Lake Erie: Walleye Wonderland! Fantastic Fishing, Great Guides, Fine Wine - Ever Eat Walleye Wings?
Updated: Sep 29
I have come to look forward to fishing the beautiful waters along the Chautauqua County, New York, coastline every summer. The area is a wonderland, loaded with incredible marinas and beaches, excellent wineries featuring offerings made from many native grapes, and beautiful vistas from the high ground above the lake. But I can't lie - the walleye fishing is the main attractant - at least for me. Lake Erie is enjoying a bumper class of walleye and collecting the six-fish limit is more the rule than the exception. Walleye populations were estimated to be so high this year that some scuttlebutt was guessing the state might up the limit to 10 fish! That's unheard of in the walleye world.
Team Outdoors Rambler attended the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association VIP Day on Aug. 10. This event pairs visiting outdoor writers with local pros and guides and select business people from the region. We were fortunate to be placed aboard Hook 'N Eye Sportfishing's beautiful new boat, fishing with Ashley Baron, a freelance photographer and videographer who routinely works with the county tourism office. She was a stellar shipmate! Capt. Ron and his brother Jeff Kucinski - two great guys - operate the boat. They're based in Buffalo, New York, but we were fishing out of Chadwick Bay Marina in Dunkirk Harbor. We barely had 4 hours to fish but put a good number of healthy, quality walleye between 3 and 6 pounds in the cooler. Worm harnesses fished around 95 feet deep were the ticket.
The Kucinski's comprise "Team Got Glizdas," glizdas meaning nightcrawler in Polish. The boys are proud of their ancestry, have some totally sharp fishing jerseys, and are a delight to fish with. Ron is a lifetime resident of Western New York, and has fished Lake Erie and other inland lakes for 40-plus years.
76 Million Adult Walleye!
After filleting the fish at marina's well-designed and equipped fish cleaning house, just steps from the recently-refurbished Dunkirk Pier, it was time for lunch. The VIP Day features guest speakers and this year's program saw Department of Environmental Conservation's fisheries biologist Jason Robinson talking about the robust fishery, He shared incredible migration data collected from tagged and sampled fish. Robinson is with the department's Lake Erie Fisheries Station. Among several interesting graphics was one depicting how incredible schools of walleye roam the huge lake in a counterclockwise fashion, heading out of the western basin towards New York in late spring. Some big fish, though, don't seem to be in a hurry, hanging around apparent favored zones. Biologists estimate there are some 76 million walleye two years and older in the lake, with millions more younger fish. One worry is that walleye populations will eat themselves out of house and home, crashing bait fish populations. They are predatory opportunists. Indeed, walleye diets have evolved in recent years with invasive round gobies now their apparent go-to forage fish. Yellow perch numbers haven't seen the same surging population levels as walleye. Still, anglers can keep 30 fish a day and the average length of yellow perch harvested in 2021 was 11.7 inches. Those are nice perch in anyone's book.
Look for Continued Superb Fishing
Walleye fishing quality in New York waters has been at record levels for the past five years, largely due to east basin spawning success over the past decade and recent west basin spawning success. According to the biologist's report, juvenile walleye surveys indicate "exceptional" local spawning success in 2016, 2017 and 2021 and a potentially unprecedented level of west basin spawning success in 2018, 2019, and 2021. This suggests adult walleye abundance and fishing quality in the east basin will remain high for the near future. Makes me want to lock in a few days of fishing for 2023!
Industrial Wind Turbines a Concern
Beyond fishing, the hot-button issue staring down Lake Erie residents is a proposal to place industrial wind turbines in the water along the lakeshore, an effort that seemed to have stalled in past years but has renewed push under the current federal and state administrations. Most waterfront home owners are aghast at the proposition and many recreational anglers worry about not only the affect on the fishery but the region's overall tourism potential. State Senator George Borrello, along with his wife Kelly, a business owner at Sunset Bay, used the VIP Day gathering to again blast the wind turbine proposals. To say he is an adamant opponent of "green energy" proponents forcing these along the beautiful Lake Erie shoreline is an understatement. Proposals have called for as many as 50 turbines 460 feet in height, one every half mile in the lakebed. This merits a separate, full article. Interested conservationists who don't want to see massive wind turbines can contact Borrello's office to learn more about how they can fight this environmental eyesore.
Our next fishing trips, with T.J. Yetzer and Randy Hinsken of Reel Time Charters, departed from the Sunset Bay Marina on Cattaraugus Creek. Capt. Mike Schoonveld, a longtime Great Lakes fishing guide, accompanied us. Waves were high and the boat slammed hard into the troughs after cresting some massive, white-capped rollers. The pucker factor was high, but if Mike and T.J. weren't worried, who was I to sweat things? We took our time getting a few miles offshore and then drifted back, trying to keep our feet. T.J. and Randy were real troopers, getting rods and gear set up. Yetzer reduced the number of lines fished due to the conditions. Still, we managed to boat several nice walleye, a chunky channel catfish and more. But, the bed was swaying that night, slow dancing with me, as my equilibrium tried to catch up.
The next day of fishing with Pennsylvania schoolteacher and outdoors writer Tyler Frantz, Natural Pursuit Outdoors, saw conditions improve markedly. A slight chop greeted us on the way out and the water steadily laid down until it was almost flat-smooth around noon. This let us deploy more lines and more easily mark and circle over fish. We ended up with 15 beautiful walleye, two yellow perch, and a "silver bass," something looking like a cross between a striper and white bass or something else. They're said to be fine eating.
Reel Time Charters also fishes Lake Ontario a couple weeks each season, targeting that lake's prolific salmon.
Walleye Wings Anyone?
Following the outing, Yetzer offered to clean our fish. He used a Bubba electric fillet knife to not only remove the meat from the fish's sides but also the delectable morsel of cheek meat beneath the gill plate. He also showed how to remove the walleye wings, a section of the fish just below and behind the chin extending past the pectoral fins. They deliver two nice bites of flaky white meat. The video below shows exactly how to do this. Good fishing everyone!