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The days of throwing back all those 14 3/4-inch walleye are hopefully behind us.
As much as every Lake Erie fisherman reveled in the fact the 2014 walleye hatch was the best in a dozen years, there were literally "growing" pains last summer on the big waters.
Walleye catches were off the charts -- the only problem, a big percentage of those bites were 14-inch fish from the incredible 2014 hatch. Not only were they short of the 15-inch minimum length limit, but fishermen booking charters were balking at a $600 price tag for six small fish.
With the fish now a year older, and still hungry, the fishing -- and keeping -- should be exceptional this year.
Now the walleye won't be Fish Ohio quality, but for the most part they'll be in the 17-inch range, perfect for table-fare.
Recently, the Ohio Division of Wildlife released its fishing prospectus for both Lake Erie and inland regions, and the outlook for both is good.
Besides the expected boon for Lake Erie, walleye fishing inland is also predicted to be good in the 19-county District Three area, led by Mosquito Reservoir in Trumbull County. West Branch, Berlin, Milton, Tappan and Atwood also all sport walleye or saugeye populations, but Mosquito is tops when it comes to landing eyes.
According to DOW reports, Mosquito "has the best numbers of walleyes across all of Ohio's inland lakes over the past five years. Each year, the ODNR Division of Wildlife collects broodstock walleye from Mosquito Lake for hatchery production. It is known for producing great catch rates of walleye from 14 to18-inches, but anglers who are familiar with the lake's fishery regularly catch walleye up to 28-inches. Mid-lake areas from the causeway to the 'Cemetery' produce the best catches."
The DOW's Lake Erie report says "walleye anglers will catch fish mostly from the 2015, 2014 and 2013 hatches, with some fish from the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 year classes. Additional fish from 2007 and 2003 will also be harvested by anglers. Walleye from the 2014 hatch will range from 16-19 inches, while walleye from the 2013 hatch will be between 17-22 inches. Fish from the 2003 and 2007 hatches are likely to carry most of the Central Basin fisheries, and a good number of these walleye will be over the 26-inch range. Large walleye from (the) strong hatch in 2003 will continue to provide "Fish Ohio" opportunities (greater than 28 inches), with this year class nearing the size that may give Ohio a new state record walleye. Additionally, in 2017, anglers should see a number of smaller (less than 15 inches) fish from the excellent 2015 hatch."
If its largemouth bass you're after, it'll be hard to beat the bucketmouths at Portage Lakes. Despite the many connected lakes being surrounded by houses and lots of boat traffic, Portage Lakes produces the best bass fishing in District Three. Lots of docks and weed cover make it a favorite of amateur bass fishermen and club bass tournaments.
For crappie, creel surveys show that Atwood ranks in the top 10 lakes in Ohio for slabs in terms of numbers and size, while a trip to the Pennsylvania state line to fish Pymatuning could be worth it if you're a fan of bluegill. Portage Lakes also has a good Redear population, with bed fishing after Memorial Day a big draw.
Fishing for channel cats is productive in most of the lakes throughout the District Three, with the fish management team in Akron suggesting Springfield Lake in Summit County as one of the top lakes for size and numbers. It has regularly received stockings, and fishing is accessible to both the shore and boat angler.
And if you want big, trophy muskellunge, West Branch (Portage County) produced the most fish last year, and has one of the highest possibilities for catching trophy muskies.
Besides the suggestions by the Division of Wildlife, I would add that Milton is the top inland lake when it comes to catching smallmouth bass, Berlin is another top choice for walleye, and Nimisila (electric motor only) is a solid second for largemouth bass. Leesville continues to sport a good musky population, and Piedmont Lake (part in District Three, part in District Four) is a good bet for big Shovelhead catfish.
Back to Lake Erie, fisheries biologist are predicting an excellent perch fishing season for 2017, with improving numbers in the Western Basin. Perch anglers in the west will primarily catch perch from 2013, 2014 and 2015, providing a good range of sizes. The largest perch in the Western Basin will come from 2012 and older year classes. Central Basin anglers should expect to find average numbers of yellow perch, with most fish coming from the 2012 year class and to a lesser extent, the 2014 year class. Older fish from years prior to 2012 will provide the potential for trophy yellow perch.
Smallmouth bass number in Lake Erie should mimic recent results. In 2016, smallmouth bass catch rates were well above average for the fifth consecutive year, and in 2017, anglers should expect more of the same, including an excellent size range (14 to 22 inches and weighing up to 6 pounds). The best fishing for smallmouth bass will continue to be in areas with good bottom structure, which is the available habitat across much of the entire Ohio nearshore and islands.
Outdoor Editor Art Holden can be reached 330-287-1650 mornings, or at firstname.lastname@example.org