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Lake Erie living up to walleye reputation

For a place known as “The Walleye Capital of the World,” it would seem to be difficult to find words to expand the hyperbole.

But that’s exactly what the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife did in a recent news release.

“World-class fishing continues to exceed expectations on Lake Erie in 2020,” the news release said.

It may sound like hyperbole, but it is not an exaggeration. It’s called the capital of walleye fishing for good reason. Anglers go to Erie with high expectations.

So if those expectations are to be exceeded, just exactly how good is the fishing? Off the charts? Awesome? Unbelievable? It’s safe to say all of those words and more have been used this year to describe Lake Erie walleye fishing.

The one-two punch of great hatches and smart management by Ohio fisheries officials has resulted in Lake Erie showing off this year like no other.

Those whose job includes publicizing Erie fishing have plenty of material on which to base their claims.

In recent years, every news release about Lake Erie fishing that shows up in my inbox reports good news about the walleye action. The headlines are bright with hope, including the most recent: “2020 Lake Erie Walleye Will Provide Fabulous Fishing.”

Erie was accessible for a portion of 2020’s mild winter and much of spring. “Fabulous” was the watchword as boats returned to the docks with heavy limits. Prospects for summer are equally as encouraging.

“The outlook has never been brighter for Lake Erie walleye fishing, with a strong future that has been built by consistently successful hatches since 2014 and solid science-based management,” said Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker.

For anglers, of course, the “future” is their next fishing trip. Ohio fisheries officials say they will find an abundance of fish ages 3 to 6 years. They will average around 20 inches, with some up to 26 inches.

Words like “walleye capital,” “world-class,” “fabulous” and “exceed expectations” don’t come cheap.

The price includes respect for the rules and regulations developed to preserve and protect the fishery.

Walleyes must measure 15 inches to be harvested. They are 2-year-old fish and an increasing number of those in that year class will surpass the keeper size limit as summer progresses.

Fish from the 2018 and ’19 hatches will show up on anglers’ lines as 9- to 14-inchers. They must be released alive immediately, with as little handling as possible to ensure as many as possible survive to reach legal size. Erie’s walleye bag limit is six fish per angler.

If we all resist the temptation to hedge on size and bag limits — and spawns continue to be amazingly successful — we can enjoy off-the-charts fishing for years and years.

Jack Wollitz is a writer and angler who caught his first Lake Erie walleye during Gerald Ford’s presidency. He also appreciates emails from readers. Send a note to Jack at jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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