Friday, March 28, 2008

Walleye - Ohio's Most Prized Game Fish

Lake Erie Walleye
(Courtesy Ohio Fish and Wildlife)

On May 22nd, Port Clinton, Ohio will once again lay claim to its rightful title as the official WALLEYE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD during its annual Walleye Festival at Water Works Park. Other cities as far away as Garrison, North Dakota vie for rights to the title. But it is Port Clinton, lying on the western basin of Lake Erie, that has been home to the walleye since prehistoric times.

Sometimes called pike-perch, walleyed pike, or jack salmon, the walleye have few distinguishing marks other than their sharp teeth and whitish eyes. In Ohio’s early history, walleye often reached 20 years of age and weights of more than 20 pounds. Millions spawned from mid-April to early May in the clear waters of the Maumee, Sandusky, St. Mary’s, Scioto, Auglaize, and Muskingum rivers.

By the 1840s commercial fishing on Lake Erie began to grow at a rapid pace in an effort to meet the ever-growing demand of the fish market. During the 1880s, the heydey of Great Lakes commercial fishing, walleye could be found in abundance in Lake Erie. But by the turn of the century fishermen began to realize that the supply was not limitless.

Unloading a catch for fertilizer during the heydey of
Lake Erie's commercial fishing
(Charles E. Frohman Collection)

Pollution and heavy harvesting sent walleye into a dramatic downward spiral. Catches at Lake Erie ports that once ranged from one to fifteen million pounds annually were reduced to a mere 163.000 pounds by 1966. Four years later, commercial fishing for walleye was banned in Ohio waters. Despite restocking and establishing catch limits, the walleye, the most prized fish of Lake Erie, remains in a precarious state. Their movements, spawning, and diet remain under close and constant scrutiny by conservationists and biologists.

Historically, the Sandusky River has always made a significant contribution to Lake Erie’s walleye harvest. Famous for its spring run, the river produces some of the largest of its species. Yet the walleye population has been declining for the past 30 years. For this reason, the river has become the focus of a 3-year study to learn more about walleye spawning behavior.

Biologists believe that the Ballville Dam, built on the Sandusky River in 1911, may limit spawning, confining walleye in an area downstream that contains one-tenth the suitable spawning habitat. Tracking walleye equipped with radio transmitters will provide a better understanding of spawning habits on the Sandusky River and out into the Sandusky Bay - and ultimately improve the population of Ohio's most prized game fish.

To learn more about Port Clinton's Walleye Festival go to

No comments: