Lake Erie on the northern shores in Ohio is one of the biggest lakes in the world and a favorite for anglers among the Great Lakes that are between the U.S. and Canada. Many anglers head to Lake Erie for the large walleye population or prized yellow perch but there are many other species to catch from the banks and by boat in the open water.
There are many waterways on Lake Erie to explore, allowing anglers to fish in tributaries and wetlands or from the shoreline. Start by purchasing a valid Ohio fishing license and review our list of the key things to know about fishing on Lake Erie.
Lake Erie Fishing Basics
The Lake Erie, Ohio shoreline stretches across three basins: the Western Basin, Central Basin, and Eastern Basin.
The Western Basin, near Port Clinton, also known as the Walleye Capital of the World, has the shallowest and warmest water and is the most productive for fish as walleye to spawn there.
The Central Basin is along the northeastern border of Ohio, stretching into part of Pennsylvania encompassing departure points like Huron, Geneva-on-the-Lake, and Ashtabula. This is the largest basin with moderate depth and a prime location for walleye in the summer.
The Eastern Basin extends from Pennsylvania to New York and Canada with the deepest and coldest water, but it is least productive. Anglers can alternate between the Western and Central Basins while fishing the Ohio waters of Lake Erie depending on the species they are targeting and the time of year.
Lake Erie Fish Species
The Lake Erie fish to target changes with the season. Walleye and yellow perch are the top Lake Erie species for which about 90% of the anglers on the water are targeting. Other fish in Lake Erie are also fun to catch including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish and steelhead/rainbow trout.
When to Go
The best times to go fishing on Lake Erie mostly depends on the species that you want to catch. In the spring, Walleye are still found in the western basin but also in the tributaries around Maumee and Sandusky. Late spring is great for white bass and smallmouth bass in the tributaries and channel catfish in the nearshore and bay waters that are caught through the fall.
During the summer months, walleye migrate east to the Cleveland-Ashtabula area. Summer through early fall is when yellow perch turn on making for fun and active days on the water.
During the fall months, walleye migrate to the western basin where most anglers set out to target them. Steelhead congregate in the Lake Erie tributaries in the fall months whereas largemouth bass can be caught year-round in nearshore areas.
Ice fishing in the winter for perch and walleye is possible when conditions are right on Lake Erie.
Where to Depart
Since targeting the fish of Lake Erie depends on the season, so too does where you plan to base and depart for a day of fishing. In the spring, the marinas between Toledo and Sandusky (Turtle Creek, Meinke) are popular.
In the summer, Cranberry Creek, Lorain, Vermilion, and Edgewater Park are good options or Marblehead, East Harbor and Sandusky for Perch. Marblehead and the Lake Erie islands are ideal spring and early summer options for smallmouth bass.
In the fall, Lorain and Edgewater are good options to follow the walleye migration.
How to Fish on Lake Erie
Due to its sheer size and the constant movement of fish species, one of the easiest ways to fish on Lake Erie is by hiring a charter. You can find reputable charters all along the Lake Erie coastline that can help you with tackle, technique and finding the fish. Be sure to look for charters that are members of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association that have been vetted and support sustainable fishing in the Great Lakes.
Shore fishing is another way to enjoy catching Lake Erie fish species and you can do it year-round. Walleye, perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and white bass are catchable from the shoreline. There are many public fishing access points on the lake, or you can head to one of the tributary fisheries where many anglers wade on the Sandusky and Maumee Rivers for walleye and white bass or the Grand and Rocky Rivers for steelhead.
Watch the Weather
While anglers should be mindful of weather conditions on any waterway, Lake Erie weather is particularly finicky. Because it is one of the largest lakes in the world, and shallow compared to other lakes, adverse weather conditions can build and strengthen quickly especially from fall to spring when the water is cold. Storms and wind can change abruptly so anglers should check the forecast before and during their time on the water.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife provides resources for anglers from their Lake Erie and central offices, from tackle suggestions and best locations to annual angler reports that are helpful to prepare for a great day on fishing the lake.