Some people might associate Lake Erie with long vacation days on the beach, stunning sunsets, and “lake monster” Bessie, but fishermen see it as a treasure trove. While there are many fish species to choose from, Walleye fishing on Lake Erie is phenomenal.
This prized game fish put the lake on the map as one of the top fishing spots in the world. Both locals and visiting anglers can confirm that casting a line on the shallowest of the Great Lakes means coming back to shore with a cooler full of fish. If you’re preparing for a trip to Lake Erie and you’ve got Walleye on your mind, here’s some useful info to get you started.
All You Need to Know About Walleye
There are many reasons Walleye is the absolute favorite catch on Lake Erie. These big-eyed apex predators fight like no other freshwater species, and they’ve got the teeth to prove it. There are millions of them in the lake, and a good number of them are trophy specimens.
Average Walleye weigh from 3–7 pounds, but you could easily stumble upon 10–12 lb lunkers. It’s the abundance of record-sized fish that keeps avid anglers coming back. In recent years, thanks to the diligence of marine biologists, hatchery has been exploding and adult fish are thriving. This just means more first-class action for you!
Where Do Walleye Live?
One of the first things you should know about the mighty Walleye is that they’re migratory fish. They like to move around a lot, so finding them can take a bit of time, which is where fishfinders come into play. These fish move around in schools which makes them easier to spot and allows for multiple catches simultaneously.
Walleye spawn in the early spring months, when they come closer to shore. They’re here for several weeks, looking for the perfect spawning spots like gravelly or sandy parts of the bottom bays, and reefs. What’s interesting is that they usually return to the place of their hatching to spawn, similarly to Salmon.
Come warmer weather, these creatures move further offshore in search of the perfect water temperature and food. This is when you can fish the central parts of Lake Erie’s basins. The Western Basin is especially known for its productivity. Eastern and Central Basins offer an excellent bite on the hottest days of summer.
Because these hard-fighting fish are always on the move, it takes a seasoned guide to help you find them. Depending on the time of year, they hunt in the parts of the lake that are 5–60 feet deep. Their preferred water temperature for feeding is 60–70ºF.
This gives you a lot of water to cover, which can be intimidating, but with professional guidance, it doesn’t have to be. Walleye fishing on Lake Erie should predominantly be about enjoying yourself, and with so many fish and experienced captains at your disposal, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing.
What Do Walleye Eat?
Walleye are voracious eaters, and that’s because they are always growing and need more energy, so they’re constantly hungry. They’ll gobble down just about anything you throw at them, whether it’s live bait or lures. This makes them a picture-perfect catch for all levels of anglers.
To get their attention, threadfin shad is a good choice since it’s their favorite food. These clear-eyed fellas also can’t resist alewives, emerald shiners, or smelt. The key, however, is in the presentation.
Walleye see very well, even in dark and murky waters – hence the name and the affectionate nickname ‘Eyes. The choice of technique and tackle is just as important as what’s on the hook. Present your offering in the part of the water column where your prey lives or slightly above it. These fish are ready to swim up to get their food, but they won’t bother going lower, to colder waters.
This species doesn’t shy away from tucking into other fish, especially Yellow Perch. Their teeth are so strong that they can even tear into another Walleye if need be. In short, they’re apex predators through and through.
Best Season for Walleye Fishing on Lake Erie
It’s a known fact that the Walleye high season is in the heat of the summer but in truth, going after these toothy fish can be productive all year. Fishing spots and techniques change with seasons, but there are always hungry fish in the lake. Let’s see what you can expect from Lake Erie in every season.
Early days of spring are reserved for spawning Walleye. From late February through April, your prey will be close to land, feeding and looking for the perfect spawning spot. Boat fishing isn’t productive right now because the fish are swarming the shallows.
If you love fishing from shore, this is your time. You can cast your line into waters that are only several feet deep and be successful. Spring is also a great time for night fishing. The fish come closer to the surface to feed, and anglers make the most of this opportunity to snag some fresh Walleye before the peak season.
Bear in mind that the weather can be unpredictable in spring, so dress warmly and have rain gear at hand.
The peak Walleye season is upon us! As the weather stabilizes and the temperatures rise, these toothy fellas move into deeper waters, where you’ll find them in thousands. July is the best month to come to Lake Erie, treat yourself to a fishing trip, and catch your limits.
During the warmest time of the year, you’ll see a lot of charter boats on the lake, and even more excited anglers battling their prey on light tackle. Walleye set out offshore after spawning and can settle up to several miles from land. Casting and trolling with planer boards will reward you with bragworthy catches at the end of the day.
Whether you’re in it for a new personal record, or you’d just like to stock up on delicious fillets, Lake Erie is your oyster. This trend will continue all through September, sometimes even October, depending on the fishing conditions.
As the weather cools down in the fall, Walleye seek refuge in shallow waters again. September and October can still produce a good number of catches, but the bite can be sporadic. A lot depends on the temperature and the amount of rain these days, so it’s a good idea to consult a local guide about the best time to go fishing.
This time of year, Walleye fishing on Lake Erie is excellent in the Canadian waters. This means that you can bring your passport and head out for a mixed bag just across the border.
When we say that fishing on Lake Erie is open year-round, we mean it. During the coldest months, parts of the lake freeze over completely, providing perfect ice fishing conditions. Most anglers hang their fishing gear during the winter, but some locals don’t let the cold slow them down.
Before you hit the ice and get some good Walleye on your line, it’s important to be safe. There are ice fishing guides who can help you find the best and safest spots out there. The waters between the islands are usually your safest bet. Make sure that the ice is thick enough to drill holes, always go out with someone, and remember to dress very very warmly.
Best Techniques for Walleye Fishing on Lake Erie
There are several techniques that work well for catching Walleye, some of them bulletproof when it comes to results. You don’t have to blindly roam the lake – there are a lot of fishing charters to take you to your prey. You can also explore these waters from shore. Let’s talk about the techniques you might use.
Solo fishermen will enjoy casting from shore, especially in spring and fall. This is the time when Walleye come close to land, ready to gorge themselves, and this is your chance. Some resident fish love to hunt in the shallows all year, so solid catches are always possible.
Nighttime shore fishing is excellent in April. Specimens that weigh 6–8 pounds hunt close to the surface and anglers take advantage to stock up on pre-spawn fish. You can also go out during the day and focus your efforts around rocky areas for the best results. All along the shoreline of Lake Erie, you’ll find plenty of fishing spots to explore.
Trolling is by far the most productive fishing technique for catching Walleye on Lake Erie. When you go fishing with your charter, chances are you’ll either be drifting or trolling. If you’d prefer to do be more hands-on, some good old-fashioned casting and jigging is always an option.
Lake Erie guides have turned trolling into an art, with a lot of different approaches to try out. Your boat will be moving slowly, up to 2 miles per hour, with fishing lines being dragged behind it. Weed beds, ledges, and drop-offs are all popular Walleye hiding places and you’ll probably be fishing around them. Whether you’ll choose planer boards, downriggers, flatlining, or divers depends on the time of the year.
The main perk of trolling is that you’ll have more lines in the water and cover more ground, which means better possibilities for catching something good.
As we mentioned before, winter doesn’t necessarily put a stopper on Walleye fishing, but the conditions and approach change. These fish become more apathetic when water temperatures drop, but you can still pique their interest with the right presentation.
Walleye can be quite far from shore during the winter, so you might need snowmobiles or airboats to move around. This is where ice fishing guides come in handy, because they pack all the equipment you might need. Be warned – the ice should be at least four inches thick for you to fish safely.
The best choice of bait are minnows, both large and small, depending on how big of a fish you’re targeting. Use a fishfinder to locate Walleye, drop your light line and small hook, and wait until you feel that tug.
Top Fishing Spots
Walleye fishing on Lake Erie is outstanding and as long as you know where to look for them, you’re in for a lot of fun. Here are just a few of the many fishing spots you should put on your to-visit list.
- Port Clinton: With the Western Basin just a stone’s throw away, Port Clinton is one of the go-to spots when it comes to Walleye fishing. You don’t have to travel far to get to your prey and there’s a lot of local captains ready to take you out.
- South Bass Island: Both ice fishing and regular fishing yield great results around the South Bass Island. Walleye hang out here because there’s a lot of cover and food, so double-digit catches are in the cards.
- Ashtabula: Looking to earn your bragging rights by landing a massive Walleye? Then head to Ashtabula and nearby Geneva for the possibility of trophy fish.
- The Trenches: The Trenches are productive throughout the season and Walleye are consistently biting. This is also one of the top spots for late fall fishing. These Pennsylvania waters have a lot to offer to fishermen ready to explore Lake Erie’s riches.
- Cleveland: This is the place to be if you’re looking to fish for Walleye in an urban setting. In spring, when they migrate through these waters, you’ll see droves of anglers dotting the breakwalls at night. Why not be one of them?
Rules & Regulations
Lake Erie spreads across four states and different fishing regulations may apply in every one of them. Wherever you’re going fishing, it’s important to familiarize yourself with local regulations. The most important thing to bear in mind is the fishing license, which you’ll be in charge of buying.
Everyone who’s 16 and older needs to have a valid fishing license of the state they’re fishing in. If you’re going to the Canadian waters, bring your passport, an Outdoors Card, and an appropriate Ontario fishing license. The daily creel limit for Walleye can change from year to year, so make sure you’re in the loop. If you’re fishing with a charter, the captain will explain everything you need to know to fish safely and responsibly.
Walleye Fishing on Lake Erie – You’ll Always Come Back for More!
There are many bodies of water in the country where you can target Walleye, but none of them lives up to Lake Erie’s reputation. In fact, you’ll hardly find a better place on the planet to hunt this prestigious game fish.
Thankfully, you don’t have to travel all around the globe to get to that premier bite. Walleye fishing on Lake Erie will provide you with plenty of memorable moments and fantastic catches for several lifetimes!
Did you ever go Walleye fishing on Lake Erie? Do you have a story you’d like to share? Any advice fishermen should be aware of? Let us know in the comment section.