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We are living in a great era of walleye fishermen

Sportsman’s Journal

OBSERVER Photo by Gene Pauszek Walleye fishing on Lake Erie continues to be fantastic for most anglers.

If you are a walleye fisherman, forget about dwelling on the “good old days.” Granted back in the ’70’s and ’80’s anglers were hooking up with bigger fish, in the 5 to 8 pound range, but for sheer numbers per hour, we are living in the era of the best walleye fishing on Lake Erie in recorded history — and the Department of Environmental Conservation has the data to prove it.

The DEC warm water species biologists — led by Jason Robinson — have been documenting walleye angling catch rates for 20 years. As a result, they have found that in 2018, the catch rate per angler on Lake Erie was 0.75 fish per hour, with a typical days catch estimated at 9.4 fish per boat. The trade-off is that the size of the walleye was 19.7 inches long, which was the lowest average size ever. A legal limit of walleye on Lake Erie in NYS is six walleye per angler. Typically before 2018, only 3% of the total number of anglers ever limited out. Note too that the limit was four or five walleye per angler, per day. Since last year, that number has improved to 23%. That’s huge!

Why the big improvement? Once again, we can thank the efforts of the DEC. A few years ago, they suggested that lake-wide, we should reduce the limit of walleye harvested by recreational and commercial fishing. They back up their suggestions through scientific process. They do tagging to monitor fish migrations, netting and seining to monitor young of the year and fry assessment, and they share their data with other scientific organizations that share the resource. As a result, there were a number of great fish hatches in Lake Erie back in 2010, 2012, 2016, and 2017, as well as a huge hatch from the Western Basin in 2015. The result is a lot of natural reproduction of walleye going on and the future looks great — that is, if the lake can produce enough forage for the bigger fish to eat.

There has been some discussion that the limit on walleye should be raised to 10 fish per day or even more. This question was posed to Robinson at a local walleye seminar recently, and he felt at the time, raising the limit was not necessary. Emerald shiners and smelt make up a large part of the forage base in Lake Erie and they have the capability to rebound quickly population-wise.

Still, the scientific community is aware that there are always concerns to monitor. For instance, there are huge populations of cormorants that hang out on the Great Lakes and consume vast amounts of fish daily. They are a protected species, with few natural predators, and can consume enormous amounts of fish daily. Merganzers are another fish eating, migrating species. Certain cultures rely on fish for their dietary needs and will remove measurable amounts of bait when it is near shore spawning. Extreme temperature changes can impact the forage base, too. Remember when the shad would die off and wash up on shore? They, too, contribute to the food chain.

So in short, we are living in a great era to be Lake Erie walleye fishermen and women. The pier fishermen are reporting catching yellow perch and occasional walleye during the day time and you can spot a few boats trolling the Dunkirk Harbor at night, probably seeking walleye. As the temperature drops, the fish will come closer to shore, like the trout also do, so enjoy the historic great fishing. It will be interesting to find out what the DEC and the other monitors reveal about our lake in 2019.

Calendar: The Chautauqua County Federation of Sportsmen is selling tickets to their annual steak fry and auction to be held at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club on Sept. 28 from 1-4 p.m. They also are looking for auction items pertaining to the outdoors. Have you got a wildlife print or item you no longer want? For tickets or more information, contact Zen Olow at 640-2776. This is a great, laid back, event at a beautiful time of the year on the shore line of Chautauqua Lake. The CCSF supports area programs like the free lifetime hunt/fish license give away for area kids, Take-A-Kid Fishing, and much more. Please support a club that supports our area outdoors.

The Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club has resumed their FREE Monday night fly-tying instruction/program, from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. No sign-up necessary, just show up. All materials and tools provided for free. The Con Club is located on Mullet Street in Dunkirk. Turn towards the lake at the Country Fair store.

Children of the Stream will present weekly free fly-tying classes every Tuesday from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. in the Costello Room in the Rockefeller Art Center at the State University of New York Fredonia. Children ages 12 and up, including adults are welcome and encouraged to attend. All tools and material will be provided for free.

There will be a trapping course at the Falconer Rod & Gun Club on Sept. 25 and 27, from 5:30 p.m. until 10. For more information Call Gary at 366-3397.

If your club or organization is holding a hunter safety training/trapping course or a turkey shoot or any other outdoors event, and would like to see it posted in the calendar, send information to the OBSERVER, 10 East Second Street, Dunkirk, NY 14048, or call the sports department at 366-3000 ext. 5 after 6 p.m.

Note: If you have a big game fishing or trapping success story you would like to share, call 366-1772, or 467-2079 and leave a name, phone number and a time you can be reached. You can also call 366-3000, ext. 5, after 6 p.m. or email sports@observertoday.com.

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