Lake Erie is very much alive in 2021

Fifty years is but a blip on the timeline of our planet, but it is more than enough time for one of Earth’s most remarkable comeback stories to come to full flower.

Once considered dead, Lake Erie today is very much alive with teeming populations of popular game fish that attract substantial interest from anglers throughout the United States and Canada.

Steelhead trout and smallmouth bass, prized by sport anglers for their fighting abilities, have continued to make gains as Erie’s water has become cleaner and baitfish populations have thrived.

But walleyes are unquestionably the main attraction for millions of anglers – and no place on Earth is a better walleye fishing hole than Lake Erie. The walleye world received more good news this week as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife issued a news release under the headline, “Fishing the Walleye Capital of the World Just Keeps Getting Better.”

Indeed! Thousands of anglers can vouch for that claim.

“Fishing for Lake Erie walleye has never been more exciting thanks to several exceptional years of fish production in the western basin,” declares the opening line of the ODNR news release.

Humankind can take partial credit for helping walleyes on their comeback trail, with the Clean Water Act and better sewage and industrial wastewater treatment contributing to Erie’s recovery.

But Mother Nature deserves a hearty pat on the back, for sure, as the recent wave of highly productive spawning seasons has resulted in kindergarten jammed with young walleyes that are no doubt the Baby Boomers of the piscatorial world.

As a Boomer myself, I can relate – particularly from the perspective as an eyewitness to the big lake’s return to glory.

My father bought a Starcraft Islander cuddy cabin cruiser in 1975 just as word began to spread that the Bass Island region had begun yielding nice catches of walleyes for anglers drift casting Capt. Dan Galbincea’s Erie Dearie and other weight-forward spinners tipped with nightcrawlers.

Many a walleye flopped on the deck of Dad’s boat. I’ve also reaped the rewards of the guiding expertise of Capt. Jerry Abele, Capt. Jim Perrine and several other Erie skippers over the years and was fortunate to be an angler aboard the boats of central basin pioneers Art and Rusty Lyon.

The Lyon brothers were among the first to explore the untapped schools of deep-water walleyes 10 miles north of Ashtabula and Conneaut.

Today, when many yearn for “the good ole’ days,” the walleye population is as good as it has ever been in Lake Erie. At a meeting this past week, Ohio fisheries biologists reported the 2021 walleye hatch was the fifth largest recorded over the past 35 years.

They know this based on trawl net surveying from nearly 40 locations between Toledo and Huron.

Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Walker said the ’21 year class will reach harvestable size in 2023.

“In the meantime,” she said, “with an incredible run of strong hatches beginning in 2015, there has never been a better time to fish Lake Erie.”

Scientific evidence is one thing, but the proof is in the catching, and Erie anglers caught them this year at a pace averaging nearly a fish an hour.

Plus trophy-size walleyes are showing up regularly.

The ear-to-ear grins of Erie’s walleye fans prove the good old days are here and now.

Jack Wollitz’s new book, The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing, shares his lifetime of fishing adventures. He enjoys emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.


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