Lake Erie has been an angler’s prime destination for targeting yellow perch and walleye.
The walleye caught in Lake Erie were once referred to as “yellow pike” or “yellows” to distinguish these fish from a smaller, bluish colored subspecies of the walleye family locals dubbed “blue pike.”
Department of Environmental Conservation officials have deemed this subspecies extinct; most area anglers now generally refer to this larger member of the perch family as a walleye, but a few folks still like to label them as “yellows.”
Another name often used for walleye was “pike perch,” which, for Lake Erie anglers, seems silly. There are perch with those distinctive green and yellow rings; there are walleye with that yellow-golden body and big, glossy eyes, which have generated yet another naming localism for the walleye, marble eye.
For more than a quarter of a century the Southtowns Walleye Association (SWA) has held an annual walleye tournament, with some impressive sizes weighed in for prizes. Held for a span of at least two weekends in early June, the SWA Annual Walleye Tournament has offered anglers an opportunity to get in on a competition while catching one of Erie’s two most delectable fish species.
The other sought species, the yellow perch, vies with walleyes among fish-food fanciers as the top tasting fillets from Erie’s deep, blue waters.
In 2007, SWA officials began a perch tourney prior to the regular walleye tournament. This year’s annual perch tournament on May 18 afforded all a chance to get on the water and enjoy some spectacular perch catching at many areas on Erie waters.
Weather conditions held similar to the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. perch tourney fishing last year; light winds and slightly overcast skies allowed boaters to fish all open waters. But finding the bigger fish always poses a challenge, which is what all 197 entrants dealt with during the allotted hours of fishing.
Entries had to be weighed in before 2 p.m. at the SWA clubhouse in Hamburg; many boaters hit the U.S./Canada borderline, which called for careful fish finding.
Herb Schultz won the contest last year with a record 7.67 pounds weighed in for five fat ringbacks. This year Schultz kept on the move but did not break the five-pound mark by weigh-in time. Bob Hollingsworth of Kenmore fished with Cheektowaga angler Morris Fried; Hollingsworth brought in a total weight of 6.84 pounds to take first place and a $300 purse.
The top 10 places went to anglers weighing in a five-fish total of more than 5.5 pounds. Scores were tight and close for the money weights recorded that day. Second to 10th places went to Dave Schaffer (6.43 pounds), Dick Schaffer (6.17), Anthony Quick (5.95), Fred Scrabucha (5.9), Tim Gaul (6.58), Kerry Kempf (5.87), Jim Senica (5.77), Kathleen Muir (5.56), and Bruce Wager (5.55). Wager won the perch tourney in 2010 with a 6.97-pound total.
“I fished waters along the Canadian line off Sturgeon Point and had to keep moving around to get away from schools of smaller fish,” Wager said after the contest. He was well away from most boaters entered in the Southtowns tourney.
Hollingsworth did the same thing in waters off Point Breeze; most boaters were elsewhere and the fish were on the move.
“We would get over a few bigger fish and then they moved and we had to move to find them,” Hollingsworth said of the time he and Fried spent on the big-perch search. On average, more larger males than females were caught; some of the females still were carrying eggs, which added to the weight total.
But nothing could match the weight total Gene Pauszek, outdoors writer with the Dunkirk Observer, weighed in after fishing Cattaraugus Creek waters on the day of this contest. Some see the SWA perch tourney as a warm-up for the walleye contest. It was just that for Pauszek. Using a standard perch rig he finished with a personal trophy that day, one 9.7-pound walleye that hit a perch minnow.
Dayside trollers have not started connecting with side planers and down rigs as yet; most of the walleye activity has been night trolling with minnow-type baits. But conditions could change before the June 8 start of the SWA Walleye Tournament.
Schultz noted that the water temperature is still hovering around 58 degrees. “I like to get into them when it’s up to 62 or so,” Schultz said of the early-season walleye run.
Right now, boaters can find sizeable schools of perch at depths between 52 and 62 feet in Lake Erie waters on the New York or Ontario side of the lake. The other consistent perch hotspot has been current waters of the upper Niagara River off Ontario Street.
Suspended schools of walleye, resident fish and migrants cruising in from the Erie’s Western Basin may appear anywhere fairly close to shore during the SWA contest June 8 to 16.
Anglers can register for the Southtowns Walleye Tournament until the evening of June 7. Call 649-8202 or go to southtownswalleye.org.