Could this be the year that Ohio’s 16-year-old walleye record gets beat? Many people think it just might.
Lake Erie walleye anglers talk about the “class of 2003” as though it was their high school graduation year. That is, it was the best year ever. 2003 was indeed a very good year for the Lake Erie walleye fishery, with conditions that facilitated a bumper crop of healthy young walleye. Now that fish from that class year are showing up in noteworthy numbers and of noteworthy size, many in the fishing community are expecting the current Ohio state record to fall sooner than later.
The current Ohio state record walleye is a 33-inch, 16-pound, 3-ounce fish caught by Tom Haberman in 1999. While fish scale samples judged Haberman’s fish to be 13 years old, Jeff Tyson, Lake Erie Program Administrator in the Division of Wildlife office, felt the fish was probably older than that.
“That walleye was probably older than 13 years,” Tyson said. “Scale samples aren’t very accurate for fish older than seven or eight years old. Growth starts to slow down and growth rings on scales have a tendency to compress, stacking on one another.”
That would put Haberman’s fish just a bit older than the class of 2003 lunkers that have been showing up recently.
Ice fishermen have been hauling in some very impressive walleys in the last year or two, undoubtedly many of which were from the 2003 class. Established growth patterns put a good number for those 2003 fish in the 30- to 33-inch, 12- to 14-pound category now.
A lot of fish that have come out of Erie in the last year have been fitting that size slot. For example, last year fishing show host John Gillespie caught a 31-inch, 12-pound beauty; guide Ross Robertson hauled in a 13-pound hogger; anglers Krissy Fox and Bryan Johnson caught three 12-pounders between them; Sal Oates caught a 30-inch, 11-pounder; and Rory Wineka pulled in a 12-pound walleye.
Again, these few fish are just a sampling of what popped up in a quick Internet search Lake Erie walleye for 2014; there are a lot more of the same caliber that were caught last year.
Tyson affirmed the likelihood of a new state record becoming reality soon. “In next couple years, we have a pretty good opportunity to see a fish approaching the record. That was a great class in 2003, and from a management strategy, we’ve kept enough of those fish around. They still contribute significantly to the catch.”
Lake conditions are presently conducive to producing record walleye, with a healthy baitfish population, fairly consistent weather patterns, and solid management of the fishery. The technical sophistication of the electronics and equipment that anglers have available today is also significantly more advanced than what was in use 15 years ago.
“There are state record walleye swimming around in Lake Erie,” said Tyson. “A few years ago we saw a walleye snagged from the Maumee River that was 37 inches long and certainly heavy enough to set the mark. And since it was snagged, the angler had to release it.”
Tyson proudly declared, “I tell people that I don’t know anywhere else in the country that you could have the size grade in a public fishery that we have here in Lake Erie, and the chance to catch a double-digit size fish each time out.”
If you’re looking to catch a wall hanger, or even have a better-than-average shot at breaking a walleye record, Lake Erie looks to be the place to go for your next fishing trip.