PORT CLINTON – Captain Eric Waldron looked around at the island-dotted horizon on Lake Erie. In his sight were some 50 boats slowly bobbing up and down.
“You know,” he said, “I’m going to do this until the groundhog delivers my mail.”
Waldron, a Springfield native and current resident has been a charter captain on Lake Erie for 34 years. He runs out of Pier 53 Marina on Catawba Island on his 32-foot, twin-engine charter boat named Rob Roy. He works closely with his son, Kyle, also a charter captain in a company named Kymoka Charters, a word created out of the first two letters of his children’s names.
At this time of year, the Waldrons take mostly perch or smallmouth bass trips, whatever their clients want.
With the state closing smallmouth bass season during spawning the past several years, Eric Waldron feels the future of Lake Erie fishing will become more and more involved with smallmouth bass. Although most anglers do not keep smallmouth, they are a ball to catch.
But for those who fish to put some meat in the freezer, the fisheries for walleyes and yellow perch are the most attractive.
With walleye fishing a bit slower at this time of year, the attention of many anglers turns to yellow perch and September-October are traditionally the best months.
“People love to go perching in the fall. That’s when we see most of the action for perch,” Waldron observed. “But it has turned into a year-round fishery and people don’t realize May is one of the best months for perch fishing on Lake Erie.”
Waldron said he sees the current threat to perch fishing to be the abundance of white perch in the lake. White perch are an invasive species that will steal your bait before you know it (See Waldron’s tip for avoiding white perch).
Fisheries biologist Travis Hartman said white perch were introduced in ballast water in the 1980s.
“It (numbers of white perch) was at its worst in the late 80s,” Hartman said. “For the last 10 or 20 years there hasn’t been as much of a problem with white perch, but now it’s definitely coming back.”
The other threat, Waldron says, is the large quota of fish taken by the commercial netters.
“If they would stop commercial perch fishing, we would see more large fish and more fish in general here in the western basin,” he said.
This year Waldron said he has limited out on just about every perch trip, and so have most of the captains he knows.
“The only times we struggle are weather-related,” he said. “Lake Erie is a vast lake and there are many places those fish can go. But we have our favorite holes and we take people there and it usually works out for them.”
Hartman said the hatches for yellow perch have been fairly consistent since 2001, although like for walleye, 2003 was an exceptional year. Most of the jumbo perch you see on the lake (12-13 inches) hatched in 2003.
One of the reasons perch fishing is outstanding at this time of year is the cooler water. Perch do best in cool water, which is why the fish are usually larger and more abundant in the deeper, cooler central basin of Lake Erie.
Perch fishing tip
Captain Erie Waldron offers the following tip to perch anglers on Lake Erie to help avoid the pesky white perch that steal your bait.
“When you encounter white perch, put on a heavier weight that will get your bait to the bottom faster. White perch don’t hang around on the bottom, but are a few feet up.
“If you have two hooks on the line, don’t bait the top one. Thus, you will be targeting the yellow perch, not the white perch. Once the yellow perch get started, they will push the white perch out and you will have more productive fishing.”
Contact Erie Waldron at www.charterslakeerie.com or (937) 926-3070.