Of the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie is the fourth largest. It is also the eleventh largest freshwater lake globally. With 799 miles of shoreline and average depths around 62ft, Lake Erie is a fisherman’s paradise with over 20 species of fish.
It’s not always easy determining what type of fish is on your line or know which bait to use. To help you out, here is a brief description of what you might catch in Lake Erie.
Local Fishing Categories
Before you start trolling, drifting, or setting a line, it helps to understand the local fishing categories. You’ll know what type of fish you are after and if you are catching dinner or winning bragging rights.
Panfish are tasty and fun to catch. They are perfect for kids without the strength or skill to fight a smallmouth bass, sturgeon, or other types of trophy fish. The fish are often found close to shore around marinas and tributaries. Live bait works best to entice panfish to bite.
Yellow perch are a type of panfish, but they are found in deeper waters offshore. The fish swim in large schools, ensuring you will catch more than one. Using a simple hook, sinker, and bobber, anglers of any age can reel in a yellow perch.
These fish are divided into two categories, cold and warm water species. These fish live close to shore and in the deep water, depending on the season. Some of the cold-water species are Chinook, Coho, and Atlantic salmon. You can also fish for brown and rainbow trout. You can catch lake trout, but there is a limit of one per day.
Warm water fish include the walleye and muskellunge. You can also find smallmouth bass in Lake Erie in the spring and summer.
Other Fish Species
Pan and sportfish may get most of the attention, but that’s not all living in Lake Erie waiting to be caught. Bullhead and catfish can put up a fight at the end of the line, and some fish can grow to amazing size. Sheepshead is another fish to consider baiting your hook for, along with carp.
Unfortunately, there are a few invasive species to watch for, which includes the round goby and rudd. You don’t want to release these fish back into the lake when caught.
These are the Lake Erie Fish Species
Similar in appearance to brown trout, Atlantic Salmon are extremely rare in Lake Erie but are stocked in Lake Erie. Any fish under 25 inches long is protected and part of a catch and release program. The record for the silver and dark grey fish is 24lb, 15oz. It was an award-winning trophy catch.
Bluegill / Pumpkinseed
Bluegill and Pumpkinseed are two types of panfish popular with kids. The fish are similar in appearance, and both find red worms hard to resist. The small fish are scrappy fighters but not too fierce for kids to reel in. You can find them along the shoreline and shallow bottoms swimming in weeds or around sunken tree limbs.
Brown trout are stocked in Lake Erie, and the shoreline is the best place to find the fish in the early spring. In the summer, you want to look for them in deeper waters around 100 feet. You will have the best luck finding Brown Trout close to the thermocline.
Place small spoons close to the bottom to draw the fish in. They can weigh up to 30lbs; the record is slightly over 33lbs, so be prepared for a fight if you land one of these fish.
You can find these delicious fish throughout the lake, though they are more numerous in the spring. When you catch one, watch out for the spines on the pectoral and dorsal fins. The spines are sharp and will easily pierce your skin.
You can attract brown and black bullhead fish with a variety of bait. The whiskered fish are fond of crabs, minnows, and worms, but small balls of dough or meat will also attract the fish.
Carp are becoming an angler’s favorite catch, primarily for the bragging rights. The fish can grow up to 50lbs, making it an impressive catch. European anglers are the first to visit the lake specifically for carp fishing, but it is gaining popularity in the states.
The fish can be found in the lake and its streams and tributaries. Worms work best when you are trying to lure the distinctive fish in, but dough or cornballs will also work.
This sport fish is related and often confused with the bigger Northern Pike species. A voracious predator fish with many sharp teeth, they will basically attack any and all lures if you throw them near one of these fish. A long and slender fish not typically known for their table fare due to the excessive amount of small bones. They get their name from the chain like patterns that run along their sides. Lots of fun to catch though and I prefer to use chartreuse color lures to get their attention.
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In 2002, a channel catfish weighing over 31lbs was caught in Lake Erie. It set a state record that has been broken with the catch of a 32lbs, 12oz fish. The best time to look for channel cats is between May and October.
The Chinook or King salmon is a trophy fish swimming in Lake Erie’s tributaries. The best time to try and hook this fish is from April through May, but you can catch them into November. During the spring, close to half of the trophy fish are caught in the great lake.
You may also want to drop a line in one of the tributaries during August and September. It’s when the fish move into the running water to spawn.
Related to the Chinook, the Coho Salmon is smaller, but a record shows a 33lb, 7oz catch. It may be slighter smaller than its cousin, but it will still give you a good fight. The fish show up in the lake around springtime, following the king salmon to their spawning grounds.
The best place to catch them around Lake Erie is in the tributaries using spoons and spinners. If you want a bite, wait until the water is warm.
Like any panfish, crappies are a tasty favorite with fishermen. Also known as the Calico bass, the fish prefer swimming in shallow water. You can catch black and white crappies using a minnow. Place it about two feet below your bobber to get the fish’s attention.
You can also use artificial lures with varying degrees of success. The best time to catch crappies is in the spring and fall.
The federal restoration effort includes stocking Lake Trout in Lake Erie and Ontario. The two lakes receive 620,000 fish annually to help protect the vulnerable ecosystem. The fish prefer the cold, deep waters of Lake Erie’s eastern basin.
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Spoons and stick bait work best in the reefs and shoals. There is a limit of one fish per angler, and you want to look for them in the spring and summer from May to August. The record catch is a 41lb, 8oz fish. The season on Lake Erie ends in September.
Controlling population and reviving the zebra mussel population in the great lakes has produced cleaner waters that attract fish like the largemouth bass. Underwater weed growth has increased, giving the fish their favorite hiding place. The bays and harbors around Lake Erie are good places to drop a line. Use spinnerbaits or plastic worms for the best results.
The king of freshwater fish, the Muskellunge, can grow up to 54 inches in the great lakes. One was caught on the New York side of Lake Erie. Most anglers treat these fish as catch and release, especially if they are under 40lbs.
The idea is to wait until the Muskellunge is trophy-worthy size. The edges of weeds are good places to drop a line. You want to use large bait, trolled with a Fireline or wireline when you are in deeper portions of the lake.
A cousin to the musky, the Northern Pike is often found in the tributaries off of Lake Erie. The feeder creeks in the spring are a great place to look for these toothy fish. You want to watch out for the teeth. These fish can bite. When you are fishing along the shoreline, chub under a bobber works great. You can also use stick and spinnerbaits; you just want to make sure the bait flashes in the water.
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From September to May, you can find rainbow/steelhead trout in the tributaries. During the colder months, target the thermal zones in the lake to find the warmer waters the fish prefer. You can cast for these trout throughout the year using stick bait and spoons when you are trolling. If you are casting or letting the line drift, go for worms, minnows, or egg-based baits.
The rock bass or redeye follows the behavior patterns of other panfish. They prefer hanging out in shallow areas. Cast your line underneath docks or overhanging bushes. Anywhere it looks like the fish may have shelter is a good place to drop a line. Wet flies, worms, and small spinners are the best bait to use to catch these fish.
The round goby is an invasive species to the Great Lakes with the potential to decimate some local fish populations. The fish was illegally introduced to the region when ships emptied their ballasts. The problem has been ongoing for decades and is now drawing attention.
The small fish are multiplying rapidly and posing a danger to the lake’s ecosystem. If caught, anglers are asked to destroy instead of following a catch and release protocol.
As the only species of the freshwater drum in North America, the Sheepshead is a fun fish to reel in. It is common in the Great Lakes region, and the medium-sized fish can put up a ferocious fight. The largest recorded weighs 24lbs, 7oz, but its smaller size belies its strength. An interesting fact, the ear bones of a sheepshead fish are believed to bring good luck.
If you want to know why Lake Erie is a popular international fishing destination, one reason is the number of smallmouth bass. There are large numbers in Lake Erie, and it is not uncommon to find one that is trophy size, weighing on average 4lbs. Anglers can expect to bring in between 20 and 50 catches per day.
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Not all are keepers, but it keeps you busy during the day. Six and seven-pound trophy-winners also are not uncommon, especially in June at the end of the fishing season. You can cast for smallmouth bass from May through June. Use minnows and crawfish for live bait, and grubs, tube jigs, and other soft plastics for artificial lures.
Another fish popular with kids and great as a snack is smelt. Rainbow smelt are small foraging fish common throughout the Great Lakes. Often used as baitfish, smelt is also a popular fried food, usually with a breaded coating.
The best time to catch the small fish is in the spring. It’s when they are swimming up the tributaries for spawning. You don’t want to use a line or trap to catch these fish; instead, a net at night works best. Nighttime is when the fish are the most active.
Not all species of sturgeon are protected. The lake sturgeon is, and you must follow the catch and release program. Lake Erie is home to the threatened species, and it is illegal to take one out of the lake. The conservation effort is showing success; the lake sturgeon is making a comeback. It is a living fossil, hard to confuse with other fish species.
It is easily recognizable by its sharp bony plates on the back and sides. The fish also have a distinctive pointy snout. Lake sturgeon can grow over 6 feet in length and weigh more than 200lbs. Able to live over 100 years, it is an impressive fish. It is also illegal to own one without governmental approval.
If you can’t catch a sucker in the spring and early summer, someone is playing a prank on you. These fish inundate the streams following into Lake Erie and are relatively easy to catch at night with dew worms.
Previously, anglers could spear the fish along the riverbanks, but it is no longer an option. You have to use a line or sturdy net to land one of these small fish. You can find white and red sucker fish in the lake. Typically, red suckers are larger than white.
Even beginning anglers are familiar with the walleye. It is a popular sport fish around the world. There are plenty of walleyes for everyone to catch, and they can grow to impressive sizes in the Great Lakes region. Lake Erie is one of the best places to fish for walleye, and with an average range of 4 to 7 pounds, it’s not surprising it is known as the Walleye Capital of the World. Lake Ontario is also home to a large number of walleye of impressive sizes. There are many ways to catch these fish and we recommend using lures to get the job done.
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Fourteen to 16-pound fish are common and often released back into the waters until next year. If you are speed trolling, side and planer boards are a good choice, along with stick baits and worm harnesses. Slow trollers should use spinners and worms; it also works great for drifting. Another bait that brings walleye in is jig-tipped nightcrawlers.
Years ago, the area was a fish factory for white bass, especially Lake Ontario. Their populations have dwindled over the years, but you still won’t have any problems catching white bass when you are using the right bait. White or silvery bass are biting in the spring and fall.
When you want to land one of these fish, try using small spinners and silver spoons. Small jibs with worms, twister tails, and other types of live bait can also entice the fish to bite on your line.
Closely related to the striped and white bass, the white perch is a beautiful fish easily recognizable by its purple throat. While its silver color is similar to the white bass, the perch has a darker back.
The record catch is 3lbs, 1oz, which is an impressive size for this smaller fish. The best places to fish for white perch are in water 6 to 8 feet deep. They prefer hanging out closer to the bottom, so make sure you drop the line in deep enough. Use small worms to entice the fish, though some anglers have success with damp flies.
The yellow perch is easy to identify by its greenish back that turns yellow on the belly. Distinctive dark bands, usually numbering six to eight, mark its sides. Yellow perch prefer to travel in schools which is good news for anglers. When you find one, chances are you will quickly reach your limit.
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They are plentiful throughout Lake Erie from the spring through fall, but they are harder to catch during the hot summer months. The daily limit for your catch is 50, showing that the species is thriving in the area. The record catch is from 1982 at 3lbs, 8oz, almost large enough to feed two. When you are angling for yellow perch, use red worms or minnows for the best results.
Whether you are fishing from the banks, on a charter boat or one of the many fishing pier around the lake, Erie has a large variety of fish for you to potentially catch.