Several booming walleye populations close to Warren over the past four decades have made this an area of walleye anglers. This was not the case when I was a kid. Then, this was trout fishing territory. But along came booming walleye fishing in the Allegheny River, booming walleye fishing at Chautauqua Lake, booming walleye fishing at the Allegheny Reservoir, booming walleye fishing at Lake Erie.
For the past decade, or so, all of those booming walleye fisheries tapered off. Walleye fishing never did get as bad as some local fishermen would have you believe, however, walleye fishing was certainly not as easy as it had been during the booms.
Maybe not at the levels of some of the previous booms, now there is what we probably at some time would have accepted as booming walleye fishing going on in the near-shore waters of Lake Erie. Maybe we got so spoiled by all of that great walleye fishing that we lost some perspective, and we have not recognized this as a booming walleye fishery.
Terry Campbell is one Warren-area angler who has not been missing the shallow water walleye fishing at Lake Erie. The walleye he holds is typical of the near-shore walleye, not as large as the off-shore migrating walleye but still plenty tasty.
Compared to that deep-water walleye fishing boom that was fed by walleye migrating from the Western Basin, this near-shore fishing has a big advantage for Warren-area anglers. It can be done more comfortably in smaller boats. Of course boats must be large enough to safely handle the lake, but since the fishing is closer to shore boats can get back into safe harbors much more quickly. If nothing else, this makes us feel somewhat more secure than when we were fishing beyond sight of land.
This very good walleye fishing has been happening in depths of less than 60 feet, often as shallow as 25 feet, all along the Pennsylvania shoreline of Lake Erie. The western side of Erie has been getting more attention than the eastern side, but to say one side or the other has been best would be misleading. It has been the typical walleye fishing, that the 'hot spots' are the last places where word got out that anglers made good catches. And by the time most boaters get there, the 'hot spot' has moved.
The bottom line is that the anglers who know good searching methods will be successful more consistently than others. Then, the second part of this is that anglers who know how to stay over those walleye they find will be most successful.
Out in deep water where there are no shoreline references, staying over walleye was difficult until gps came along. That is one more piece of expensive, complicated electronics that anglers felt they had to buy. Certainly gps is still very helpful closer to shore, but at lease now we can stay reasonably close to the walleye without it by using shoreline references.
The near-shore walleye fishing gets started each spring near the mouths of tributary creeks, where walleye come to feed on steelhead smolt which are coming out of the creeks. That should be happening now, although I have not yet heard anything about it.
The favored tactic for casting from shore by creek mouths is using large stick baits. A favorite has been size 18 Rapalas in basic color patterns, black backs with shiny silver sides.
These are retrieved slowly so they do not dive so deep they snag on bottom. Many anglers have been retrieving so slowly that the lures can be seen at the surface throughout the retrieves.
Once anglers start going after the near-shore walleye from boats, they use the same basic trolling tactics as were used for deep-water trolling, just shallower. One significant difference is that these near-shore walleye tend to orient more to bottom. However, they still go up in the water column to attack schools of emerald shiners and smelt.
Balls of bait which appear on the sonar screen are good indications of feeding walleye, although perch may cause the same thing. Baitfish tend to cluster into relatively tight groups when they are attacked by larger predators. Sometimes you will see the marks of larger fish around the balls of baitfish. But do not let it discourage you if none are on the screen.
Just as in deep water, though more frequent, signs of walleye very tight to bottom often indicates that fishing will be difficult. That is if you can pick out the close to bottom marks. Some sonar units can not do it, and interpreting such marks is difficult.
If the drive to Lake Erie from Warren were not so long and so costly, I would probably give up when walleye are tight to bottom. But since I do usually stay for several hours I have frequently observed the walleye rising from bottom and getting more active.
Good catches of near-shore walleye may not average as large as the huge schools of migrating walleye off-shore, but a cooler of walleye still tastes as good as it ever did. The high cost of gas probably will limit trips to Lake Erie. When you do go, the rewards may surprise you.