East Erie trolling produces mixed steelhead, walleye creel
Written by Toledo Blade   
Friday, 19 August 2005 11:58
Some hefty walleye, the likes of which haven?t been seen in any numbers on western Lake Erie since late spring, and a sprinkling of chrome-plated steelhead made it worth trolling on Down East.

East of Cleveland, that is. Well east.

From the mouth of the Grand River here, 40 miles from the downtown skyscrapers and pro sports stadiums, fishing guide Ron Johnson pointed his 31-foot Tiara, Thumper, north-northeast. And he didn?t stop for 25 miles.

Johnson was looking for fish ? walleye and steelhead, a mix of which have been the story Down East this summer. Enough steelies are showing up in the catch to make it interesting, but the numbers are not high enough to call it a "steelhead summer," like last year.

The reason is weather. Every fisherman knows about weather, but the impact of this long hot 90-plus summer on the lake and fish activity has been dramatic. Johnson demonstrated that in spades when he dropped an electronic temperature-probe off one of his downriggers:

Surface temperature ? 80.2 degrees. Temperature at 60 feet ? 78 degrees. Amazing. Think about it ? that is a gargantuan gulp of water to heat that warm, that deep. At 63 feet the water temperature was a chilly 58, but the transition layer or comfort zone for fish was just three feet thick. Not much to work with.

But Johnson is an Erie veteran and had a few tricks up his sleeve. Like running mini-Dipsy Divers with two-ounce in-line lead weights off his big double-ski planer boards. The lead weight, he explained, will deepen a spoon trolled off a mini-Dipsy by five feet for each ounce.

"They have been hammering steelhead off Wheatley on the Canadian side," noted Johnson after a long drought of steelhead activity. "There must be a pocket of colder water up there." Not that the local waters were without these strong, silver-sided trout. An eight-pounder that had just come aboard was part of the day?s proof.

The day offshore had a few more fish tales to spin as well:

For instance, we made one long downwind troll and almost never were we out of baitfish. Cloud after cloud of bait cluttered and colored the screen on the depth electronics. "It?s been a good year for bait," noted Johnson. Indeed.

Some years trollers would beg to see just a few such clouds of baitfish ? likely smelt or emerald shiners in this case. "Look at that," said Johnson, pointing to a 25-inch walleye that the party had just landed. It had slammed a Michigan Stinger spoon, but had a gullet full of baitfish to boot.

Last and not least on the day?s lesson-list: How often do you hear that fish get real active ahead of a storm front? Bingo.

The marine weather channel at mid day was jabbering about a strong line of thunderstorms down the west end of the lake, ? gusts to 40 knots, smallcraft seek safe harbor, the whole nine yards of admittedly prudent warnings and precautions.

Off Fairport Harbor the storm-line still was a couple hours away, but the wind was picking up. Likely the barometer was falling.

The one-to-threes for waves in early morning had grown to solid three-to-fives with an occasional rogue eight-footer throw in, just to put some "Cedar Point" in standing braced at the transom. In turn, the fish action cranked up from a slow but steady sorting of smaller walleye and various sizes of sheepshead to some serious walleye and a smattering of steelhead.

But finally the freshening breeze finally said it was time to pick up and rock and roll back to safe harbor, which turned out to be about a 90-minute trip. A cooler of photogenic fish helped smooth out the ride.

Contact Johnson at www.thumpercharter.com or 440-639-0185.


The recent cooling trend and northerly breezes have helped cool Lake Erie water temperatures somewhat ? last week?s 80-degree surface temperature was down to 77 at mid week ? and yellow perch at least are starting to respond.

Of Fairport Harbor, the perching was excellent just three miles off the Grand River mouth in 47 feet of water at mid week.

In western Lake Erie, Kelleys Island has been the focal point for perching, with fish being taken off the island?s southwest, northwest, and northeast corners. The Toledo Ship Channel also has been productive, especially around the Toledo Harbor Light and Turning Buoy near channel?s outer end.

Walleye fishing in the western basin has been slow, with little angler activity for them, though a growing number of the super-abundant 2003 class are reaching the magic 15-inch minimum keeper length.

Inland, fishing action also has been slowed by the heat. One bright spot has been muskellunge action at Clear Fork Reservoir near Mansfield. "Most of the [muskie] fishing has been in the mornings and evenings," said Larry Goedde, fish management supervcisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2. "I suspect it has been too hot during the day for anglers."

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