A massive schooling of young walleye received greater attention than exotic invaders or Lake Erie botulism when reports were presented at the New York Sea Grant (NYSG) Informational Program.
Helen Domske, NYSG coordinator, introduced speakers who gave presentations at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club in Dunkirk on Thursday.
Lead speaker Bill Culligan, the unit leader at the Department of Environmental Conservation Lake Erie Unit at Dunkirk, began with a good news-bad news scenario, but the emphasis was nothing but positive regarding Erie's walleye populations.
"The bad news is we're coming off one of the worst seasons for walleye catches in the eastern basin," Culligan said. "The good news is that the number of walleye from the 2003 year class is great."
The young walleye began showing in the 2003 trawling studies conducted on the Argo, a DEC research vessel working out of Dunkirk Harbor. This year they began showing along shoreline shallows in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio waters, attaining lengths of 12-13 inches this fall.
For the past decade, walleye anglers have been harvesting reduced catches of large walleyes.
"The average (walleye) is 10 years old, 24 inches long and weighs about five pounds," Culligan said.
In 2005, walleye seekers will find the bonanza class of 2003 reaching a legal size of 15 inches sometime in July, Culligan added.
Perch saw a similar spawning pattern as walleye, producing heavily in 2003. Those fish will appear at sizes worth catching and consuming in 2006.
Smallmouth bass rank a close second to walleye as the most popular fish, according to DEC creel surveys of anglers returning to launch and mooring sites in New York State waters.
Bass numbers peaked from 1996-98. Numbers of bass remain high, but the arrival of round gobies in 1999 offered smallies a substantial forage base, making them less likely to strike at anglers' lures and baits.
Rainbow/steelhead trout have become a diverse source of enjoyment for area anglers. A 2003 tributary survey, involving contact with more than 1,500 anglers, generated some interesting results: New York State residents make up 67 percent of anglers fishing Lake Erie feeder streams.
The average size for all trout caught is 23 inches, with a 32-inch steelie the longest measured. Stream anglers caught about 130,000 trout in 2003 and released 87 percent for future catch possibilities.
Culligan also noted that rainbow smelt also had a spectacular spawning cycle in 2003, which, along with cooler waters in the western basin this summer, may account for reduced walleye catches in 2004.
Dr. Ted Lee, biologist at SUNY Fredonia, delivered some good news about type-E botulism, which has affected aquatic bird populations in recent years on area waters.
Sediment, mussels and some aquatic invertebrates still carry this bacterial toxin, but it has shown sparsely in Erie's eastern basin waters so far this season. Affected birds and fish have appeared more along the north shore of Lake Ontario.
Mike Goehle is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aquatic nuisance species coordinator. He summarized the explosion of Asia carp species that escaped fish farms in Louisiana and Arkansas and moved toward the Great Lakes along the Mississippi River basin.
Samples of bighead carp, probably released as adults, have been found in Lake Erie since 1995, but no sign of reproduction has been seen -- yet. Silver carp, another Asian invader with dangerous jumping abilities, could enter Lake Michigan through the Chicago River. Agencies are working now on installing an electroshocking barrier in that river.
Gene Pauszek, the outdoors writer at the Dunkirk Observer and an avid angler, noted 2004 was low on walleye but not poor for perch. Pauszek offered a hot tip in the form of "Pixie Dust," a can of miracle perch attractant.
He simply collects dried masses of zebra mussel shells and tosses a handful or two overboard when anchored for perch. The shells draw minnows, the minnows draw perch and catches increase.
"It worked," he said, commenting on his full freezer of perch fillets from this season.
Kurt Warmbrodt, a Dunkirk High School science teacher, showed results of a beach-grass planting program that had students planting about 500 plugs along the shoreline next to Point Gratoit on the west side of Dunkirk Harbor.
These grasses survived storms that washed over and piled driftwood and huge logs. Not only does this grass retain shoreline mass, it also allows other grass growth to root and thrive.
In all, Dunkirk Harbor and Erie's feeder streams, open water and shoreline habitat are in a fairly good state for anglers and all who enjoy seeing good water and aquatic life.