Results from Lake Erie trawl surveys last fall revealed walleye hatches were exceptional yet again in 2023, although yellow perch hatches were still below average last year, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife this week.
“Based on these results, anglers can continue to expect many years of remarkable walleye fishing,” ODNR Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker said. “The Walleye Capital of the World will have great fishing for years to come thanks to another favorable hatch.”
Although the yellow perch hatch was below the long-term average, anglers fishing the waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie from the Lake Erie Islands to the Michigan shoreline can expect some seasonally good fishing for yellow perch during the summer of 2024.
The allowable Total Allow Catch (TAC), or harvest quotas for 2024 for sport and commercial anglers will not be set by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission until late March 2024. With the 2023 TAC for both perch and walleye decreased slightly for 2023, experts expect Ohio walleye daily bag limits to remain at six fish per day for sport anglers.
With yellow perch numbers and spawning success still low, it is likely the Ohio daily bag limits will remain at 30 perch per day for Ohio’s Western Basin and 10 perch per day in the Central Basin and East Zone.
Data from annual trawl surveys conducted by the Division of Wildlife are combined with those collected by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to indicate the combined success of spawning and early life survival of walleye and yellow perch in the Western Basin. In the Central Basin, Ohio’s trawls are used in conjunction with other agency surveys to gauge hatch success.
Results allow biologists to estimate how many young fish will enter the catchable population two years later. These indices are a key piece of information used by the inter-agency Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to determine annual levels of safe harvest by sport and commercial fishermen for walleye and yellow perch.
Only sport fishing is allowed for walleye in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie.
In an unprecedented run of great walleye hatches, four of the survey’s top five hatches have occurred during the past six years. The 2023 Western Basin walleye hatch index was 132 fish per hectare (a standard measure of catch per area), well above the average of 56, the fifth largest in the survey’s 36-year history.
In the Central Basin, a trend of exceptional walleye hatches continued with a survey result of 42 young-of-year walleye per hectare, well above the average of seven per hectare. This was the second highest of 34 survey years. Central Basin walleye hatches are likely a small component of the lake-wide population, but tagging studies suggest that fish hatched in the Central Basin spend more time there compared to migratory walleye from the western basin. Good Central Basin walleye hatches provide local fishing opportunities when large schools of migratory walleye have left.
Western basin yellow perch
The Western Basin yellow perch hatch was below average but should contribute to the above-average population. The Ohio-Ontario survey index was 381 young-of-year yellow perch per hectare, below the average of 464. This year’s results rank 18th of the survey’s 36 years.
In 2023, mid-summer and late fall yellow perch fishing in the Western Basin provided the best angler harvest rates observed in years. Hatch contributions from previous years should continue the trend of good yellow perch fishing in 2024.
Central Basin yellow perch
The Central Basin is split into two management zones for yellow perch, the Central Zone (Huron to Fairport Harbor) and the East Zone (Fairport Harbor to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border). Hatch results were below average for both zones.
The Central Zone index of 13 young-of-year perch per hectare was below the average of 38, and the east zone index of three per hectare was below the average of 37. The Central and East Zone hatches ranked 20th and 28th of the 34 survey years, respectively.
Limit catches of large yellow perch were again common in the late fall near Central Basin harbors in 2023, indicating that good seasonal opportunities still exist despite lower populations.
To protect the schools of yellow perch in the Central Basin and East Zone, the daily bag limit have been lowered to 10 fish per day. In the Western Basin, anglers are allowed to harvest 30 yellow perch a day. It is unlikely the perch limits will be changed in 2024.
“Lake Erie yellow perch are surveyed and managed as regional populations within management zones. Our surveys during the past decade have shown a trend of more consistent hatch success in the Western Basin,” said Travis Hartman, Lake Erie Fisheries Program Administrator. “The Division of Wildlife uses these zones to monitor perch hatches and, by comparing results to previous years, determine safe harvest levels.”
Variability in regional hatch success is expected on Lake Erie because of the size of the lake, differences among basins, and prevailing weather conditions.
Hatch success is largely determined by the timing and availability of favorable conditions for both spawning and survival of newly hatched yellow perch in the spring and summer. Strong lake-wide yellow perch hatches are rare. It is common to observe poor hatches in the Central and East zones when those in the West Zone are better. When conditions favor the Central Basin, the pattern is anticipated to reverse. Long-term data support these observations.