For better than a decade, the 2003 walleye hatch has been the legendary hallmark. And while the 2015 hatch was huge, it didn’t approach 2003 numbers. The next year’s 2016 hatch was mediocre, but then 2017’s walleye hatch was pretty good. But the 2018 hatch? The bar graph could be enough to make any angler (or fisheries biologist) swoon.
Gravelly, sandy or rocky bottoms are ideal sites for females to broadcast eggs – up to 400,000. But the majority of Lake Erie walleye actually end up spawning on shallow reefs and nearshore waters in the lake proper, where males follow quickly behind egg-spreading females, eager to spread their love, too. Walleye tend to return to the sites where they were hatched to spawn.
No one has much control over zooplankton or walleye in Lake Erie’s roughly 10,000 square miles. The only control fisheries managers have over walleye populations, Hartman said, is harvest limits. Those levels, he said, have only been tweaked minimally in recent decades.
Prior to 2001, the limit had been 10 fish per angler per day, all year long. But biologists then realized the given walleye population couldn’t support such creel limits. “It was definitely reflective of the population,” Hartman said. “Things were looking pretty bleak at the time.”