Great potential for 2006 walleye
Written by Toledo Blade   
Monday, 06 February 2006 11:14

Forgive Lake Erie fisheries biologist Roger Knight if he sometimes feels like the weather man. He typically is the man whose name is hung on the Ohio Division of Wildlife's annual Lake Erie fishing forecast and, well, you know how that goes.

A million variables and what-ifs during spring and summer can play havoc with even guardedly optimistic predictions in January or February. Which leaves Knight and other fisheries managers open to criticism if the fishing is anything but great - every day in every locale.

Unfavorable weather during spawning and rearing time can destroy a potentially good hatch, not to mention a much-anticipated weekend fishing trip. Invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels and round gobies wreak more havoc variously on the food chain and newly spawned eggs. And so on through a boatload of variables, most of which are out of anyone's hands.

Even weather over the winter may make a difference. Mild weather means no ice-seal and that means more evaporation and lower water levels. It also may mean more and larger die-offs of gizzard shad, a prime forage fish, but that in turn may mean that young-of-year walleye will have more plankton to eat without competing with loads of shad. A hard, cold winter is thought to possibly improve egg viability during spawning. So it goes.

That said, Knight sees prospects for Erie sport angling for 2006 in this way: "The potential is good if the weather agrees. That's always the wild card."

So here are Knight's forecasts and comments for the '06 fishing season for the two most popular species, walleye and yellow perch:

Walleye - The potential exists for excellent catches, given that the huge 2003 year-class will be legal keeper-size, 15 inches and longer.

Most of the '03s will be legal by spring and some will reach 17 to 20 inches by fall, Knight noted. Those fish will be bolstered by remaining cohorts of fish from the strong 1999 (21 to 25 inches) and 2001 (19 to 21 inches) year-classes. Some trophy-size fish remaining from strong hatches in the 1980s and mid-1990s will provide "Fish Ohio" award opportunities at 28 inches-plus.

The walleye regulations for 2006, effective March 1, have been restored to a four-fish daily limit in March and April, up from three fish, with a six-fish creel the rest of the year, as before.

In coming years, Knight added, "people shouldn't see a whole lot of regulatory changes with walleye." That is because of cooperative interagency work in the Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which has established new fishing rates that are better linked to existing fish populations. As long as the catchable walleye stocks remain in the range of 20 to 40 million, which is about 80 percent of the time, regulations will remain constant.

The 15-inch rule will stay regardless because it is especially helpful in recruitment of the stock for the central basin, Knight said. He is not concerned that walleye have a problem finding enough forage, saying that fish generally still appear healthy with good girth.

But, he added, "we need a good hatch in '06." The 2005 hatch was below par, 2004 was very poor, and 2002 was the worst ever.

The Ohio fishing in 2005, of course, was lousy. "Our fishing went in the tank but New York waters had the best walleye fishery in 15 years, and southern Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair anglers were catching Lake Erie walleye too."

One reason for poor fishing in Ohio waters revolves around the long, hot summer, which cranked water temperature into the 80s in the shallow western basin and beyond. Even in 80 feet of water east of Cleveland in the central basin in August, water temperature was as high as 78 degrees - 60 feet down.

Walleye do not like the heat. "They're not a warm-water fish. They're a cool-water fish."

Yellow perch - The telltale that this fishery has rebounded from low stocks in the early to mid-1990s is in the new daily creel limit of 40, up from 30, effective March 1.

"We finally got some wiggle-room in our quota," explained Knight, crediting recovered stocks because of cooperative conservation lakewide. The GLFC's sport allocation for Ohio waters had been so tight, Knight said, "we were knocking on the door every year."

The LEC's total allowable catches for each jurisdiction are up because of the recovered perch stocks, the biologist noted. "So it's time to take advantage."

Fishing last year was uneven at best, with loads of too-small perch - "throwbacks" - in the sport catch, especially in the western basin. The same too-hot weather also had an impact on perch fishing success.

This year fish from the strong 2001 class should range from 9 to 12 inches, with larger ones in the central basin. The very strong 2003 class also should make a positive impression. Said Knight: "The average size of yellow perch available to anglers in 2006 should improve, as the large 2003 year-class likely will be in the 8 to 10-inch range."

 
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