State residents are invited to take part in the annual free fishing weekend on May 6-7, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Ohio’s Free Fishing Days are open to all Ohio residents and extend to all of Ohio’s public waters, including Lake Erie and the Ohio River. This is the only weekend all year that does not require anyone 16-years-old or older to obtain a fishing license.
The ODNR Division of Wildlife’s six fish hatcheries stocked more than 54 million sport fish in public waters in 2016, including walleye, saugeye, steelhead, rainbow trout, brown trout, muskellunge, channel catfish, blue catfish and hybrid striped bass, which will provide opportunities for more than 1.3 million Ohio anglers.
Ohio State Parks is also offering a camping discount during Ohio’s Free Fishing Days. Campers can receive a 20 percent off discount May 5-7 by using the promotion code 17ANGLER.
The sales of fishing licenses, along with the Sport Fish Restoration program, continue to fund the ODNR Division of Wildlife’s fish management operations. No state tax dollars are used for these activities. These are user-pay, user-benefit programs. The SFR is a partnership between federal and state governments, industry and anglers/boaters. When anglers purchase rods, reels, fishing tackle, fish finder and motor boat fuel, they pay an excise tax. The federal government collects these taxes, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers and disburses these funds to state fish and wildlife agencies. These funds are used to acquire habitat, produce and stock fish; conduct research and surveys; provide aquatic education; and acquire and develop boat accesses.
• If you haven’t booked a Lake Erie charter yet, now is the time to do it. There has been a lot of talk about expectations on the big lake and it was fueled some more when the ODNR announced that Lake Erie anglers should anticipate experiencing another year of diverse fishing opportunities in 2017. Great walleye hatches from 2014 and 2015 are expected to contribute to exceptional fishing opportunities in Lake Erie this year. Anglers pursuing yellow perch in the Western Basin will likely find excellent numbers of yellow perch.
Lake Erie walleye and yellow perch fisheries are managed through an interagency quota system that involves Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Each jurisdiction regulates its catches to comply with quotas and minimize the risk of over-fishing these species. Quotas for the upcoming fishing season are determined through consensus agreement by these jurisdictions through the Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which were just recently announced for 2017.
Currently, the walleye daily bag limit is four, and the yellow perch daily bag limit is 30 per angler in Ohio waters of Lake Erie until April 30. As a result of the 2017 quota allocation, the daily bag limit will be six walleye from May 1 through Feb. 28, 2018. From March 1, 2018, through April 30, 2018, the daily walleye bag limit will be four. A 15-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season for walleye. The yellow perch daily bag limit will be 30 from May 1 through April 30, 2018, with no minimum size limit. Lake Erie anglers can find walleye and yellow perch bag limit information at ODNR offices, in special publications at bait and tackle shops and at wildohio.gov.
Ohio walleye anglers will catch fish mostly from the 2015, 2014 and 2013 hatches, with some fish from the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 year classes. Additional fish from 2007 and 2003 will also be harvested by anglers. Walleye from the 2014 hatch will range from 16-19 inches, while walleye from the 2013 hatch will be between 17-22 inches. Fish from the 2003 and 2007 hatches are likely to carry most of the Central Basin fisheries, and a good number of these walleye will be over the 26-inch range.
Large walleye from strong hatch in 2003 will continue to provide “Fish Ohio” opportunities (greater than 28 inches), with this year class nearing the size that may give Ohio a new state record walleye. Additionally, in 2017, anglers should see a number of smaller (less than 15 inches) fish from the excellent 2015 hatch. Anglers are reminded of the 15-inch minimum size limit and encouraged to release these fish with as little handling as possible so they can contribute to the fisheries in future years. As the 2017 season progresses, more of the 2-year-old fish will surpass the 15-inch minimum size limit.
Expect excellent perch fishing in 2017, with improving numbers of fish in the Western Basin. Perch anglers in the west will primarily catch perch from 2013, 2014 and 2015, providing a good range of sizes. The largest perch in the Western Basin will come from 2012 and older year classes. Central Basin anglers should expect to find average numbers of yellow perch, with most fish coming from the 2012 year class and to a lesser extent, the 2014 year class. Older fish from years prior to 2012 will provide the potential for trophy yellow perch.
Smallmouth bass fishing in 2017 is expected to be consistent with recent years. In 2016, smallmouth bass catch rates were well above average for the fifth consecutive year, and in 2017, anglers should expect more of the same, including an excellent size range (14 to 22 inches and weighing up to 6 pounds). The best fishing for smallmouth bass will continue to be in areas with good bottom structure, which is the available habitat across much of the entire Ohio nearshore and islands.
Continuing the trend from previous years, largemouth bass fishing should be excellent in 2017. This fishery continues to produce exceptional catch rates and some large fish in nearshore areas and harbors across Ohio’s Lake Erie. All black bass (smallmouth and largemouth) must be immediately released from May 1 through June 23. Beginning June 24, the daily bag limit for bass will be five, with a 14-inch minimum length limit.
Steelhead anglers should enjoy another year of great fishing in 2017 in Ohio’s Lake Erie open waters and in tributaries. Peak summer steelhead action on Lake Erie can be found offshore from June through August between Vermilion and Conneaut, with catches measuring 17 to 29 inches. Most Lake Erie anglers troll for steelhead in deep waters using spoons with divers or downriggers until fish move close to shore in the fall. The daily bag limit remains at five fish per angler from May 16 through Aug. 31, and two fish per angler between Sept. 1 and May 15, 2018. A 12-inch minimum size limit is in effect throughout the year.
White bass continue to provide excellent seasonal fishing opportunities in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers and in the open lake. The 2017 catch will continue to be dominated by fish from the 2012 and 2010 year classes. Fish from older year classes could be as large as 16 inches. Anglers should focus on major Western Basin tributaries during May and June and nearshore areas of the open lake during the summer. There is no white bass daily bag limit or size limit.
Bays, harbors and main lake shorelines offer excellent fishing for panfish, as well as occasional northern pike and muskellunge in vegetated areas.
Updated Lake Erie fishing reports are available at wildohio.gov or by calling 888-HOOKFISH (888-466-5347). Information is available from ODNR Division of Wildlife staff from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the Fairport Harbor station (440-352-4199) for the Central Basin and at Sandusky station (419-625-8062) for the Western Basin.
Information on the ODNR Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie research and management programs, fisheries resources, fishing reports, maps and links to other Lake Erie web resources are available at wildohio.gov.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.