CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The odds of dazzling your friends with photos of trophy walleye caught through the Lake Erie ice are quite slim this winter. The warmer-than-normal weather, though, has a fleet of boat fishermen plying the frigid waters off Huron and finding success.
A few decades ago, only die-hard duck hunters could be found on the wide waters of Lake Erie in winter. How times have changed. Give the walleye crowd some fishable conditions and despite the chilly water temperatures - just a notch above freezing this week - they have been trolling diving plugs, catching walleye and showing off amazing photos on social media.
"To see a hundred boat trailers parked at the Huron River Launch Ramp this week has been a surprise," said Travis Hartman, recently named the Lake Erie Program Administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "Those walleye are still suspended and chasing baitfish, and obviously willing to chase a lure."
The best success has come while leisurely trolling between .8 and 1.3 miles per hour, reports Craig Lewis at Erie Outfitters in Sheffield Lake.
"Perfect 10s and Bandit lures have performed the best," said Lewis. "Some fishermen are jigging for walleye hanging around close to the bottom of Lake Erie, sort of ice fishing from a boat. In those instances, Jigging Rapalas and Swedish Pimple lures come into play."
With daytime temperatures forecast to be above the freezing mark for the next week, or so, expect the good walleye fishing to hang around. But do remember to bring extra safety gear.The waters off of the Huron River and Cedar Point Amusement Park are free of ice this week and have been a top spot for hooking up with a trophy Lake Erie walleye. (Photo by D'Arcy Egan)Mike Starkey
"I've been seeing guys at the launch ramp wearing typical rain gear and a life jacket," said Bob Hanko at Cranberry Creek Marina. "Lake Erie is really cold right now. If you are going on the water at this time of year, a full float suit is a much better choice. And make sure you have the ability to call for help and can give your position if something happens.
"We had fishermen beach their small boat along the shoreline at our marina this week. They got lost in a fog and had no clue where they were."
The walleye hot spot in recent days has been the dumping grounds about four miles north of the mouth of the Huron River in about 28 to 36 feet of water. Lewis expects to get positive walleye reports from other areas as anglers begin to launch from Marblehead to Avon Lake.
Hartman is sure the big walleye are waiting.
"This is a pretty neat time to be a Lake Erie walleye fisherman," he said. "This is going to be a fun fishery for at least the next four or five years. We've had consistently good hatches since 2007. If you combine the excellent 2014 and 2015 walleye hatches, they produced more walleye than the spectacular 2003 year class."
The 2003 class was the best on record, and those 13-year-old walleye still provide the potential for rounding up a 10-pound-plus trophy that deserves a place on an angler's wall. The 2003 bonanza, however, was followed by a few very poor hatches.
"The growth of the young Lake Erie walleye has been very impressive," said Hartman. "We are seeing walleye from 2014, two-year-old fish that have already grown to around 18 inches. And some of the one-year-old walleye are stretching 13 inches. It is proof that while the emerald shiner minnow population is in a slump, those fast-growing young walleye have plenty of bug hatches to feed on, as well as gizzard shad and small yellow perch."
(D'Arcy Egan, the long-time Plain Dealer outdoors writer who retired in 2015, will occasionally write columns to appear in The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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