In 2020, rainbow smelt once again became a dominant food source for walleye, according to survey results. The length (condition) and weight of 4-year-old walleye were both slightly below average. A high abundance of walleye and increased competition for food can lead to a slower growth rate and this is what biologists are seeing.
The Lake Erie yellow perch is also doing well at this time. At least in New York waters. Perch 3-6 years old produce the best fishing and we had strong classes in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019. However, 2017 and 2018 are relatively poor classes.
“The average adult abundance is a good sign for this year,” Wilkins said, “but we’ve had poor recruitment in two of the past six years.”
Fish biologist James Markham, also from the Lake Erie unit, noted that catch rates have been above average in 12 of the past 13 years. He said anglers averaged 17 perch per boat trip last year.
“The 11-inch average for these fish is the highest in Lake Erie,” Markham said. “These are dominated by a strong 2016 year class (5 years). Catches of the 2019 year-class (age 2) are expected to increase this year in the fall fishery (with 8-9 inch fish). “
To help capture the April perch fishery, the DEC Open Lake Angler Survey for Lake Erie began in April instead of May for the first time. April’s perch fishermen averaged 29 perch per boat trip with a catch rate of 2.25 fish per hour. The time series average is 13.5 poles per boat trip and 1.49 perch per hour. Over 17,000 hours of fishing were spent targeting perch, which is almost the total from May to October 2020. Yes, it was a good spring for perch and anglers still catch them. Note that even with the great early action, only about 3% of pole hunters caught a limit of fish.