BY D’ARCY EGAN
Preliminary results from surveys in the western basin of Lake Erie indicate more great news for Ohio anglers, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. The 2020 walleye and yellow perch hatches are both above average and continue an exceptional era of fish production in the Western Basin of Lake Erie.
“Each August, Ohio contributes to lake-wide efforts to survey the hatches of walleye and yellow perch,” said Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker. “Our fisheries biologists survey nearly 40 locations between Toledo and Huron. The information collected is compared to the results from previous years to gauge the success of the walleye and yellow perch hatches.”
The 2020 August walleye hatch index was 48 per hectare, a standard measure of catch per area. This is the eighth-highest value on record for Ohio’s waters of the western basin and well above the rapidly increasing prior 20-year index average of 32 per hectare.
“This year’s hatch combined with the exceptional 2015, 2018, and 2019 year-classes ensures an abundance of young walleye will complement the older and larger fish that make up the current Lake Erie walleye population, which is projected to hit a historic high in 2021,” said Travis Hartman, the Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie fisheries program administrator.
The 2019 hatch also impressed with 47 walleye per hectare. This was the highest catch of 1-year-old walleye ever observed in Ohio’s 2020 August western basin trawl survey, nearly double the previous high from 2015. Walleye from the 1-year-old 2019 class currently range from 7-12 inches and most will hit the harvestable size of 15 inches in 2021.
The August survey found the 2020 yellow perch hatch index to be very good at 536 per hectare. This is well above Ohio’s west basin prior 20-year average of 326 per hectare and ranks sixth in the 34-year survey. This above-average yellow perch hatch will help bolster the population in 2022, along with the strong 2014 and 2018 hatches that are supporting recently improved yellow perch angling success in the western basin.
During the upcoming months, Ohio’s results will be combined with Ontario’s to characterize the basin-wide abundance of young-of-year walleye and yellow perch. This information allows biologists to calculate an initial projection of how many young fish will enter the catchable population two years later, which is one component to determine safe harvest levels in the future.
For more information on the Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie research and management programs and to find fishing reports, maps, and more fishing resources, visit wildohio.gov. Download the HuntFish OH mobile app for fishing information on the go.