s State of Lake Erie session last month, based on the information that was presented, it’s an exciting time to be a walleye fisherman.
“I was a little surprised to see the 2019 catch rate down slightly from 2018,” said Dr. Jason Robinson, Lake Erie unit leader for DEC. “The 2018 catch per angler hour was .74 walleye per hour, a record. The 2019 rate was .68 fish per hour, which is still very close.”
“What was really amazing, though, was the harvest rate per hour was the highest we’ve even seen,” continued Robinson. “The harvest rate per hour in 2019 was .57 fish per hour. In 2018 it was .50 fish per hour. This is more than three times above the annual average since DEC has been keeping records starting in 1988.”
Last year, New York walleye anglers harvested an estimated 175,000 fish. These waters did see an increase in angler effort chasing walleye as open lake census takers accounted for 404,000 angler hours. The last time we saw numbers that high was 2001. However, the previous high harvest was 129,000 walleyes in 1989 – 30 years ago! That year there were 900,000 hours of angler effort toward walleye. It’s incredible how strong the walleye fishery is right now, with no signs of slowly down.
“Walleye accounted for 74 percent of the total fishing effort on the lake last year,” said Robinson. “We’ve never seen recruitment of walleyes as consistent as it’s been the last few years. Fishing should be well above average for several years to come.”
The bottom line for Lake Erie walleye is that anglers should expect another banner year. “People should get out there and enjoy it,” insisted Robinson.
If you’ve never fished for walleye before, this is a great time to give it a try … because there are so many fish out there. Get your bait or a lure into the fish zone and you’ve got a great chance at catching one or more. If you are a little apprehensive about a first-time trip, go out with a charter captain first and learn the ropes. Fish with a charter the way you would like to learn and pick his brain while you are on the water. It’s a perfect way to get you started.
Walleye season opens up May 2 this year. With the mild winter so far, yellow pike chasers are already looking ahead and hoping for an early season on the open lake. Keep your fingers crossed and your lures in the water. Your chances are good that you will be successful.