Lake Erie ice fishing
ERIE, Pa. - Since the season’s May 1 opening, Lake Erie walleye haven’t been where anglers think they’re supposed to be. Speculation abounds.
It’s global warming. It’s the state Fish and Boat Commission. It’s an international cabal that sets fishing quotas. In some quarters, the culprit is the Canadian commercial fishing industry that’s taking walleye away from Pennsylvania sport anglers. Perhaps by design.
“They’re just not there, ” said Walter Bennet of Crawford County, as he docked last week in Presque Isle Bay after a half day on the water with few blips on the sonar. “They blame it every year on the weather - the winter was too long, the spring is too cold - but I don’t believe it. I think our walleye are going into Canadian nets.”
That was not the consensus, however, among anglers returning to the dock with few if any fish. Most seemed disappointed and a little tired.
“Blaming it on Canada is going too far at this point, ” said Steven Edwards of Butler, an hour later on the same dock. “There are other things - temperature, population cycles. … I think it’s about figuring out what’s going on. The guys who adapt are eventually going catch walleye.”
Evidence suggests that native, non-stocked Lake Erie walleye are thriving, somewhere. In March the Lake Erie Committee, with members representing fishery managers from Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario and Pennsylvania, recommended that the lake’s total allowable walleye catch be increased 20 percent since last year. The decision, they said in a joint statement, “reflects a stable adult population and a moderate-to-strong hatch in 2014. The 2011, 2010, 2007 and 2003 year classes continue to contribute to the stability of the walleye fishery and allow for the increase.”
Due to a natural population spike, the 2003 year class was the largest in monitoring history pushing Lake Erie walleye numbers to an estimated 80 million. At the time, wildlife agencies were worried the huge year class might dominate the fishery, but healthy hatches in subsequent years quelled those concerns. In 2013, half the walleye harvested in the lake’s Pennsylvania waters were hatched in 2003. This year, walleye from that landmark year class are expected to top 25 inches.