Lake Erie is the 11th largest lake in the world by surface area. It is the fourth largest and the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. Lake Erie is 241 miles long, 57 miles wide at its widest point, has a surface area of 9,910 square miles, and has 871 miles of shoreline. It is fed primarily by the Detroit River at its western end, and drains out into Lake Ontario through the Niagara River and the Welland Canal.
The Pennsylvania shoreline of Lake Erie is exclusively in Erie County. The Ohio line is at 80o 31′.10″, and the New York line is at 79o 45′.70″.
The lake is divided into three “basins” – eastern, central and western. The western basin extends from the west end of the lake to about around Cedar Point, Ohio. The central basin extends to the edge of the trenches in Erie. The eastern basin extends from Erie to the eastern edge of the lake in Buffalo, New York. The western basin is generally shallow. The central basin is deeper, with depths averaging about 60 feet, and the bottom is generally flat. The eastern basin is much deeper than the central basin. By the Pennsylvania/New York line, and east, the bottom drops quickly.
For further information in Lake Erie and the Great Lake, see the Great Lakes Atlas.
Lake Erie can be beautiful. Its sunsets are considered some of the best in the world, with the sun setting over the lake in the western sky. Drifting for walleye on a calm July evening as the sun sets over the lake is a memorable experience. Lake Erie has miles of sandy beaches, and the beaches of Presque Isle are a major attraction to visitors from near and far. At other locations, the lake features high shale cliffs that drop into the lake.
Because it it so shallow, the lake can rapidly change from calm to stormy. On September 22, 1992, while a B.A.S.S. competition was being held on Lake Erie, the lake changed from small “rollers” to massive ten foot waves in a matter of minutes, sinking or beaching numerous boats and sending two dozen anglers into the lake. Lake Erie is unlike any river or inland lake. Anyone who has seen the fury of fifteen foot waves slamming the shore will understand that the force of the lake must be respected. Regrettably, the lake has claimed the lives of numerous boaters, and in most cases the tragedy could have been averted. Lake Erie can also fog in very quickly. Sitting in a boat seven miles from shore when the fog suddenly rolls in will make you appreciate every dime you spent on a Loran or GPS system.
Waves are by far the greatest impediment to boaters. Waves at two feet or less, or even one to three feet, are usually not a problem for boats appropriate for Lake Erie. Two to four foot waves can be somewhat unpleasant for boats under 20 feet. Three to five foot waves will make many “landlubbers” seasick, and will make fishing conditions difficult. Waves regularly over four foot are generally too much for most fishing boats on Lake Erie. Likewise, smaller waves with regular whitecaps can also be unpleasant, and often signify deteriorating weather conditions.
Looking at the waves from shore is not necessarily a good indication of conditions off shore. If the wind is blowing from the south, often the lake will be nearly calm at shore. However, the wind is pushing the water and waves off shore. As you boat north, the waves will increase, sometimes significantly, and what started out as a pleasant trip turns into a battering through high waves. In addition, if the wind is from the south, when you turn back to shore you will be fighting the waves rather than boating with them, and it can take you far longer to get back than it took you to get out. There have many days when numerous boats leave early for the deep waters in what appears to be calm conditions, only to return a short time later battered by high waves off shore. If it is 8:00 a.m. and you see a number of fishing boats returning to port with pale looking occupants and the wind is blowing from the south, getting a good report on the offshore conditions may save you the same unpleasant trip.
Along most of the lake, the bottom drops fairly quickly and steadily to a depth of approximately 30 feet. This area has some rocky bottom areas, with some drop-offs and ledges. This area is where most of the smallmouth bass and other panfish are caught.
At least on the west side of the Peninsula, the bottom is relatively flat and featureless for a long period as it very gradually drops from a depth of about 40 feet to a depth of about 50 feet. On the east side of the City of Erie, there are more rocky areas, and as a result, there is generally better fishing for smallmouth bass. The best areas for bass are from the “cribs” off the Hammermill plant to the New York State line. Bass fishing is quite popular off the mouths of Twelve, Fourteen and Sixteen Mile creeks.
The trenches are on the west side of Pennsylvania’s waters of Lake Erie. The “first trench” starts at a depth of about 55 feet, drops to a depth of over 70 feet, then returns to about 60 feet. The southern edge of the first trench is about five miles out from the Walnut Creek Access area. The “second trench” is about one mile further out than the northern edge of the first trench. At the Ohio line, the two trenches run together and are one deep area. The eastern edge of the trenches marks the edge border between the central basin and the eastern basin of Lake Erie.
The mountain consists of a slightly raised area, then a deep depression area. It is located in the eastern basin, north of the North East Marina. It makes the deepest part of the lake in Pennsylvania waters. The deepest part of the mountain is around 200 feet, although this area is in Canadian waters.
The mountain is known for its steelhead and lake trout fishing. These cold water fish move to the mountain as the lake waters warm. Consequently, the best fishing for steelhead and lake trout at the mountain starts in mid-summer. In addition to steelhead and lake trout, walleye are also taken along the edges and into the mountain.
Spring on Lake Erie can be cold, and is not a popular time for fishing. Due to its size, typically the lake remains cold from the winter even after the air temperature has warmed considerably. Boating on the lake can be much colder than you would expect given the conditions on shore.
Perch fishing offshore can be productive, and is probably the most popular species fished for during the spring. Fishing for smallmouth bass and rock bass can also be good offshore. Walleye fishing offshore is generally slow in the spring.
One unique and popular fishing opportunity in the spring is night fishing for walleye from shore. This season usually lasts several weeks, and starts usually in the first week of April. As the steelhead fingerlings leave the creeks at night, the walleye cruise the shoreline looking for the fingerlings. Because the walleye are so close to shore, they usually arrive only at dusk, and feed during the night hours. These can be good sized walleye, with fish in the six to eight pound range not uncommon.
There is also some walleye fishing during the days both closer to shore (in the 30 to 40 foot depth range) and further offshore in the trenches and at the mountain.
Usually starting in late May and for several weeks thereafter, there can be very good fishing for rock bass inside the North East Marina.
Lake Erie is now designated a “big bass” water. Until mid-June, only one smallmouth bass may taken, and it must be over 20 inches. For further information, see the Regulations page.
Summer is the most popular time for fishing on Lake Erie. The prime walleye season is generally considered to be from July through September. Most walleye fishing during the summer is done considerably offshore, in the trenches to the west, and at the mountain to the east.
Likewise, the most popular time for fishing for steelhead and lake trout at the mountain is in the the middle to late summer, when the fish have moved into the deep waters at the mountain.
Fall fishing on Lake Erie can be productive. Schools of walleye may remain offshore through October (although some years the schools seem to disappear in September).
Trolling for steelhead and salmon just off the mouths of the tributaries becomes popular in September and October, as these fish school off the creek mouths prior to making their runs.
There is no significant fishing on Lake Erie in the winter once the lake freezes. Generally ice dunes form all along the lake shore as the winds blow the ice toward shore. These ice dunes are very dangerous because the sub-surface structure can be weak and the dunes make it difficult if not impossible to tell where the water’s edge is located. People have climbed on the dunes, fallen through and landed in deep water. It is always recommended that you stay off the ice dunes on Lake Erie.
Any ice fishing in the region is done on Presque Isle Bay, and not on the Lake.
There are occasions during the winter when there is some open water at the mouths of tributaries. Sometimes steelhead can be taken in these open areas, even in the coldest and nastiest of weather.
Boats and Boat Equipment
Boating on Lake Erie is not like boating on any other body of water in Pennsylvania. The lake is vast and can be deadly. If you do not have an appropriate boat, you will be risking your life boating on the lake. Deep V-hull boats are the norm on the lake. The deep hull gives the boat stability and the ability to take the waves. Tri-hulls have too much bottom surface, cannot take the waves well, and its occupants will get pounded by the waves. Pontoon boats and typical shallow “bass boats” are not appropriate any distance from shore. Any boat under 16 feet in length is also risky to take far from shore.
If you plan to fish in the deep waters, at least a 50 horsepower motor is recommended. Many boats which troll on the lake have two motors; a large motor for getting to and from the fishing waters, and a small, 5 or 10 horsepower long shaft pull start outboard motor for trolling. This combination has at least two advantages. First, it saves wear on the main motor, which can foul after extended trolling at slow speeds. Second, it provides a safety net – if the main motor dies (or the batteries die and will not start the main motor), the trolling motor can bring you back (albeit slowly). Many who do not have a separate trolling motor use a trolling plate on the main motor to maintain a slow trolling speed. Many lake boats also have two batteries. Two batteries give you added protection that you can get your big motor started to get you home. Cranking the key and hearing the motor slowly turn then stop due to a dead battery is a very unpleasant experience when you are miles from shore.
There are three common pieces of equipment used on lake boats that are highly recommended: a marine radio, a fish/depth finder, and a navigational aid consisting of either a loran or a GPS unit. The marine radio is an important safety item to call for help if you or other boaters might need it. The coast guard, with a station located just inside the channel to Presque Isle Bay, monitors channel 16. A radio can also be used to call for a marine towing service if you need one. Anglers use channels 68 and 69 heavily for routine communications while fishing.
A fish finder, although not necessary for safety, is very helpful for locating fish and structure in what can seem like an endless expanse on the lake.
A navigational aid is a very important safety aid, as well as an asset to successful fishing. Until recently, most boats on the lake were equipped with a loran, which is a land based radio wave positioning system. It is relatively accurate and can return you to port or your fishing hot spot with ease. Lorans use their own numbering system rather than longitude and latitude coordinates. Anglers using lorans often describe their position as “28880.1 on the top, 58357.7 on the bottom,” referring to the top and bottom loran coordinates of their location. Lorans are being replaced by the GPS, and the loran transmitters will be turned off sooner or later, rendering the loran useless. The GPS, or global positioning system, is an even more accurate, satellite based positioning system. It displays location using longitude and latitude coordinates. Like the loran, the GPS can store numerous “way points”, such as home port and fishing hot spots. You can then call up a way point, and the GPS will tell you which direction to go to get there. It also provides much more information, such as how fast you are going, how long it will take you to get to your destination, how far off course you have gone, etc.
Finding your way on the lake can be difficult. If you motor out to deep water with only a compass, then troll about for several hours, using only a compass to return to port will be difficult and very inaccurate. If the waves suddenly pick up and you have to return quickly and directly, or if a fog bank rolls in and you cannot see more than 20 feet from your bow, a loran or a GPS will be worth every cent you paid to get you home safely.
Many boats equipped for fishing on Lake Erie also have a planer board mast (to run planer boards), two or more downriggers (manual or electric), multiple stand-up rod holders, a sizable cooler with ice, and a large, long handled net. Other items to consider taking on your boat include a map of the lake, a first aid kit, binoculars, sun glasses and sun screen (there is no shade on the lake), rain gear, an extra jacket, a good anchor with plenty of line, sea sickness medicine, hook extractors and a fish “club.”
Remember that all boats on Lake Erie 16 feet in length and over must carry visual distress signals. All boats require visual distress signals if on the water between sunset and sunrise. Before leaving for a trip on the lake, review the boating regulations and your gear to be certain you have all the necessary equipment and leave a float plan.
Lake Rods, Reels and Line
Most anglers use similar rods and reels on the lake for trolling or drift fishing for all the larger species. (Perch fishing uses much smaller rods and reels and lighter line). The common rod is a relatively long (about 8 feet) trolling rod in the 10 to 20 pound line class. If you plan to use a diver, especially a dipsey diver, use a diver rod with a strong lower section that can withstand the strong pull of the diver. Many regular rods will break just above the handle if used with a diver.
By far the most common reel for trolling is the level wind reel. The Penn 310 and 320 are still popular. Reels with line counters are becoming popular. These reels allow you to more accurately set lines on divers and planer boards.
Line used for trolling varies. The most common lines used are from 12 pound to 17 pound test. Light lining is becoming more popular, but is still not widespread. Twenty pound line is not uncommon, especially for use with divers.
Trolling and Trolling Methods
Flatlining is the simplest of the trolling methods. It consists of sending a lure out as you troll away. Once the lure reaches the desired distance behind the boat, close the bail and let the lure pull behind the boat. Line counter reels are very helpful for determining how far back the lure is running. The depth of the lure can be controlled by the type of lure used. Deep diving lures, equipped with large lips, can be pulled to depths of 15 feet or more.
Planer boards are used to fish close to the surface, but away from the noise and disturbance of the boat. A planer board mast, planer boards and releases are all necessary. A typical mast has two lines and two spools, one for each side. The planer boards (usually made of redwood) are hooked to the end of the line connected to the mast. As the board is let out on the water, it “planes” away from the boat. One board planes right, the other left. The boards often are equipped with a flag so they can be located while in use.
Once the boards are out, each line is set. A lure is sent off the boat and allowed to drift the desired distance it will be fished behind the planer board line. Once the desired distance is obtained, the bail is closed. A release is connected to the planer board line. One end of the release slides along the planer board line, and the other end has a rubber clip for grabbing the fishing line. Some anglers use rubber bands tied around the line, which are then placed into the release. The line from the rod is pinched on the release clip, the bail is opened, and the line begins to slide down the planer board line and away from the boat. Once the line is the desired distance down the planer board line and away from the boat, the bail is again closed and the rod is put in an upright holder. While the rod is connected to the planer board line, the fishing line goes sideways to the planer board line release, then back behind the boat. When a fish strikes, the line releases and the line whips to a position straight back from the boat.
Planer boards are popular for walleye fishing early in the summer, when the water is colder and the fish are closer to the surface. It allows you to put multiple lines out on both sides of the boat without tangling them as easily as you would if they were all straight behind the boat. Planer boards are also used to troll for smallmouth and to troll for steelhead close to shore in the fall. Use of planer boards for walleye fishing has been diminishing in recent years, and been replaced in popularity with Dipsy Divers.
Divers are gaining in popularity on Lake Erie. They are somewhere between flatlining or using planer boards, and using downriggers. The diver takes the lure down deeper than a flat line, but cannot reach the depths or the depth accuracy of a downrigger. Divers do, though, have the ability to get the lure down a considerable depth, and get the lure away from the boat. Divers often plane to one side, allowing multiple lines to be fished across the back and sides of the boat. They are also less expensive than downriggers.
Divers come in a variety of styles. The Dipsey Diver is the most popular. Other divers include the Fish Seeker and the Jons Diver. With most divers, a short piece of line is prepared with a snap swivel on each end. One end is connected to the diver, and the lure is attached to the other end. The length of this line will determine the distance the lure will run behind the diver. The end of the line from the reel is connected to the front of the diver. The diver usually has a release that must be closed so the unit dives down when set into the water. The rig is then sent over and allowed to dive down, back, and sometimes to the side. Some divers can be set to adjust the angle they will plane to the side of the boat, allowing divers to be set to plane right and left behind the boat. The depth they dive is determined by how far they are let out behind the boat. For this reason, a line counter helps to return the diver in the same general location.
When a fish strikes the lure, the release is opened and the diver planes toward the surface.
Some anglers use divers and planer boards. The lines are set out on divers, the sent out the planer board line to get them further apart. This allows fishing a multitude of lines both down and away from the boat.
Downriggers are used for accurately getting a lure to any depth. This requires a downrigger and a downrigger weight with an attached release. Downriggers come in both manual and electric models. The electric models wind the weight up and down automatically. The downrigger has a wire line on a spool, a swivel base, a mast which extends the wire over the water, and a heavy snap swivel on the end of the wire line. Manual models have a handle to crank the wire line up and down. A large downrigger weight is connected to the swivel on the end of the wire line. The weight has a release connected to it. The release has a rubber clip for grabbing the fishing line.
The fishing line and lure are sent over the boat and allowed to run out the distance you want the lure to travel behind the release. The bail is then closed. The downrigger mast and weight are swung toward the boat. The fishing line is then connected to the release on the weight. The bail on the fishing reel is opened, the weight is put over the water, and the steel downrigger line is let out. The weight, with the fishing line attached to the release, begins to drop nearly straight down. The downrigger has a depth counter so you can see how far it is going down. When the desired depth is obtained, the downrigger is stopped, and the bail on the fishing line is closed. The rod is put into the holder attached to the downrigger. The rod will be bent over hard, since the line is connected to the release which is nearly straight down below the boat. The line should be tight, but no so tight that it pulls the line out of the release.
When a fish strikes, it pulls the line out of the release. Since there is considerable tension on the rod when connected to the release, the downrigger “sets the hook” when it releases. The rod suddenly stands up when a fish is on.
Multiple lines can be stacked on a single downrigger line. To stack lines, one fishing line is connected to the release on the weight in the normal manner. Let the downrigger down the distance you want the two lines to be apart. Once this distance is reached, stop the downrigger and close the bail on the first reel. Attached the stacker, which consists of a wire line with a safety clip (put over the downrigger line) and a rubber release on each end. One release attaches to the steel downrigger line. The second release is attached to the second fishing line you wish fish off the downrigger. You must then open the bails on both reels, and send the rig down the remaining distance. Doing this single-handedly is nearly impossible.
Weighted spinners (willow leafs)
The willow leaf spinner – nightcrawler harness is one of the most popular rigs used on Lake Erie for taking walleye. This rig normally consists of two relatively large hooks tied one atop the other, with a willow blade clasped above the hooks, on a longer heavy line with a loop at the top end. A nightcrawler is put through both hooks. An elliptical weight with a ring on each end is connected to the top of the rig through the loop in the line at the upper end of the rig. A swivel on the end of the fishing line is connected to the other end of the weight. As it moves through the water, the willow leaf spins. All the local bait shops carry these rigs, which are often called a “walleye harness” or a “crawler harness.”
The rig is fished by trolling or drifting. It is often fished near the bottom. In water of 60 feet or more, a four ounce weight may be necessary to get the rig to the bottom. Let the line out until you feel the weight hit the bottom (it is not as easy as it sounds). Close the bail, then wind the line up at least a few cranks. Either hold the rod or put it in a rod holder.
This rig can also be fished part way down, or with a weight that will not get it to the bottom. It can also be fished on a downrigger or planer without any weight. It can also be fished with a small weight (enough to keep it down) from planer boards.
Lake Erie produces large walleye. Most fish are over the 15 inch minimum. The average walleye caught off shore is in the three to five pound range. Seven and eight pound walleye are not uncommon. The smaller fish are better table fare, although generally walleye make an excellent eating fish, second only to the yellow perch. The average age of walleye found in our waters is five to six years. Some walleye have been found to be twelve years old.
Walleye are considered sensitive to light. Generally they will not be near the surface on a bright day. At night, they may be just below the surface. Walleye are not as temperature sensitive as other fish, like the steelhead. Walleye may be holding in different temperature zones. Walleye are considered a schooling fish – if you find one, you may have found a whole school.
It is said there are two distinct walleye populations: the “resident” population of generally large fish that stay here all year and are often closer to shore, and the “migrating” population that moves into our waters during the summer and early fall. The resident walleye are the fish that are caught in the spring and early summer at night or closer to shore. The migrating population stays in the shallower western basin of Lake Erie in the winter and spring. As the water temperature of the lake rises, these fish begin to move east into the deeper waters of the central and eastern basins of Lake Erie. This is why the walleye fishing is often best each summer first off Ashtabula, then Conneaut, then in the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie. The faster the water temperatures warm, the sooner the walleye fishing gets better. In summers when the water temperature never gets into the 70s, walleye fishing can be be slow even in August.
Spring Fishing from Shore at Night
The common method for shore fishing for walleye at night in the spring is as follows. Fishing is only possible when the lake is calm or nearly calm. The fishing starts around dusk, and continues all night (or so they say). The areas near the mouths of the creeks that are stocked with steelhead are the most popular. (For some reason, at Walnut Creek, the walleye often appear in the lake by the east end of the parking lot, not right at the mouth). Also popular is the public dock area (Dobbins Landing) on State Street in the bay. Most anglers wade into the water. Most use a medium to long spinning rod and medium sized spinning reel with relatively light line (about 6 pound test). By far the most popular lure is a floating Rapalla. Most cast a medium to large (size 7) stick bait. Many use a lure that resembles a rainbow trout (to look like the steelhead fingerling). The lure is thrown as far as possible out into the lake, then retrieved slowly back to shore. If a cruising walleye hits, especially an eight pounder, you will certainly know it. Most fishing is very quiet, and the anglers try to minimize the amount of light hitting the water.
Most walleye fishing during the summer is done offshore. Trolling is by far the most popular method. About two m.p.h. is considered the ideal speed to troll for walleye. Early in the season, when the lake is still warming, the fish are generally closer to the surface. During these times, trolling with planer boards or flatlining with a diving lure is popular. As the lake warms, the walleye hold deeper. By late July and August, the fish can be found all the way to the bottom. If the fish are holding part-way down, divers and downriggers work best. If the fish are on or near the bottom, willow leaf rigs with weights and downriggers work best.
Walleye can also be taken by drift fishing if the conditions are right. This method generally works only if the boat will maintain a reasonable drift speed. Still fishing for walleye is generally not productive. Jigging for walleye is not common on Lake Erie. The most popular method for drift fishing is to use a willow leaf nightcrawler rig fished near the bottom. Let the rig drift with the boat and bob with the waves. If a fish strikes, act fast – there is nothing to set the hook but you. If you have not experienced drift fishing, give it a try – it can be a calm and pleasant alternative to listening to the constant groan of the trolling motor.
Although most walleye fishing is done during the daylight hours, fishing for walleye at night can also be quite productive.
The willow leaf spinner / nightcrawler rig is very popular on the lake. The local bait shops carry these rigs, or they can be made at home. No one lure is most popular for walleye fishing. Popular lures include spoons (the NK spoons are popular) and stick baits (including Rapalas, Storms, Bagleys and Hot -N-Tots). Deep diving plugs are used with flatlines and planer boards.
Yellow perch are fished both commercially and recreationally on Lake Erie. The creel limit on perch has been reduced, and the minimum size is now eight inches. For further information, see the Regulations page. Perch are perhaps the best table fish Lake Erie has to offer.
Perch are schooling fish. If you can find a school, the fishing can be productive. If you spot a number of boats close together and anchored, you can bet they are all perch fishing.
Perch in the lake can be found from a depth of about 20 feet to deeper than 60 feet. One of the most popular spots for perch is off the Peninsula lighthouse in about 40 to 50 feet of water.
Almost all perch fishing on Lake Erie is done the same way. Boats are at anchor and still fish. By far the most popular bait for perch is a live minnow. A light line with a small hook and enough weight to get the bait down is sent over the side. Perch are usually near the bottom, so the bait is sent to the bottom, then cranked up a few turns.
Although Lake Erie holds substantial and sizable smallmouth bass, surprisingly few anglers target the smallmouth. Although largemouth bass can be found in Presque Isle Bay, there are no largemouth in the open waters of the lake.
As explained above, Lake Erie is now designated a “big bass” water. Until mid-June, only one smallmouth bass may taken, and it must be over 20 inches. This regulation is designed to allow the bass to get through the spawning season with minimal fishing pressure. Once this early season is over, the current size limit for bass is still 15 inches. For further information, see the Regulations page. Even for Lake Erie, a 15 inch bass is substantial, and many smallmouth that are caught are under the size limit and must be immediately returned to the lake unharmed.
Smallmouth are aggressive fighters and pound for pound, probably the most exciting fish to catch on the lake. They often jump out of the water or dive below the boat. If it’s fighting like crazy and your not sure what you just caught, it’s probably a smallmouth or a steelhead.
Like most other places where this fish can be found, smallmouth tend to hold over some type of structure. Structure is not common in the generally smooth bottom of Lake Erie. On the west side, smallmouth are usually in the 20 to 35 foot range, before the bottom smoothes off and very gradually slopes deeper. East of the channel is more popular for bass, since it has more structure. Popular spots on the east side for smallmouth bass include the “cribs” off the Hammermill plant, and off Raccoon Creek Park. Look in the 20 to 30 foot range for bottom structure and you should be in smallmouth territory.
Smallmouth are taken by a variety of methods and with a variety of baits and lures. Some out-of-towners use traditional bass boats and fish as though they were in a reservoir or river. This can be quite dangerous, as these boats are not designed for the fury Lake Erie can dish up unexpectedly. If you use a bass boat on the lake, use common sense, stay close to shore, watch the weather and be prepared to run for harbor if the waves pick up.
Smallmouth can be taken like perch – by still fishing (or drifting) using a minnow fished near the bottom. Worms and nightcrawlers generally are not a good bait – they will catch far more sheephead than bass. Smallmouth can also be taken by the traditional method of casting a lure. However, the fish may be holding in more than 20 feet of water, so you must get the lure deep enough to present it to the fish. Smallmouth can also be taken by trolling.
Steelhead and Salmon
As described in the Stream Fishing page, Lake Erie holds Steelhead, salmon and brown trout. Steelhead are by far the most predominate. Coho salmon and brown trout are stocked but in far smaller numbers. Occasionally Chinook salmon are caught in the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie, but they are not common and their origin is often debated. A trout stamp is needed to take these fish. See the Regulations page for more information.
Steelhead, like the smallmouth bass, are aggressive fighters, especially in the relatively warm waters of the lake. Although not considered as good a table fare as the walleye or perch, steelhead, salmon and trout taken from the lake can be quite good eating if properly prepared.
Members of the trout and salmon family are cold water fish, and are temperature sensitive. The optimum temperature for steelhead is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and they tend to hold in water close to this temperature.
There are two distinct steelhead and salmon fishing opportunities on lake. In the fall, steelhead and salmon begin to school off the mouths of the creeks, and they can be caught just off shore. In the summer and early fall, these fish are scattered in the deeper waters of the lake and can be taken by traditional trolling methods.
Deep water steelhead and salmon are taken almost exclusively by trolling. Most concentrated fishing for steelhead and salmon is done at the mountain, where the water is the deepest. These fish do not school while in the deeper waters during the summer months, and are sometimes described as an “incidental” catch during walleye fishing. A trolling speed of about three m.p.h., faster than the speed of normal trolling for walleye, is considered typical for steelhead and salmon.
Steelhead, salmon and brown trout are usually taken with downriggers or divers. Since they are rarely near the surface when far from shore, they are not usually caught with planer boards or on flat lines. The most popular lure for steelhead and salmon trolling is the spoon, run very close to the downrigger line or diver. Stickbaits on downriggers or divers will also take these fish.
Fishing for steelhead and salmon in the fall near the mouths is done quite differently. Occasionally boats will anchor near the mouth of a creek and cast spoons (of the casting type, like a Little Cleo, not the trolling type). Most who fish from boats near the shore troll. These anglers use either planer boards or flat lines. Downriggers can be used if you are in deep enough water. Many try to troll in very shallow water (sometimes less than 15 feet), and lures can be caught on the bottom if you are not careful. In the peak of the fall steelhead season, the water off the creek mouths can become crowded with boats trolling and weaving past one another. Be considerate when deciding whether to send planer boards 75 feet away from each side of your boat in crowded conditions. The angler’s lines you cross may not look with favor on your methods.
Lake trout are native to Lake Erie. They mature far more slowly than steelhead and salmon, and large lake trout can be more than ten years old. Because lake trout mature so slowly, there is a reduced creel limit for these fish on Lake Erie. A trout stamp is needed to take these fish. See the Regulations page for more information. Although not typically caught for eating, their size can make them a trophy fish.
Although lake trout can be found anywhere in the lake, they are far more common east of the City of Erie. Most lake trout are taken around or at the mountain by boats departing from the North East Marina.
Lake trout are usually found on or near the bottom. Nearly all lake trout are taken by trolling a spoon off a downrigger close to the bottom. Typical troll speeds for lake trout are about two m.p.h. or slower.