By Dan Armitage, host of Buckeye Sportsman, Ohio’s longest running outdoor radio show
Results from late summer surveys in the western basin of Lake Erie offer some more great news for Ohio anglers, where the 2020 walleye and yellow perch hatches are both above average and continue an exceptional era of fish production in the western basin of Lake Erie.
“Each August, Ohio contributes to lake-wide efforts to survey the hatches of walleye and yellow perch,” said Kendra Wecker, Division of Wildlife Chief. “Our fisheries biologists survey nearly 40 locations between Toledo and Huron. The information collected is compared to the results from previous years to gauge the success of the walleye and yellow perch hatches.”
The 2020 August walleye hatch index was 48 per hectare, a standard measure of catch per area. This is the eighth-highest value on record for Ohio’s waters of the western basin and well above the rapidly increasing prior 20-year index average of 32 per hectare.
“This year’s hatch combined with the exceptional 2015, 2018, and 2019 year-classes ensures an abundance of young walleye will complement the older and larger fish that make up the current Lake Erie walleye population, which is projected to hit a historic high in 2021,” said Travis Hartman, the Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie fisheries program administrator.
The 2019 hatch also was strong, with 47 walleye per hectare — the highest catch of 1-year-old walleye ever observed in Ohio’s 2020 August western basin trawl survey, nearly double the previous high from 2015. Walleye from the 1-year-old 2019 class currently range from 7-12 inches and most will hit the harvestable size of 15 inches in 2021.
As for yellow perch, the August survey found the 2020 hatch index to be very good at 536 per hectare and well above Ohio’s west basin prior 20-year average of 326 per hectare, ranking sixth in the 34-year survey. The above-average yellow perch hatch will help bolster the population in 2022, along with the strong 2014 and 2018 hatches that are supporting recently improved yellow perch angling success in the western basin.
During the upcoming months, Ohio’s results will be combined with Ontario’s to characterize the basin-wide abundance of young-of-year walleye and yellow perch, gleaning information that allows biologists to calculate an initial projection of how many young fish will enter the catchable population two years later, which is one component to determine safe harvest levels in the future.
For more information on the Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie research and management programs and to find fishing reports, maps, and more fishing resources, visit wildohio.gov.
High water woes
Speaking of Lake Erie, the past five years have been the wettest in the Great Lakes Basin since records began in 1899, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Management Chief Keith Koralewski. Lake Erie hit record-high levels in February, March and April of this year, he said, leading to severe erosion in some areas of Northeast Ohio.
Lake Erie’s water levels have been on the rise for 20 years and broke monthly records several times earlier this year, according to a report recently delivered to the Ohio Lake Erie Commission. The lake dropped below 2019 levels in June, Koralewski said, and has continued to decline as expected this time of year.
“[Lake Erie] usually peaks around the June time frame,” he said. “Then it will usually start to decline, have a seasonal decline, due to warmer weather and then into the winter.”
However, Lake Erie remains higher than the historical average as has precipitation has in the Midwest for a decade, a primary driver for the higher water levels, Koralewski said.
“Forty-one percent of the continental U.S. has received the most amount of precipitation during that 2011 to 2018 time frame,” he said.
It’s hard to predict how much water will come through Ohio’s Great Lake over the next few months, but projections show levels higher than average through February 2021.