When a national hockey league star that everyone wants to meet offers to sponsor a 100% cash payout walleye fishing tournament in Lake Erie, guess what? There are a record number of participants! The result is fun, camaraderie, technique talk and many long-winded fishing tales, including the relatively small size of the biggest fish caught, many are just over 10 pounds for recent 2015 eastern basin Lake Erie walleye tournaments.
Anglers that fished eastern basin Lake Erie for walleye in the late 1980’s share that many bigger fish were typical back then. It was not unusual to catch one or two really big fish, 12 or 13 pound fish, during an extended weekend of fishing.
In 1986, just fishing for fun with a senior Lake Erie mentor, Russ Johnson, we caught six 11-pounders, four 12-pounders and one 14-pounder, not mention several hundred fish from eight to 10 pounds while fishing the forage-attracting eddy currents within five miles of Van Buren Point, not far from Dunkirk Harbor (New York).
Listen to Dave Mercer and Henry Waszczuk on learning more about forage and bait while understanding the fish species they are trying to catch. Do wiggling lures, wobbling lures or other lures (visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHYIm5CP_KU) complete the job of finding and fooling big fish best?Walleye limits diminished for serious walleye anglers through the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but while they are back to the norm for most knowledgeable anglers today (2015), there is one difference, there are not that many fish over 10-pounds brought to the scales these days. This is confirmed by the final standings of multiple summer tournament walleye competition events. Some big fish are caught, but not many. What happened has many anglers thinking.
Is it the predator-prey relationship index? Is it too many non-native invasive species like the round goby? Too much clear water? The Zebra mussels must be responsible! The deep water where the giant summer walleye live is cleaner and clearer than ever before, with 25 to 40 foot Secchi disc readings, and there is no obvious algae issue in the deep eastern basin of Lake Erie.
Regulatory agencies are not sure either, but each of the recent hatch years show solid walleye hatches, so it appears the predator population numbers are good. Some say it must be El Nineo! Last year we had 36 inches of winter ice off Buffalo, this year boats can be launched for perch fishing in February. Anglers ask, “What’s up?”
In this graphical depiction of a bait ball and predator from Live Target Lures, the idea of the predator-forage feeding frenzy is made clear. One reason why bait-ball style lures have been very effective for anglers (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXuup8tBS2w).
While no one actually can provide sound scientific rationale for the shift in catch size, changes in the lake have certainly occurred. There have been changes in the fishermen too, anglers are much more efficient today. They have learned how to run high-tech line rigs, find fish with side- scan sonar and can zero in on fish locales pretty fast.
Still, when all that happens the way it all should as an angler develops modern-day proficiency, the fish are not massive. The walleye giants seem to be gone.
In 2015, eastern basin walleye schools were hard to find, but they were eventually located. Word spread and the walleye had moved down from their usual thermocline zone of 60 to 70 feet from the surface into 110-115 foot depths. They were feeding on schools of deep smelt to find survival forage. The temperature was 49 degrees down there! Brrr! Bait-forage type imitation lures used during that time were effective for many anglers.
Have the giants disappeared because the emerald shiner forage base has diminished? Have the emerald shiner schools been compromised and have they met some form of Mother Nature demise? Many ask this question, some blame the ice boom placed at the head of the Niagara River, the variable weather or possible fish diseases.
Some question the long and numerous fishing contests that take place during or immediately following the post-spawning cycle. Are some contests removing the big walleye spawners from eastern basin waters that occasionally are caught before the migratory walleye from the western basin arrive? Final standings in early season contests have dozens of fish tipping the scales over 10 pounds, but not in the late summer contests. Where did the big girls go by late summer? Are they gone? Seems impossible to escape 100’s of boats with skilled anglers and gear all summer.
The migratory walleye schools swim all the way from western basin Lake Erie (Ohio) each June to the eastern basin of Lake Erie to escape the warm summer water and reduced oxygen levels suspected there (from algae blooms).
Is it time to form a larger study group with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) or consider creating an international management agency to regulate Eastern Basin Lake Erie Tournament Regulations, a Tournament Board of Governors? A group that would require the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to work together to approve walleye tournament action and time of year, length of event, number of participants, etc.
It would seem that since Ohio Lake Erie fishing regulations in tributary and western basin Lake Erie waters also allow fishing and harvest during spring walleye spawning cycle periods that the concern for the spawning time period of contests should not be valid concern in eastern basin Lake Erie. Are there other factors at work?
There are plenty of fish to catch in summer, but no giants. Why? These are things that a lot of anglers think about. One thing for sure, it’s food for thought, for all of us.
To learn more about the two major Rob Ray (Rayzor) sponsored walleye fishing contests in eastern basin Lake Erie with 100 percent cash payback, contact Mark Mohr at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at: 716-998-9871.