Walleye river runs get early start in north Ohio

Fremont, Ohio — This year’s spring walleye spawn began early.

Really early.

Anglers on the Maumee River have been landing fish since mid-February, a time more often associated with ice fishing in northern Ohio. Fish began to show in the Sandusky River the third week of February and by the end of the month, although fishing had improved, it didn’t rise to the Maumee’s level.

“Everybody’s been talking about this crazy weather and that’s what’s helping it out, said James Soricelli of Maumee Bait and Tackle. “Water’s spiked all the way up to 45 degrees already.”

He reported a large number of boats fishing near the river mouth, with reports of many fish released. And the river itself is seeing a big influx of early visitors.

“This year with no ice and warmer weather, we’re definitely seeing some fish spawn early,” said Travis Hartman, the DNR’s top administrator for Lake Erie’s fisheries programs.

But despite the unseasonably mild weather, he said, most fish are likely to hold back until water temperatures rise and lunar events both coincide.

“On the reefs, peak spawning comes with the arrival of a full moon in March,” Hartman said.

The March full moon should arrive the second week of the month.

While elevated water temps can get river spawning fish in the mood, they can’t get to the shallower spawning areas they prefer without sufficient water flow, which for many areas in the Maumee and Sandusky means rain and deeper water.

Matt Winke, of Oak Harbor, and Craig Dayringer, of Fremont, fished the last day of February in Fremont, emerging empty-handed after a couple hours of early morning angling.

“The water’s kind of low yet, and it’s real muddy,” Winke said.

He used floating jig heads. The pair met up at Angler’s Supplies in Fremont, where all things river fishing are sold.

The pair said some fish have been taken, but it hasn’t really turned on yet. Dayringer said he thought rain in the forecast would bring water up and fish in.

As the pair were leaving, well before 10 a.m., an optimistic Taylor Hoepf, from Green Springs, was heading for the bank.

“I’ve been here three or four times so far and I haven’t snagged much,” he said.

Of course, he didn’t mean that literally.

“Most I seen is a few guys catching a few jacks,” he said.

One thing Hoepf mentioned was steelhead.

“I’m going to give it a shot, walleye or steelhead or whatever hits,” he said. “Floating jig, regular jig, whatever it takes. I got all colors.”

Winke said he’d never heard of steelhead coming out of the Sandusky until this year. Dayringer said he’s seen a lot of them come out of the river.

While it’s nice to get served up an unexpected treat, seeing as how Ohio got cheated out of an ice-fishing season this year, Hartman was asked if something bad could come of this.

“If we have a long spawning period because of extended spawning conditions,” Hartman said, “it almost guarantees you won’t have a big hatch. At the end of the day, when the larvae hatch, they have a week to feed on their spawn sacs. After that, they need to have plankton.”

If unusual spring weather does not produce plankton when and where fish need it, that’s bad.

But, on the upside, the potential for trophy fish or even a state record is good, according to Hartman.

“It definitely gives us the opportunity,” he said.

While the catch rates on the lake weren’t real good in February, plenty of big fish have been pulled.

“I’ve seen pictures of 13-, 14-pound walleye. We’ve had a few unique weeks here. More fishable days than I’ve ever seen this early,” said Hartman.

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