It was a good year for Lake Erie anglers
Like a fine wine, the New York waters of Lake Erie seem to be getting better with age. Last year, the spring started with some outstanding yellow perch fishing in April. A relatively mild winter allowed for less ice cover and the result was earlier survey work on the lake for the first time ever.
The early creel census showcased the perch action. Not only did fishermen (and women) witness some of the best catch rates ever for this golden treasure, but they also reeled in a record average size of 11.6 inches for each fish they were reeling in. According to members of the Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit, that top notch yellow perch fishing should continue this spring as the 2019 year class – which is a strong one – will start to show up. Will that happen early again this year? Weather forecasters are calling for some ice cover on the lake starting as early as next week as we deal with another Arctic blast from the north country. It will all depend on what happens after that.
Walleye populations levels are also extremely high and as a result, it was no surprise when the angler catch rate was placed sixth on the all-time list in 2021. There were some lulls during the summer fishery action, which led to a bit of complaining, but the fishing was still some of the best. Joining a group like the Southtowns Walleye Association of Western New York is a great way to learn more about the walleye resource and it will also let you join the group’s big walleye tournament, set for June 11-19 this year. Check out www.southtownswalleye.org for more information.
Speaking of walleye, researchers with the Lake Erie Unit found a record number of young-of-the-year walleye in the fall trawl survey in 2021. Numbers were so impressive that it nearly doubled the last great year class of 2003. Combined with some of the other large year classes from the past decade throughout the lake, it’s hard to believe that walleye fishing has the potential to be even better than it already is.
Last year was also the year of the lake trout for several reasons. At the top of the list is the fact that Department of Environmental Conservation researchers at the Lake Erie Unit confirmed identification of wild lake trout fry last May, a milestone discovery in the quest to establish self-sustaining natural reproduction in the lake. It was an exciting time for sure and a perfect segue into the next step.
A new Lake Erie Lake Trout Management Plan for 2021-2030 was recently released by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission that outlines steps that will be taken moving forward as agencies work together to achieve Fish Community Objectives for the lake and for lake trout.
Also, because of the lake trout rehabilitation work, some amazing lake trout fishing has been taking place every fall when mature adults migrate into shallower waters to spawn. The area from Dunkirk, NY to Erie, PA has been identified as a prime spawning area thanks to acoustic telemetry work that is ongoing. The angling community is slowly starting to realize that this fishery is truly amazing.
Of course, the waters within 30 miles of Buffalo also offers some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country, too. The Lake Erie Unit was still crunching numbers and the final report should be out soon just how good 2021 was overall. Steelhead action in the tributaries should pick back up again once we see some warmer temperatures to help melt off some of the heavy show we’ve seen in January. This should at least whet your appetite and help to get you through the winter and to the spring. Stay warm and safe out there.