On crisp, clear fall days, when Lake Erie sets, thousands of boats gather to enjoy the bounty of yellow gold on the North Coast. Find the flotilla of boats, drop anchor, and whip up some of the tastiest fish you’ve ever pan-fried – yellow perch.
Or, at least, it was like that before.
A combination of factors in recent years, including low hatching, has decimated the Lake Erie perch population, particularly in the central basin, from Huron east to Fairport Harbor.
While avid perch anglers also blame the commercial nets and the proliferation of walleye in the lake right now, whatever the case, the perch count is just not there. So much so that the Ohio Division of Wildlife lowered the central basin perch limits to 10 per angler per day. If you’re fishing west of Huron, the daily limit is 30.
Captains of chartered boats that supplemented their walleye season with fall perch trips cannot book clients with a 10 perch limit, and one captain I recently spoke with even said that s’ he could sell a charter, he doubted he could find 10 perch per fisherman.
What’s the answer, and will perch fishing in Lake Erie ever return to its glory days?
According to the administrator of the Lake Erie fisheries program, Travis Hartman, low hatching over the past eight years is the key factor in the decline of the central basin perch.
âWe had some good hatches in the west, but people are mistaking that for thinking it means the whole lake,â Hartman said. âYou have to look at the perch population by region. The western basin perch numbers are quite good, but it’s a very different scenario in the central basin. We are not getting the right hatches to support a good fishing. pole. “
Pole laying is determined by the time of year (mid-May to the end of May in the central basin) and not by conditions, one of the reasons that the laying of the central basin has been poor in recent years.
And, unlike the walleye, which migrates across the north shore, the perch is pretty much a domestic body, staying relatively close to where it hatched. In fact, the Division of Wildlife has placed trackers on perches, and typically the furthest distance from where they were tagged is 25 miles.
âThis supports our regional management,â Hartman explained.
In Ohio waters, Lake Erie is divided into three management units. Field Unit 1 is west of Huron, MU2 is Huron to Fairport Harbor, and MU 3 is Fairport Harbor east to Pennsylvania. There is also a fourth unit in most New York waters.
âFor the perch, what happens in the west does not affect the perch in Lorain, Cleveland or Conneaut,â Hartman said.
The early 90s is a measuring stick for the pelvis
This is not the first time the number of perch in Lake Erie has declined. It happened in the 1990s, and in this case it was lake-wide.
âThe early ’90s is the rule of thumb,â Hartman said. “If you compare that to now in the central basin, we are approaching that level, which is the low point.”
All Lake Erie sport fish are managed by the five-member Lake Erie Committee, which consists of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York State, and Ontario.
As a group, they set the total allowable catch rates on the basis of shared sustainable scientific data. Not only did the committee, of which Hartman is the Ohio representative, as well as the Ohio Division of Wildlife, reduced the central basin perch limit to 10 fish, but the LEC also reduced the basin’s commercial fishing quota. central of 70% this year, as well as the quota of trap nets of the eastern basin of 20%.
However, as the perch population in the western basin is much better, the quota for trapnets in the west has been increased by 20%.
In general, commercial nets are only allowed to represent 35% of the total allowable catch.
Don’t blame the walleye
On the issue of the large walleye population affecting the current perch population, Hartman said it had little impact on perch recruitment.
âA walleye’s diet is 10-15% yellow perch,â he said. “It’s a minor item. They prefer the baitfish species, but of course walleye is part of the story.”
Another factor to consider is the lifespan of a pole. It takes two to three years for a perch to reach a catchable size, and then its lifespan is about eight to nine years.
âCompared to walleye, perch has a short lifespan,â Hartman said, noting walleye usually live up to 15 years. âIf you only have a five-year window to harvest (the perch), then if you go three years without a good hatch, it’s going to have an impact on the fishery. It’s a different dynamic with the perch, where a good year class of walleye can last for years. “
Hartman realizes that the low number of poles in the central basin has affected captains of charter boats and bait shops, but says there are still poles in Lake Erie.
To make a catch, “stay up to date with fishing reports”
âThere are opportunities to catch the pole,â he said. âWe see it in Ashtabula and Conneaut. Just stay tuned for fishing reports, and when you hear of a good day, go out and try.â
You might want to change your tactics, as studies show that Lake Erie perch change their diet from minnows to invertebrates.
âThey fill their guts at will,â Hartman said. “You better be where the perches are when they are foraging.”
The old adage of not letting fish catch fish may never be truer than it is today with the central basin perch. If you find any, stick with it, try different baits and different levels. Hartman said he had heard of perch fishermen going to tiny fly fishing flies to better match the invertebrates the perch ate, and fishing much more on the bottom.
In short, it will be at least a few years before the central basin perch population rebounds, and only if the hatching is good. It’s a cycle, and right now it’s on a downtrend, but Mother Nature has a way to bounce back.
The Art Holden external correspondent can be reached [email protected]