Summer may be more than halfway over, but worry not – if you’ve got the time, there’s still plenty of fishing left to do.
And if you’re looking to cast your line right here in Ohio, there are a multitude of points along Lake Erie that offer opportunities. Sport fishing enjoys a great deal of popularity up around the lake, both for fishing enthusiasts and for families looking for a weekend getaway.
Many people consider the western basin of Lake Erie, Marblehead and the Lake Erie Islands to be some of the best freshwater sport fishing in the country, says Larry Fletcher, executive director of the Lake Erie Shores & Islands visitors’ bureau in Port Clinton.
“We’re known down here as the Walleye Capital of the World,” says Fletcher.
Fishing is a big part of the economy in the area, drawing thousands of people for a New Year’s Eve tradition known as the Walleye Drop. It’s exactly what you think it is: A 600-pound fiberglass walleye is suspended from a crane and lowered like the ball in Times Square when the clock nears midnight.
But there are plenty of reasons to visit in warmer weather, Fletcher says.
“In terms of sport fishing, there are hundreds of charter captains that operate on Lake Erie, and a large percentage of them operate out of the western basin,” he says.
Private charters that can carry as many as six people are spread out across marinas, while other companies operate head boats with maximum capacities of 30 for which people pay individually to spend a day exploring for walleye or yellow perch, another Lake Erie staple. A number of fishing piers operated by state parks and the city of Port Clinton are available on the coastline as well.
Walleye and perch fishing are year-round activities in the area. The daily catch limit for perch is 30, while the daily walleye catch limit is six, except in March and April, when it is four.
Fletcher encourages everyone to periodically check the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife website, www.ohiodnr.com, to keep up-to-date on regulations before heading out for a fishing trip.
Though Lake Erie is considered the shallowest of the Great Lakes, it has the most fish in it and the area sets itself apart from others, Fletcher says.
“It’s the quality of the fishing and the quantity of the fish,” he says. “People come from all over the Midwest to fish for walleye here. They come from other states that have walleye fishing, but they come here because they know it’s going to be better.”
On the eastern end of Ohio’s Lake Erie shore is Ashtabula, which also offers a number of sport fishing locations with nine marinas available for the public to use.
More than 50 charter captains are on the lake each day during the spring, summer and fall months in pursuit of walleye, perch, steelhead trout and smallmouth bass, says Mark Winchell, executive director of the Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The steelhead fishing industry is a powerful force in Ashtabula County, as three of its main rivers make up the core of what is known as Steelhead Alley. Most steelhead trout can be found in the fall and spring, Winchell says.
“Really, we look at the charter industry and the steelhead fishing industry as a big economic driver,” he says. “I personally and professionally believe the fishing industry is something that absolutely sets us apart from some of our core competitors.”
While steelhead trout is the main event, as in Port Clinton and the Lake Erie Islands, walleye is a popular catch among Ashtabula fishermen. Winchell refers to the area as a sport fishing destination for enthusiasts.
“Really, there’s a national as well as an international clientele that are looking to the steelhead industry,” he says. “Lake Erie’s called the Walleye Capital of the World for a reason, and there’s no other place in the world you can go to catch specific record-breaking walleye like you can in Lake Erie. … It really sets us apart again from our competitors and creates that distinct advantage in sport fishermen coming here.”
In Lake County, just 22 miles east of Cleveland, tourism is also driven by sport fishing.
Walleye, steelhead trout and perch are commonly found by fishermen, and largemouth bass often pops up as well in the area Robert Ulas, executive director of the Lake County Visitors Bureau, refers to as a “fishing mecca.”
The area sees many visitors who come from out of town, particularly June through October. The charter captains available play an important role.
“The charter captains here are top-notch,” Ulas says. “The charter captains … are very dedicated to ensuring their clients have an enjoyable trip and a productive trip in fishing.”
Many people don’t realize there is much more to Lake Erie than its western end, but Lake County will “accommodate the most deserving fishermen” who make it a potential fishing destination for themselves, Ulas says. He recommends charter boats for the best fishing experience.
“It’s a great fishing area that often goes unrecognized,” Ulas says. “People think Lake Erie ends at Cleveland, and it really extends to Lake County. … It’s a great place to relax and recreate.”