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Rod, Gun & Game: Lake Erie with top fishing prospects

Forrest Fisher writes a weekly outdoors column for The Sun News.
In 1955, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission was established with two major responsibilities that keeps it very busy with the science and management of their task.

The objectives are to develop coordinated research so the data will provide a scientific path to recommend a program that will permit the maximum productivity of fish stocks in common concern and to formulate a safe program to minimize or eradicate sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes.

The commission is comprised of eight people with four commissioners appointed by the president for six-year terms and four appointed by the Canadian Pivy Council. The Great Lakes Fisheries Act of 1956 authorized the additional appointment of advisers to the U.S. Section of the Commission.

In this regard, the U.S. Section appoints advisers from each lake from a list provided by the Great Lakes state governors. Due consideration is given to interests of state agencies, the commercial fish industry, sport fishermen, and the public-at-large.

Lake Erie (New York State) is represented by the NYS-DEC, with Don Einhouse as the chairman of the NYS section and captain Jerry May and Zen Olaw representing the sport fishery, Michael Ptak representing the commercial fishery and Jennifer Nalbone representing the public-at-large.

Other members of the Lake Erie committee include David Miko (Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission), Bruce Hawkins (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), Jeff Tyson (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) and Todd Kalish (Michigan Department of Natural Resources).

The group meets several times each year to satisfy annual objectives such as defining the walleye and yellow perch catch levels recommended for the following year, all based on harvest data from the prior year.

New York State DEC, with the use of the ARGO vessel that is berthed in Dunkirk Harbor, collects evidence of the fishery changes each year via trawl net sampling, and other methods whereby young of the year, forage type and volume, and other data is collected and utilized by the NYSDEC and GLFC to make decisions based on catch rate and daily sportfish limits.

The regulating agencies all around the lake tend to stay conservative when establishing harvest rates and changes for groups of interest around the lake. Note the most recent excellent yellow perch fishery catches ever noted by anglers in the last several years.

The lake is divided into multiple sectors, west to east, with New York and Pennsylvania one of the eastern sectors, with a north-south line from Pennsylvania that goes roughly northward across the lake into Ontario. Together, this sector — our sector, is managed jointly by the GLFC and individually by each shoreline entity, that is, Ontario, Pennsylvania and New York.

To manage the popular gamefish and commercial harvest species of perch and walleye, the GLFC has additionally established a Walleye Task Group and a Yellow Perch Task Group.

The lakewide yellow perch total allowable catch (TAC) in 2012 was 13.637 million pounds. This allocation represented a 7.8 percent increase from a TAC of 12.650 million pounds in 2011. For yellow perch assessment and allocation, Lake Erie is partitioned into four management units (MU’s). The 2012 allocation was 1.800, 4.000, 7.000, and 0.837 million pounds for MU’s 1 through 4, respectively. For perch, New York is part of MU4.

The lakewide harvest of yellow perch in 2012 was 10.786 million pounds, or 79 percent of the total 2012 TAC, a 12.1 percent increase from the 2011 harvest of 9.620 million pounds. Harvest by Management Units 1 through 4 was 1.729, 3.729, 4.677, and 0.651 million pounds. The portion of TAC harvested was 96.1, 93.2, 66.8, and 77.7 percents, in MUs 1 through 4, respectively. In 2012, Ontario harvested 6.901 million pounds, followed by Ohio (3.482 million pounds), Pennsylvania (203,000 pounds), New York (106,00 pounds), and Michigan (93,000 pounds).

The lake-wide data shows that for yellow perch the harvest in 2011 consisted mostly of age-4 fish (2007 year class, 37 percent), with a fair contribution of age-5 fish (2006 year class, 22.1 percent), the pooled older cohorts (ages 6-plus, 20.1 percent), and age-3 fish (2008 year class, 19.3 percent. Some big perch!

The targeted gill net effort in Ontario waters in 2012 increased 9.5 percent in MU2, 28.8 percent in MU3, and 13.2 percent in MU4, but decreased 12.7 percent in MU1 from 2011. The U.S. angling effort increased in 2012 in MU1 (17.9 percent), MU2 (15.4 percent), and MU4 (9.3 percent), but decreased in MU3 (8.7 percent). The U.S. trap net effort (lifts) in 2012 increased in MU2 (21.2 percent), MU3 (88.7 percent), and MU4 (11.7 percent).

For walleye, lake-wide catch rates in 2012 increased for the sport fishery (fish-per-hour) and declined for the commercial fishery (fish per kilometer of net fished). The 2012 catch rates in the sport fishery (0.42) were slightly below the long-term average, but above the long-term average for the commercial fishery.

Compared to 2011, the 2012 sport catch rates by Management Unit (MU) increased by 67 percent in MU1, 40 percent in MU2, 24 percent in MU3 and 46 percent in MU’s 4 and 5. Note that for walleye management, New York is part of MU5. The commercial gill net catch rates decreased by 36 percent, 17 percent, and 28 percent in MU1, MU2, and MU3, respectively, and increased 36 percent in MU4 during 2012.

Distribution of walleye in the harvest was dominated by walleye age 7-and-older (including the 2003 year class); lake-wide, they comprised 35 percent of the commercial fishery and sport fishery. The 2010 (age 2) and 2009 (age 3) year classes each represented 19 percent of the total harvest in 2012. Age 5 (2007 year class) fish contributed 16 percent to the total lake-wide harvest.

The data shows Lake Erie appears to be a viable, improving fishery, despite problems noted with algae issues and oxygen depletion in the western basin during 2012. Sharpen your hooks and ready your boats, it looks like Lake Erie fishing from the shores of New York State will be great this year.

Weekly fishing report

Chautauqua Ice is no longer safe, though crappie were taken off Mayville and Burtis Bay just prior to unsafe ice last weekend. Cartop boat and other small boat access will begin soon, with fishing for crappie in the shallows over emerging weedbeds noted as a seasonal high point after ice out for many anglers.

Inland trout fishing is popular with many anglers, but even the stocked brown trout were not overly cooperative this past weekend due to the cold water temperatures. Anglers using spinners did not find much success, though slow drift nymph and worm bait anglers caught a few fish. As temperatures rise, the fish metabolism will increase and fish activity will pick up, allowing the trout to catch small spinners tossed in the current by early season anglers.

On Lake Erie tributary streams, DEC reports that steelhead anglers have enjoyed good recent action in small to medium sized streams, with moderate flows and the right water clarity, light green in color. The late snowmelt and additional rains from mid-week will bring these streams to change to murky from runoffs, but the fish will remain, as waters are still very chilly.

DEC suggests that best offerings for spring run steelhead include a variety of baits/lures including egg sacs, egg pattern flies, trout beads, jigs with grubs (fished under a float), minnows, nightcrawlers, stoneflies, streamer patterns and bugger patterns.

With the murky water conditions, brightly colored baits and flies are a good choice. Mike Todd reports that some steelhead may be observed as paired up and actively spawning. Todd suggests that anglers avoid (not fish) these active spawning fish and take care not to disturb redds (gravel nests), as natural reproduction adds to the future steelhead returns.

For information on steelhead fishing, tackle, equipment and links to WNY steelhead stream maps, visit online at The fish passage project at the Westfield Water Works dam on Chautauqua Creek is finished and this access for fish allows them to travel upstream an additional 10 miles along the deep, wooded gorge located there, with about seven miles of public fishing rights easements (PFR) over that stretch of stream.

NYPA fish pier opens

The public fishing pier located at the base of the New York Power Authority’s Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, the main generating facility at the Niagara Power Project, opened for the season earlier this week. The fish cleaning station will be open for use as long as temperatures remain above freezing. The pier, open daily from dawn to dusk, is admission-free. Parking is available at the top of the hill next to the roadway that provides access to the pier in the lower Niagara River. Another public fishing pier located near the Upper Mountain Fire Company at the Lewiston Reservoir has also opened for the season.

Outdoors Calendar

April 11: State of Lake Erie Meeting, NYSDEC, Sea Grant, guests, Southtowns Walleye Association Clubhouse, 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg, 7-9 pm.

April 13: NYS Archery Safety Course, Springville Field and Stream, 7 am start, home study course, register at Concord clerk’s office to obtain course materials.

April 13: Rochester QDMA Banquet/Auction, Lima Country Club, call 585-813-2021.

April 13: Niagara National Wild Turkey Federation Banquet, Ransomville Fire Co., call 791-3151.

April 13: Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs Banquet, Suzanne’s Fine Dining, Wheatfield, call 433-3547.

April 14: 3D Wild Animal Archery Shoot, Hawkeye Bowmen, 13300 Clinton St., Marilla, breakfast kitchen opens 6 am, archery 7 am-noon, call 998-4857.

April 14: NYS Hunter Safety, Elma Conservation, 660 Creek Rd., call 681-5690.

April 14: 3D-Archery, 30 target shoot, Glen-Coe Conservation Society, Glenn Gawron, call 909-3441.

April 15/16/17: NYS Hunter Safety Training, Eden-North Collins Rod & Gun, 2404 Sandrock Rd., Eden, 6-9 pm, call 432-3049.

April 20: Southtowns Ducks Unlimited, Sporting Clay fun shoot, Hamburg Rod & Gun, Hickox Rd., 9 am-4 pm, call George Rockey at 674-3075.

April 20: NYS Hunter Safety Training, Town of Hamburg Rec., 2982 Lakeview Rd., 8 am-4 pm, home study course, pre-register on site, 9 am-5 pm.

April 20/21: NYS Hunter Safety Training, Bison City Rod & Gun, 511 Ohio St., Buffalo, 8 am-2 pm, Simon Manka instructor, register at first class.

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