Lake Erie is Pennsylvania's most unique waterway, not only because of its size, but because of the abundance of gamefish. An average of 1.5 million fish are caught by anglers each year in the lake, bay, and tributaries.
Erie's latest claim to fame has been its run of steelhead and its walleye fishing, but Lake Erie is
much more. It offers a wide variety of fishing
opportunities for anglers.
The yellow perch is the most sought-after species in the lake. Yellow perch can be caught all year, through the ice and from piers, shoreline, and boats. Fish near the bottom with emerald shiners rigged with spreaders, especially in July and August. In winter, use jigs and maggots or minnows while fishing through the ice in the bay. Yellow perch are Lake Erie's most popular ice-fishing quarry.
Walleye catch rates in Lake Erie vary with abundance. The highest rates coincide with the appearance of the occasional strong year class. These year classes are produced about once every 10 years. Serious anglers can expect catch rates of four to six walleyes per trip after fish from these large hatches reach legal size. Strong walleye year classes can sustain good fishing for five or more years.
Trolling plugs and spoons account for the majority of walleyes taken from early June through October. Planer boards, flatlines, downriggers, and metallic and weighted lines are all effective. Walleyes suspend in 20 to 30 feet of water during the summer, and the key to catching them is using weighted lines and heavier spoons to get your lure deep enough.
During the remainder of the season when walleyes are close to shore, they can be taken by trolling or drifting live bait, spoons and spinners. Walleyes average 5 pounds and 7-pounders to 10-pounders are not unusual.
Largemouth bass are primarily confined to Presque Isle Bay. They are most available in the spring and again in late autumn when they congregate along the shallows of the lagoons and shoreline where they can be taken on practically any suitable lure or bait.
Smallmouth bass fishing here is rated as some of the best in the state. Fish can be found along the rocky lake bottom shorelines. Tube jigs and spoons seem to work best in the spring. Crayfish and minnows are most effective when the bass seek deeper water during the summer. Anglers can expect to hook big smallmouth bass at a rate of one or two per hour.
With the exception of rock bass, which are numerous throughout Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay is the area you want to try for panfish. There's good fishing for bluegills and crappies in winter, spring, and early summer with minnows, and with jigs tipped with grubs and worms.
The best time to fish for steelhead and lake-run rainbows is fall through spring. In fact, winter steelhead fishing can be so outstanding that the average catch is one steelhead per hour spent on the stream. Fishing takes place in the small tributaries and at lake's edge. The most productive baits are egg sacks, nightcrawlers, minnows, and small jigs (1/32-ounce), as well as small spinners (sizes 0 and 1). Anglers favor black as a color for spinners and chartreuse as a color for jig tails. Fly fishing can also be productive. A black Woolly Bugger worked at mid-stream depth or deeper is one productive method.
During the summer, steelhead can be caught in the lake in 18 to 20 feet of water by trolling spoons, plugs, and flies with flashers. Steelhead average 5 to 6 pounds with 10-pounders and larger fish always a possibility.