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Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Have you been walleye fishing at Lake Erie yet this spring?

Boats have commonly been limiting out in a couple of hours, sometimes even less. It is an extension of the past two years except for one thing. Those small walleye in the local population are about 20 inches long. What is it going to be like when the migratory walleye get here?

This end of Lake Erie, the eastern end of the Central Basin and the Eastern Basin, have two walleye populations of significance to walleye anglers. A population that lives in the area year-round, and a distinctly different population that migrates from the Western Basin and the Central Basin. It was the migratory population that started the big walleye fishing boom at this end of the lake. The local walleye population was relatively unexploited until a few years ago, even though angler surveys showed better catch rates for local walleye at night.

A couple of consecutive years of highly successful walleye spawns over most of Lake Erie have the current population very high. So high that anglers using a variety of lures and a variety of fishing tactics to catch walleye just about anywhere along the Pennsylvania and New York shorelines.

This is a great opportunity, now while walleye are still relatively close to shore, for anglers who own smaller boats to be part of the action. I can sneak out in my deep 14-foot boat and catch walleye not far from NorthEast Marina.

If you are new to Lake Erie fishing, maybe we can make this easier.

First, where to launch. Launch ramps on the east side of Erie are considerably closer than launches west of Erie. Also, launch ramps to the west of Erie tend to get very crowded. Very crowded. I suggest NorthEast Marina, Shade’s Beach or East Street. Also, in New York, Barcelona or Dunkirk. I have never seen the parking lots at any of these full, and never a long wait to launch or load. I think novice boaters tend to gravitate to Walnut Creek Access.

Walleye fishing usually is good near all three, especially this year. These launch ramps are considerably closer to deep water than any on the west side, so even during summer walleye still are within 3 miles to 4 miles from shore. Recently walleye have been caught in depths from about 15 feet at night out to about 50 feet out of NorthEast and 70 feet out of Dunkirk. Most of the daytime catching has been done close to 40 feet.

Trolling had been the walleye fishing method of choice for anglers in the Eastern Basin for several years. But for the past three years, drift fishing has been increasing in popularity. A nice part about this is that much less specialized gear is necessary for drift fishing than for trolling in 40 feet of water, and deeper. You can get into it for the price of a few heavy drifting sinkers. I prefer Snap Weights.

A drift anchor is the biggest piece of gear for wind drifting. It is the only way to slow the boat and control the angle of the boat to the wind. But if you will be fishing in a smaller boat, you have no real need for a drift anchor because you will not be out there in a stiff wind.

Your first purchase of specialized deep water trolling gear should be a pair of medium size Dipsy Divers and the rods to use with them. But that is another story.

You should have a fairly heavy rod for drift fishing with heavy weights. It can be either a spinning outfit or a level-wind outfit. The more important factor that the rod is sensitive.

A nice assortment of nightcrawler harnesses is all of the lures you will need to drift fish and bottom bounce. These can be the same nightcrawler harnesses that you use in the Allegheny Reservoir or Chautauqua Lake. Or they can be the larger willow leaf spinner harnesses commonly used for trolling at Lake Erie. However, if you buy new nightcrawler harnesses, or tie your own, have most with Indiana blades and some Colorado blades for days when the wind is mild.

Stay home if the wind is out of the Northeast, or if waves are more than a foot if you will be in a smaller boat. Your boat may be able to handle 2-foot waves, but typically some 3-foot waves will be mixed with the 2-foot waves. And waves have a way of growing without being noticed. If the waves build too much it will take a long time to get back to safe harbor, allowing more time for waves to build.

Be safe. Watch weather reports and carry a weather radio.


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