The focus for most anglers is the freshwater angling trilogy—walleye, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch—as far as warm or cool water fish are concerned. 


Tracey Mikolajek of OP with a Lake Erie walleye.


Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, is an outstanding natural resource when it comes to fish and fishing. The focus for most anglers is the freshwater angling trilogy—walleye, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch—as far as warm or cool water fish are concerned. We are fortunate in the Empire State because all three species can be found in the New York waters of this popular lake in both quality and quantity. However, angler effort in 2021 for walleye was the lowest the lake has seen since 2013. On the flip side, the catch rate was the sixth best in the 34 years of the survey.

“There are an estimated 76 million age-two and older walleye in the lake this year,” said Dr. Jason Robinson, Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit leader for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “However, this population estimate does not include the eastern walleye stocks, which are important to our local fisheries. Both the east and west basin had record levels of age-zero walleye recruitment in 2021. Our local stocks have seen strong recruitment in five of the last seven years and may be becoming a more important player supporting New York’s walleye fishery.”



“The most recent estimates based on genetic analysis are that about 50 percent of angler-caught walleye in New York waters are from local spawning stocks,” insists Robinson. “The closer you get to Buffalo, the more important our local stocks become. This lake wide spawning success over the last several years bodes well for walleye fishing for years to come, and walleye fishing quality is expected to remain excellent in 2022.”

Why has angler effort been down, and could researchers be missing anglers at night? “The easing of the COVID-19 pandemic over the summer of 2021 likely played a role in the decline in angler effort,” says Robinson. “Spring nighttime walleye fishing has occurred along New York’s portion of Lake Erie for many years and can provide catch rates that are equal to or greater than the daytime angling efforts. However, the nighttime fishery has historically accounted for around ten percent or less of the overall walleye fishing pressure, making it a minor contributor to the walleye harvest. Another nighttime walleye angler survey is scheduled to occur within the next few years.”

Walleye fishing took place a bit earlier this year. Thanks to a regulation change that went into effect on April 1, the new opening date for walleye across the state is now May 1 moving forward. It may have had an impact on the early season walleye action this year.



As far as walleye, daytime efforts have increased in recent years in May and this year’s totals were sitting at 19,400 hours. The 20-year average is only 7,195 hours. This was the third largest targeted walleye focus in 20 years and the catch rate was among the highest at .23 fish per hour. Only 2019 and 2020 catch rates were higher. Two percent of the May anglers caught a six-fish limit, and the average size of a fish was 20.3 inches long.

It’s important to note that May is a slower time for walleye fishing. That could be changing. It appears more anglers are fishing during the day in May. They are learning how to find fish and finetune their presentations, and they will become more successful as a result. This can only help to improve fishing efforts for the month and attract new fishermen. The number one form of advertising is word of mouth and there’s nothing quite like a happy, successful fisherman—especially through social media. Best months for pursuing walleye are June, July, and August in New York.

In addition to the excellent walleye fishery, New York was also blessed with some of the best yellow perch fishing on the lake. According to the Lake Erie Unit, yellow perch fishing quality in New York is currently above the long-term average. New York waters had the highest pounds of perch harvested per hour in the entire lake in 2021, and the highest average size at 11.7 inches. Both the 2019- and 2020-year classes look to be above average, with the 2019-year class entering the recreational fishery in 2022 at age-3. However, poor year classes in 2017 and 2018 and the aging out of the 2016-year class may reduce catch rates slightly in 2022. Fishing quality in 2022 should still be at or above the long-term average. If your goal is to put big perch fillets on the table, New York waters are the place to be in Lake Erie this year.



“We may repeat the April angler survey we did in 2021 which focused on the spring perch fishery,” said Robinson. “The April fishery has become increasingly popular in recent years due to the lack of ice cover and accounted for over 65 percent of the entire 2021 yellow perch harvest.”

Also, this past May, yellow perch angling effort increased considerably from 2021 and 2020. DEC recorded 12,600 angler hours for the month, up from the overall av-erage of 9,645 hours. Over 80 percent of an-glers focused their efforts off Cattaraugus Creek. Boats caught an average of 18 perch each time out, with a catch rate of 1.59 fish per hour, the ninth highest for May. The May average is 1.65 fish per hour. About 2.5 percent of anglers achieved a 50-fish limit and the average size was 11.4 inches.


Perch for Beginners

Yellow perch fishing on Lake Erie has exploded out of the gate this year once again to the delight of ring back anglers. Diehard perch fisherman Steve Brzuszkiewicz of Marilla is always willing to share perch fishing information. He is like a machine on this Great Lake. Fall is another great time to target perch in New York.


In addition to the excellent walleye fishery, New York was also blessed with some of the best yellow perch fishing on the lake. Steve Brzuszkiewicz with a fine catch.


His recommendations for a beginner perch fisherman are trying to stack all the variables in your favor. These include weather, equipment, bait, and a plan of where you are going to fish. On the weather aspect, it seems best to head out on a day when the winds will be less than 10 knots at least two days after a big blow. A little ripple seems to be better than dead calm.

“Locating perch is the key,” insists Brzuszkiewicz. He prefers a boat that lets you get close to the water like a tiller aluminum boat in the 16–18-foot range equipped with an I-pilot trolling motor to hold him over the fish at the push of a button. He has not used an iron anchor in more than 10 years.

“To find perch, a good fish finder and GPS really are keys,” says Brzuszkiewicz. “I find it best to troll slowly while using the fish finder’s lowest frequency which usually covers the most area. Mapping GPS is great for telling you where you are and have been in addition to marking waypoints to test on future outings. Perch usually hug the bottom but sometimes they seem to layer a few feet off the bottom.”

For gear, he recommends a light action 5-1/2-foot rod and spinning reel using 10-pound test braided line. This gives him a better feel than monofilament and the short rod makes it easy to swing the fish into the boat. His favorite rig is a 4-foot fluorocarbon leader to which he ties two size No. 4 gold Aberdeen snelled hooks. The snelled hooks also use 14-pound fluorocarbon line. The only hardware is a swivel snap for the 1-ounce pencil sinker. His braided line has a swivel and leader has a loop. This setup maximizes stealth which he feels is better than excessive hardware when the perch are picky.

To try to ensure success he tries to get the best live bait the day before if possible. Live emerald shiners are his first choice. Live is better than salted. He prefers to keep his minnows in a bucket with a bubbler so he can get them quicker. His preference is to double hook the minnow from the tail end when vertical fishing or drifting slow.

If trolling slowly, he may hook the bait through the head to see if it makes a difference. “Getting the perch to bite sometimes requires perseverance and experimentation,” says Brzuszkiewicz. “Just dropping to the bottom works on a good hungry school but moving less dense finicky perch re-quires some trial and error.” This includes casting out with a slow drag back to the boat, or a slow lift and drop, or a small twitch, or let the line loose so both hooks drop to the bottom or a dead stick.

In any case, check your minnow after 10 minutes of inaction and put on a live one. Save your old minnow if in short sup-ply because a hungry pack could show up later and dead fresh minnows work better than salted ones. And finally try to go where the fish usually are. You need to go to the fish because they won’t come to you normally. An exception is when they are in an area and moving around.



For the beginner, a group of boats is a good starting point. Don’t get too close to anyone. Look around using your fish finder and keep your eyes open for sea gulls feeding near a boat because that boat is catching fish. This will build up your way point history for the future. Help from your buddies and other fisherman for starting points is key. It is easy to do in our age of cell phones.

“Never give up searching for fish be-cause the next spot may be that hot spot,” says Brzuszkiewicz.


Steve Brzuszkiewicz of Marilla with a limit of walleyes from Lake Erie. 


Spring and fall are excellent times to give perch fishing a try on Lake Erie. Time on the water makes a huge difference. If you want a short cut to learn spots, techniques, and tips, hire a guide for a day and have an on-the-water educational lesson. For a list of Lake Erie charters in New York waters, check out https://www.easternla-keeriecharters.com/.


Trophy Bass Fishery Continues

Lake Erie’s smallmouth bass fishery continues to be a trophy resource for anglers, attracting casters from around the country thanks to the Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society and other bass groups. Each year, these bass-infested waters of Erie produce some exciting bronze back action.

There is even a special trophy bass season on Lake Erie that extends from Dec. 1 to June 14 (with the new bass season starting up on June 15 starting this year) that allows for one bass per person per day and a minimum size of 20 inches long.



“The smallmouth bass fishery in New York waters is almost exclusively catch-and-release fishing with only one percent of the bass caught in 2021 harvested by anglers,” said Pascal Wilkins, Warm Water Biologist with the Lake Erie Unit. “Bass growth has steadily increased since the late 1990’s. Since then, the size of an age-three bass has gradually increased from about 12 inches to about 14 inches.”

“We also assess smallmouth bass abundance and recruitment using our annual fall warmwater gillnet survey,” continued Wilkins. “Our metric of small-mouth bass abundance increased slightly in 2021 but remains relatively low at about half the time series average due to a lack of recruitment in recent years. We have not seen a good year class of age-two bass enter the fishery since 2018. Older bass (age-8 and older) abundance has remained more stable in recent years but was also slightly below the time series average. Despite these lower population levels, the angler catch rate (0.95 bass/hour) for bass remains right around average for Lake Erie and high compared to other smallmouth fisheries.”

Bass fishermen came out in May this year to chase smallmouth in large numbers, too. Inside and outside of Buffalo Harbor attracted 58 percent of the fishermen, while 28 percent of bass chasers were fish-ing inside and outside of Dunkirk Harbor. This past May, surveyed anglers spent some 17,500 hours pursuing smallmouth bass. However, when it came to bass quality, this past May was below average. Anglers going after bass averaged about 15 bass per boat trip with a catch rate of 1.11 fish per hour, the fourth lowest May catch rate on record. The average catch rate for May is 1.48 fish per hour.


Exciting Time for Lake Trout/Steelhead

Last year was an exciting year for lake trout in Lake Erie.

“We found the first documented evidence of wild reproduction in 60 years in the form of wild lake trout fry near Barcelona,” said James Markham, Cold Water guru with the Lake Erie Unit. “Genetic analysis of these fry indicated that they were the offspring of stocked fish, which is good news. It means that despite all the challenges in Lake Erie, at least some of our stocked fish are finding good spawning habitat and having success.”



“We plan to continue our fry trapping efforts this year in the hopes of collecting more fry that can be used for genetic and otolith chemistry analysis,” said Markham. “This discovery also prompted us to take a closer look at the combined lake trout data from all Lake Erie jurisdictions. Analysis of the numbers of unmarked fish caught in our surveys indicate that there is likely a low level of wild recruitment happen-ing and that as many as 1 in 200 adults are wild. Even though this doesn’t sound like a lot, this offers some real reasons for optimism about lake trout restoration in Lake Erie.”

It is important to point out that none of this would be possible without the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s Sea Lamprey Control Program keeping the sea lamprey population in check. The adult lamprey population in Lake Erie has been below target levels for three consecutive years now.


Lake trout acoustic telemetry program.


“Based on the three-year pulsed stocking strategy laid out in the new Lake Trout Rehabilitation Plan, New York will receive more lake trout than the other Lake Erie jurisdictions in 2022—120,000 yearling lake trout were stocked offshore near Dunkirk in early May. This will be followed by 80,000 in 2023 and 0 in 2024. The goal of this pulsed stocking is to reduce competition and cannibalism in stocked lake trout and has shown positive results in other waters.”

Markham is also the biologist involved with the steelhead stocking program in the tributaries off Lake Erie. Some new and exciting management techniques are currently in place, and it is hoped that they will really make a difference moving forward into the future.



“In 2020, the stocking target for steelhead in Lake Erie tributaries was cut roughly in half on an experimental basis, from 255,000 to 142,500 fish, and stocking locations were moved farther upstream,” reflects Markham. “This decision was based on a study we conducted indicating better adult returns from larger fish stocked upstream. The stocking reduction gave the staff at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Altmar the flexibility to experiment with techniques to produce a larger, higher quality steelhead for Lake Erie.”

“Hatchery staff were able to substantially increase the length and weight of yearling steelhead for Lake Erie in 2020 and 2021. This year will be the third year of the stocking target reduction and will be followed by a full evaluation of the experimental stocking policy. We currently have a tributary angler survey going on that will also help with this evaluation.”

Preliminary results of the angler survey indicate excellent catch rates well above the Steelhead Management Plan target of 0.33 fish an hour.



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