Figuring out Lake Erie fishing

Hilts Walleyes

What is going on with the fishing on Lake Erie? The Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit of the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation released the details of its Open Lake Angler Survey for June 2021 and everything is down across the board. According to the report, angler effort is down considerably – some 64,000 angler hours down from June 2020.

Walleye fishermen are a hardy lot. The Southtowns Walleye Association of Western New York is the largest walleye club in the world, and they eat, troll, and cast for walleyes early morning, during the day, in the early evening and at night. You could say that if the weather cooperates, there is probably someone out there walleye fishing 24/7.

The SWA Club Derby is held during June and this year it was on the calendar for June 12-20. There were 825 people entered in this year’s event, down a bit from 2020, but not enough to make a huge difference. In talking with club officials who organized the huge contest, a variety of reasons popped up as to why some people did not register this year. The same reasons would probably apply for why there were not more people on the lake chasing ol’ marble eye.

At the top of the list is the continued effects of COVID-19. A year after there was a surge in fishing licenses because of the coronavirus, negative impacts include work-related issues. Many people lost their businesses, and they simply cannot afford to get into a derby or go fishing. Others that are back to work cannot get the time off because they are still trying to play catch up. Let us hope things get back to normal soon if there is such a thing.

Having the Canadian border closed has had an impact on angling, especially for the various contests that the Canadians love to participate in. At last word, on August 9 the border was going to re-open for fully vaccinated anglers. However, there will be some restrictions that will need to be adhered to.

Another impact on the SWA derby and for fishing in general was the fact that a huge air show was held out of Buffalo June 18-20. The event shut down the launch ramps at the Safe Harbor area, one of the largest in the state, for all three days. Some people did not join the derby because that is where they fish out of and chose not to drive to other access locations further away.

Speaking of other access locations, Sturgeon Point Marina was finally dredged to allow for lake access again. It did not open until the first week of June. In addition, the marina was not opened, leaving many boaters without a slip, also impacting fishing numbers. It seems like the angling community could not catch a break.

Walleye effort in June, according to the DEC census, was just under 38,000 angler hours – less than half of the 86,000 hours recorded last June. It was below the 20-year average of 46,400 hours, too. Most of the effort took place out of Buffalo or Barcelona with anglers harvesting 1.75 walleyes per boat trip and a catch rate of .21 fish per hour. Average size of the walleyes that were caught were 20 inches long. Only 1.5 percent of anglers in the lake caught a limit.

More alarming was the bass fishing for the month. The DEC report shows that bass fishing effort has declined in each of the last 3 years, with June 2021 showing the lowest effort in the last 2 decades at 6,000 angler hours. As far as those catching fish, boats averaged about 12 fish a trip with a catch rate of .98 fish per hour. This is on par with the June average of 1.06 fish per hour and still quite high when you compare this with other popular bass waters. With the amount of accolades the area has received from groups like Bassmasters, you would think that fishing effort would be up. Last year it was listed in the Top 10 bass fishing destinations for the last 25 years.

Lake Erie is still a great lake to fish. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. The estimated population of walleyes is nearly 100 million fish, and the number of adult bass are stable and fun to catch with most anglers practicing catch and release for bronzebacks.

My trips on the lake this year have been nothing short of fantastic. I have built up a nice supply of walleyes in my freezer, as well as some nice memories of smallmouth fishing. Get out there and sample one of the greatest angling resources in the world.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr, Walleye

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