High water levels driving Erie walleye numbers?

by Jeff Helsdon | May 6, 2021
Two Anglers fishing on the lake in the early morning sun

Lake Erie’s walleye population is riding high, causing some to wonder if water levels have something to do with the surge.

Erie has had strong hatches since 2015. The initial thought was cold winters made a difference with the frozen surface protecting fish eggs from wind and wave turbulence. This was based on the fact that walleye hatches were good in the 1980s and in 2014 and 2015 — years remembered for their cold winters. But since 2015, there has been a string of mild winters, which also produced strong hatches. Another theory is the number of wind events and storms made an impact.

Speculation builds

More recently, Ohio fisheries managers raised the possibility that there is a correlation between high water levels and good walleye hatches in Erie.

“It is speculation at this point, as we don’t have any concrete connections between high water and walleye production, but the string of good hatches occurring as the lake levels are at record highs is, I think, more than a coincidence,” said Eric Weimer, fisheries biologist supervisor with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

He explained high water might provide an advantage to walleye hatching, larval survival, or growth.

“When Ohio is making the suggestion we had high water in the 1980s and high walleye numbers, it’s true,” said Rich Drouin, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry fisheries biologist, “It does add extra complexity to what drives recruitment. Whether high water is making some of those drivers, those are questions I can’t answer.”

There was a good walleye hatch in Erie again last year, Drouin added.

Originally published in the April 2020 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS.

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