Lake Erie angler use up in 2022 – so far

Capt Joe Fonzi Walleye 1

Angler effort in 2021 for walleye in New York was the lowest that Lake Erie has seen since 2013. On the other hand, the catch rate for ‘eyes was the sixth best in the 34 years of the angler creel survey last year. Are things improving for 2022 when it comes to angler effort, and will the catch rate remain high?

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s creel survey on the lake for May 2022, total angler effort was 53,000 angler hours – well above the 20-year average of 40,250 hours. Most of the anglers surveyed (sitting at 70 percent) targeted either walleye or smallmouth bass.

As far as walleye, daytime walleye efforts have increased in recent years in May and this year’s totals were recorded at 19,400 hours. The 20-year average is only 7,195 hours. This was the third largest targeted walleye focus in 20 years and the May catch rate was among the highest at .23 fish per hour. Only 2019 and 2020 catch rates were higher. Two percent of the May anglers caught a six-fish limit, and the average size of a fish was 20.3 inches long.

It’s important to note that May is a slower time for Lake Erie walleye fishing in the Empire State. That could be changing. It appears more anglers are fishing during the day in May. They are learning how to find fish and finetune their presentations, and they will become more successful as a result. This can only help to improve fishing efforts for the month and attract new fishermen. The number one form of advertising is word of mouth and there’s nothing quite like a happy, successful fisherman – especially through social media outlets. The best months for pursuing walleye are June, July and August.

“There are an estimated 76 million age-two and older walleye in the lake this year,” said Dr. Jason Robinson, Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit leader for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “However, this population estimate does not include the eastern walleye stocks, which are important to our local fisheries. Our local stocks have seen strong recruitment in five of the last seven years and may be becoming a more important player supporting New York’s walleye fishery.”

“The most recent estimates based on genetic analysis are that about 50 percent of angler-caught walleye in New York waters are from local spawning stocks,” insists Robinson. “The closer you get to Buffalo, the more important our local stocks become. This lake wide spawning success over the last several years bodes well for walleye fishing for years to come, and walleye fishing quality is expected to remain excellent in 2022.”

Why has angler effort been down?

“The easing of the COVID-19 pandemic over the summer of 2021 likely played a role in the decline in angler effort,” says Robinson. “Spring nighttime walleye fishing has occurred along New York’s portion of Lake Erie for many years and can provide catch rates that are equal to or greater than the daytime angling efforts. However, the nighttime fishery has historically accounted for around ten percent or less of the overall walleye fishing pressure, making it a minor contributor to the walleye harvest. Another nighttime walleye angler survey is scheduled to occur within the next few years.”

Night walleye fishing has certainly been gaining in popularity in recent years. Bob Rustowicz of Cheektowaga, an avid walleye chaser after the sun goes down, was surprised at the number of night fishermen this past spring. “It’s the most people night fishing that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Walleye fishing started a bit earlier this year. Thanks to a regulation change that went into effect on April 1, the new opening date for walleye across the state will now be May 1 from now on. That earlier starting date this year (instead of May 7 based on how the season would normally kick off by using the previous “first Saturday in May” formula) could have helped with increasing angler effort this year.

Bass fishermen came out in May to chase smallmouth in larger numbers, too. Inside and outside of Buffalo Harbor attracted 58 percent of the fishermen, while 28 percent of bass chasers were fishing inside and outside of Dunkirk Harbor. This past May, surveyed anglers spent some 17,500 hours pursuing smallmouth bass. However, when it came to bass quality, this past May was below average. Anglers going after bass averaged about 15 bass per boat trip with a catch rate of 1.11 fish per hour, the fourth lowest May catch rate on record. The average catch rate for May is 1.48 fish per hour.

Also, this past May, yellow perch angling effort increased considerably from 2021 and 2020. DEC recorded 12,600 angler hours for the month, up from the overall average of 9,645 hours. Over 80 percent of anglers focused their efforts off Cattaraugus Creek. Boats caught an average of 18 perch each time out, with a catch rate of 1.59 fish per hour, the ninth highest for May. The May average is 1.65 fish per hour. About 2.5 percent of anglers achieved a 50-fish limit and the average size was 11.4 inches.

What does all this mean? There is certainly room for improvement when it comes to promoting these natural resources. Local tourism agencies, charter fishing groups and DEC should work together to attract more anglers. We’ve only been talking walleye, bass, and perch. If you add in steelhead and lake trout, it comes a year-round resource that will also tie in the tributaries.

In addition to promotion, public access is sorely needed for people to fish from shore and gain access to the lake via boat. Problems with Sturgeon Point need to be resolved. A plan should be in place moving towards the future. There is a good chance that fishing is only going to improve in the lake, and we should be ready to take full advantage of that. Think about taking a friend fishing with you!

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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