ABOUT LAKE ERIE
Lake Erie is the 11th largest lake in the world by surface area. It is the fourth largest and the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. Lake Erie is 241 miles long, 57 miles wide at its widest point, has a surface area of 9,910 square miles, and has 871 miles of shoreline. It is fed primarily by the Detroit River at its western end, and drains out into Lake Ontario through the Niagara River and the Welland Canal.
The Pennsylvania shoreline of Lake Erie is exclusively in Erie County. The Ohio line is at 80o 31'.10", and the New York line is at 79o 45'.70".
The lake is divided into three "basins" - eastern, central and western. The western basin extends from the west end of the lake to about around Cedar Point, Ohio. The central basin extends to the edge of the trenches in Erie.
The eastern basin extends from Erie to the eastern edge of the lake in Buffalo, New York. The western basin is generally shallow. The central basin is deeper, with depths averaging about 60 feet, and the bottom is generally flat. The eastern basin is much deeper than the central basin. By the Pennsylvania/New York line, and east, the bottom drops quickly.
Lake Erie produces large walleye. Most fish are over the 15 inch minimum. The average walleye caught off shore is in the three to five pound range. Seven to 10 pound walleye are not uncommon. The smaller fish are better table fare, although generally walleye make an excellent eating fish, second only to the yellow perch. The average age of walleye found in our waters is five to six years. Some walleye have been found to be twelve years old.
Walleye are considered sensitive to light. Generally they will not be near the surface on a bright day. At night, they may be just below the surface. Walleye are not as temperature sensitive as other fish, like the steelhead. Walleye may be holding in different temperature zones. Walleye are considered a schooling fish - if you find one, you may have found a whole school.
It is said there are two distinct walleye populations: the "resident" population of generally large fish that stay here all year and are often closer to shore, and the "migrating" population that moves into our waters during the summer and early fall. The resident walleye are the fish that are caught in the spring and early summer at night or closer to shore. The migrating population stays in the shallower western basin of Lake Erie in the winter and spring. As the water temperature of the lake rises, these fish begin to move east into the deeper waters of the central and eastern basins of Lake Erie. This is why the walleye fishing is often best each summer first off Ashtabula, then Conneaut, then in the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie. The faster the water temperatures warm, the sooner the walleye fishing gets better. In summers when the water temperature never gets into the 70s, walleye fishing can be be slow even in August.
Steelhead are by far the most predominate. Steelhead, like the smallmouth bass, are aggressive fighters, especially in the relatively warm waters of the lake. Although not considered as good a table fare as the walleye or perch, steelhead, taken from the lake can be quite good eating if properly prepared.
The optimum temperature for steelhead is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and they tend to hold in water close to this temperature.
There are two distinct steelhead fishing opportunities on the lake. In the fall, steelhead begin to school off the mouths of the creeks, and they can be caught just off shore. In the summer and early fall, these fish are scattered in the deeper waters of the lake and can be taken by traditional trolling methods.
Deep water steelhead are taken almost exclusively by trolling. Most concentrated fishing for steelhead is done at the mountain, where the water is the deepest. These fish do not school while in the deeper waters during the summer months, and are sometimes described as an "incidental" catch during walleye fishing. A trolling speed of about three m.p.h., faster than the speed of normal trolling for walleye, is considered typical for steelhead.
Steelhead are usually taken with downriggers or divers. Since they are rarely near the surface when far from shore, they are not usually caught with planer boards or on flat lines. The most popular lure for steelhead trolling is the spoon, run very close to the downrigger line or diver. Stickbaits on downriggers or divers will also take these fish.
Fishing for steelhead in the fall near the mouths is done quite differently. Occasionally boats will anchor near the mouth of a creek and cast spoons (of the casting type, like a Little Cleo, not the trolling type). Most who fish from boats near the shore troll. These anglers use either planer boards or flat lines. Downriggers can be used if you are in deep enough water. Many try to troll in very shallow water (sometimes less than 15 feet), and lures can be caught on the bottom if you are not careful. In the peak of the fall steelhead season, the water off the creek mouths can become crowded with boats trolling and weaving past one another. Be considerate when deciding whether to send planer boards 75 feet away from each side of your boat in crowded conditions. The angler's lines you cross may not look with favor on your methods.
Yellow perch are fished both commercially and recreationally on Lake Erie. The creel limit on perch has been reduced, and the minimum size is now eight inches. For further information, see the Regulations page. Perch are perhaps the best table fish Lake Erie has to offer.
Perch are schooling fish. If you can find a school, the fishing can be productive. If you spot a number of boats close together and anchored, you can bet they are all perch fishing.
Perch in the lake can be found from a depth of about 20 feet to deeper than 60 feet. One of the most popular spots for perch is off the Peninsula lighthouse in about 40 to 50 feet of water.
Almost all perch fishing on Lake Erie is done the same way. Boats are at anchor and still fish. By far the most popular bait for perch is a live minnow. A light line with a small hook and enough weight to get the bait down is sent over the side. Perch are usually near the bottom, so the bait is sent to the bottom, then cranked up a few turns.
Lake trout, also called Mackinaw Trout, Great Lakes Trout, or Salmon Trout, (Salvelinus namaycush), large, voracious char, family Salmonidae, widely distributed from northern Canada and Alaska, U.S., south to New England and the Great Lakes basin. It is usually found in deep, cool lakes. The fish are greenish-gray and covered with pale spots.
Lake trout live in relative obscurity. They eat well and grow big. Primarily found in the deeper waters, their diet consists mainly of smelt, but during May and for the better part of June they are close to shore. First, in May, they dine on the large adult emerald shiners that remain near shore after their fall/winter migration. Then, in June, and before disappearing to the cooler waters near the Canadian line, they give the Pennsylvania angler the only chance for true deep-water fishing. These are the best times for boat anglers to target these behemoths.