Fishing on Lake Erie: Your Complete Guide
May 18, 2021 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

What’s the first thing you think about when someone mentions fishing on Lake Erie? Well, most freshwater enthusiasts start daydreaming about trophy-sized Walleye catches. First-timers might imagine casting from shore under the bruised dawn sky, happy to be here and enjoy the action. The truth is, this fishery is all that and so much more.

Lake Erie's rocky shores with a lighthouse in the distance

Lake Erie is renowned for its rich waters and the bite that keeps on giving. You’d never guess it’s the shallowest of the Great Lakes! Straddling the border between the US and Canada, this impressive body of water is over 240 miles long and is a dream come true for just about everyone. So, let’s see what makes Lake Erie so unique.

Top Catches on Lake Erie

You’ve probably heard the expression “The Walleye Capital of the World” being thrown around when people talk about Lake Erie, and for good reason. There’s hardly a better place in the US to catch the biggest Walleye of your life. But there’s more! The lake has three basins – Central, Eastern, and Western – each more productive than the last. Yellow Perch, Trout, Bass, and even Salmon thrive here, and the list doesn’t stop.

From New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan to Ontario, Canada, Lake Erie provides first-class fishing grounds for all. If you’re still unsure where to go and what to catch, keep reading.

Walleye: The One, the Only, the Very Best

If you have to choose one fish to target on Lake Erie, it should undoubtedly be Walleye. There are over 150 million of these creatures and the numbers keep growing. Seeing that Walleye are one of the most coveted freshwater game fish, it’s hardly surprising that thousands of fishermen flock to Lake Erie every year.

A bold man in sunglasses holding a trophy Walleye

Summer months are perfect for treating yourself to a Walleye hunt. From June–September, you can easily land your daily limit, and trophy 17–24’’ specimens are an everyday occurrence. Walleye spawn in spring, so they move around and are harder to predict during this time.

You can go after Walleye as early as April – this is when they hang out closer to the surface. They’re very sensitive to light, so anglers hit the water in the evenings for the best bite. If you can’t wait to start fishing, night trips are a great solution. Using planer boards to get your prey’s attention can be very productive.

Three boys standing on a boat holding the Walleye they caught

During the long summer days, Walleye move to Lake Erie’s deeper offshore waters. Slow trolling (2 miles per hour) will give the best results. What’s even better is that Walleye move around in schools, so when you get one, cast back as soon as possible for multiple catches.

Wherever you go on the lake, chances are, you’ll find solid Walleye action that will keep you busy. All you need to is pick a spot and enjoy the superb Walleye fishing Lake Erie is famous for.

Yellow Perch: The Tastiest of the Bunch

While Walleye come first when it comes to strength and size, Yellow Perch make for the most delicious table fare. This species is on the menu year-round, and you can catch it even when ice fishing. Perch are the “bread and butter” fish of Lake Erie and an all-time favorite.

A smiling middle-aged fisherman sitting on a boat holding a Yellow Perch with a hook with in fish's mouth

While you can target Perch pretty much anytime, their peak season is during the late summer and early fall. They spend most of their time near the bottom and prefer waters that are 20–70 feet deep. Just like Walleye, Perch live in schools, which means you can fill your cooler within an hour if luck is on your side.

You can catch Perch both from a boat and from shore. If you’re going out with a guide, you’ll probably anchor, and drift fish with live minnows. There’s a good number of public docks up and down Lake Erie, and Perch don’t have a problem coming closer to shore to eat.

If you’re coming to Lake Erie with your family and you want your kids to fall in love with fishing, going after Yellow Perch will make sure of that. Add that to the fact that you’ll enjoy a delicious fish dinner at the end of the day, and you’ve got a combo made in heaven.

Trout of All Shapes and Colors

When there’s talk about fishing on Lake Erie, gorgeous Steelhead (also known as “chromers”) naturally come to mind. While they’re the most commonly caught Trout on the lake, their Brown and Lake cousins are also there in good numbers. Go after them in early spring and fall, and you’re in for a lot of fun.

A fisherman in sunglasses standing on a charter boat, holding a big Steelhead

Both the American and Canadian sides of the lake offer strong Rainbow action, especially when the water reaches the Trout-optimal 55ºF. The best time to catch chromers is during their spring and fall runs. Rainbows are most active from March–May and when the weather cools down, from September all through November. 

The biggest hotspot for landing big Rainbow Trout is “Steelhead Alley” – the part of the lake from the Cattaraugus Creek to the mouth of Vermilion River. Trout also congregate around “the mountain” in the eastern Erie basin during the hottest months, which translates to top-notch summer fishing.

Lake Trout are also frequent catches in these waters. Unlike their colorful brothers, they’ve always been in Lake Erie. Lakers prefer to prowl for their food at the bottom and aren’t as temperature-sensitive as the Steelhead. You’ll find the best Laker bite around the city of Erie.

Whether you’re after Steelhead, Brown, or Lake Trout, one thing’s certain – you can catch them all on Lake Erie.

Smallmouth Bass: The Lake Erie Underdog

When you’ve got A-listers like Walleye, Perch, and Trout on your to-catch list, sometimes Smallmouth Bass doesn’t come as a top priority. Which is an opportunity missed, as Smallies are abundant in Lake Erie. 

A fisherman in a cap and sunglasses standing on a boat, holding a Smallmouth Bass

You’ll hardly find a fish that’s more fun to catch than Bass. They’re ferocious fighters and can be nice and plump, which is their appeal. In fact, the Smallmouth Bass bite is so good here, that the lake has been officially proclaimed “big Bass” waters. This protects the Bass population from being overfished during spawning and helps them grow. 

That being said, you can chase Smallies as much as your heart desires from mid-June onwards. They usually live in areas that are 20–40 feet deep, and their go-to hiding places are underwater structures, ledges, and rocks. Drift fishing with live bait (preferably minnows) is the best way to attract them. When you’re looking for a change of pace, Smallies are the way to go!

What about Salmon?

Salmon fishing on Lake Erie doesn’t often get the spotlight, because it can be exciting but also elusive. Chinook and Coho Salmon roam these waters, though their numbers aren’t as impressive as those of Walleye and Perch. Still, there are anglers who love targeting both species for their delicious meat and fighting abilities.

A smiling angler holding a big Chinook Salmon while standing on a boat with water and gray sky in the background

Salmon and Steelhead live and feed in similar water temperatures, so there’s a good chance that you’ll hook into a Chinook while trolling for Trout. Coho fishing can be good as well, particularly in spring and fall, when they come all the way from Lake Huron. You can even stumble upon some Kokanee and Pink Salmon around the lake’s tributaries, though they’re not as common.

You’ll probably find Coho on your line more than any other Salmon. That’s because some of the rivers and creeks that flow into Lake Erie make for perfect Coho habitats and, during the spring and fall runs, they come out to play. When in season, the Salmon fishery can be productive and is definitely worth exploring.

Types of Fishing on Lake Erie

As you might suspect, the only limit to how you’ll fish Lake Erie is your imagination. You don’t have to be very skilled to enjoy, and, anywhere you cast your line, there’s a good chance of landing something good. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas to help you out.

Charter Fishing on Lake Erie

A charter boat on Lake Erie with crew and anglers on board

Hiring a professional to help you navigate the rich but tricky waters of Lake Erie is one of the first things you should think about. Nobody knows better where fish hide at different times of year than local guides, and their expertise can make or break your fishing trip.

Another important factor to know is that the weather on the lake can turn within minutes. Even when the waters look calm, further offshore there could be rain and waves several feet high. The experience of charter captains will make sure you stay safe. They’ll also provide the right equipment and make sure you only keep fish within limits. In other words, if you’re looking to hit the water carefree and focus solely on the action, charter fishing on Lake Erie is the way to go.

Shore Fishing on Lake Erie

A close-up of a fishing rod with a lake and sunset in the background

If you prefer fishing with the stable ground under your feet, there’s plenty of opportunities for you on Lake Erie. Whether you cast your line from one of the lake’s beaches or you choose a public pier, it’s up to you.

Your prey will mostly consist of Walleye, Perch, and Panfish that come close to shore. Night fishing for Walleye is excellent in spring – use the cover of darkness to get Walleye to bite! Day fishing will be productive during the warmer months, just remember to go out when the light is low, at dawn and sunset. Fishing for Trout near tributaries can also be top-notch.

Ice Fishing on Lake Erie

A small Yellow Perch on a line, caught while ice fishing, with a frozen lake in the background

Come winter, fishing is put on hold in some parts of the country, but not on Lake Erie! During January and February, some parts of the lake stay completely frozen for weeks, which makes for perfect ice fishing conditions. This time of year, Yellow Perch are most active, though you can also score some Walleye and Crappie.

The most important rules of ice fishing are to make sure that the ice is thick enough (at least 4 inches) and not to go out alone. Grab a couple of friends or hire an ice fishing guide who will advise you when it’s safe to go out. They’ll transport you to the fishing grounds on airboats or snowmobiles and provide all the necessary ice gear. Dress well, pack a thermos filled with your favorite hot drink and you’re ready for ice fishing!

Top Fishing Spots on Lake Erie

A view of the lighthouse at Lakeside Marblehead at sunset

One of many great things about Lake Erie is that it boasts countless fishing grounds. Whether you’re fishing from the US side or from Ontario, Canada, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Here are some top spots you should check out.

  • Port Clinton: Not only will you find the top-notch bite in Port Clinton, but there are also dozens of charters that can take you to your catch. Walleye fishing is a big deal here, and Yellow Perch are the favorite delicacy.
  • Erie: If you’re in Pennsylvania, then head to Erie for your share of fishing action. The Presque Isle Bay is well-known for its waters rich in Steelhead and Walleye.
  • Lakeside Marblehead: Located on the far end of Sandusky Bay, Lakeside has a lot to offer fishing enthusiasts. Head out with a charter, and scour the rich waters between Cedar Point, Catawba, and Kelleys Island for premier action.
  • Monroe: This is the perfect departure point for fishermen who are in a Michigan state of mind. You’ll get to enjoy the first-class Lake Erie bite – Walleye, Perch, Bass, and Steelhead are all on the menu.
  • Buffalo: Come up to Buffalo, NY, to enjoy a different fishing experience on Lake Erie. Here, Trout species take the lead – Lake, Steelhead, Brown – as well as Salmon. But don’t worry, Walleye, Bass, and Perch are still available.

Top Fishing Spots in Canada

White lighthouse in Earieu, Ontario, Canada
  • Erieau: Shake things up and explore the Canadian side of Lake Erie. You can easily reach Erieau from Detroit and you’ll be treated to excellent Walleye, Pike, Bass, and Perch catches.
  • Port Dover: Yellow Perch lovers come to Port Dover in search of jumbo specimens they can brag about. Port Dover is famous for its fantastic Perch fishery and love of motorcycles.
  • Dunnville: If you’re in the mood for Steelhead and Salmon on Lake Erie, there’s a lot for you to try in Dunnville. Both Rainbow and Lake Trout live in good numbers in this part of the lake, and the Chinook and Coho action is just as strong.

Rules & Regulations

Before you start fishing on Lake Erie, it’s important to figure out what kind of fishing license you need. While charter guides take care of everything else, it’s your responsibility to get appropriate permits before you go out.

You’ll need a valid license of the state you’re fishing in and, if you plan on catching Trout and Salmon, buy a Trout Stamp as well. If you want to fish in Canadian waters, you should bring your passport. You’ll also need a Canadian Outdoors Card and a fishing license, which you can get online. Pick the type of license you need (sport or conservation) and how many days you’d like to fish, and you’re ready to go.

Fishing on Lake Erie – There’s Nothing like It!

A view from the shore of Lake Erie full of wildflowers at sunset

You’ve probably heard many success stories that took place on Lake Erie and, the truth is, fishing here has only been getting better in recent years. The waters are brimming with fish and, in the summer, you can hook into just about every species out there. 

When you’ve had your fill of fishing, enjoy the lake’s many beaches and sunsets that will take your breath away. Lake Erie has it all – but you have to try it for yourself!

Have you ever been fishing on Lake Erie? What was your experience like? Do you want to go? Let us know in the comments!

Leave a reply
NameRequired *
Your comment Required *