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Lake Erie’s Central Basin walleye hatch largest in 20 years; yellow perch hatch average

January 11, 2019

Lake Erie’s Central Basin walleye hatch largest in 20 years; yellow perch hatch average

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Last fall, walleye fishermen were elated to learn that the 2018 hatch in Lake Erie’s Western Basin produced the largest number of new walleyes ever recorded.

Now walleye fishermen who cast their lines into the Central Basin around Cleveland have a new report to celebrate, one that says the 2018 walleye hatch rate there was the best in 20 years.

Combined with the previous record-high hatch of 2003, and the productive hatches of 2014 and 2015, the Western and Central basin walleye hatch of 2018 should serve to solidify Lake Erie’s claim as the Walleye Capital of the World for years to come, researchers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said. The Central Basin stretches roughly 100 miles from Vermilion to Conneaut and includes Cleveland.

“The walleye fishery is just special, the best we’ve ever seen it, with some of the highest catches we’ve ever recorded in our office,” said Janice Kerns, a fisheries biologist supervisor at ODNR’s Division of Wildlife research station in Fairport Harbor.

Kerns recalled receiving a phone call from a walleye angler from Ashtabula last year who reported “the fish were practically jumping into his boat,” she said, “which was his way of saying the fishing has been really good.”

The yellow perch hatch year in 2018 was a different story, with just average success numbers in the Central Basin, and a sixth straight year of average or above average hatches in the Western Basin. What’s most important, Kerns said, is having enough hatchlings to sustain a healthy perch population.

An estimated 40 million walleye are swimming in Lake Erie, which has started talk of raising the daily bag limit currently set at six walleyes from May through February, and a limit of four during the spawning months of March and April. The yellow perch limit is 30.

State wildlife researchers make their game fish determinations based on the numbers of first-year walleye fingerlings caught while trawling with nets on the bottom of the Western Basin in August, and in the Central Basin in the fall.

Fisheries biologists compare the numbers to previous years to estimate the success of the hatches, and to estimate how many young fish will enter the fishable population two years later.

Because young walleye do not migrate eastward during the spring and summer as readily as older fish, biologists believe the large numbers of small walleye being caught along the shoreline from Lorain to Fairport Harbor likely were born in the Central Basin.

Walleye are a long-lived species, with some living for up to 30 years, “which should produce a healthy fishery for the next 10 years or more,” Kerns said.

The voluminous walleye hatch apparently was the product of a perfect alignment between weather conditions and microorganisms. Researchers initially had low expectations after an early winter warm-up, but that was quickly followed by a sudden cold spell from mid-March into April, which appears to have influenced a protracted spawning period. The cold early spring likely aligned the production of zooplankton with the walleye hatch, providing an abundance of food for the tiny walleye to feed on, researchers said.

“When you hit it just right that’s when you get the large hatch years,” Kerns said.

The less prolific perch hatch, however, likely was disproportionately impacted by the low oxygen levels in the so-called Dead Zones of the Central Basin, which are caused annually as the algal blooms consume oxygen as they break down and float to the bottom, Kerns said. Walleye are more apt to migrate to healthier lake waters than perch during the late summer and early fall when the Dead Zones occur, she said.

The 2018 walleye hatch in the Central Basin was the largest in 20 years.  Jo Ellen Corrigan, The Plain Dealer

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