Lake Erie Fish

Lake Erie Walleye

Lake Erie Walleye

IDENTIFICATION: Has a long slender body with a yellow-olive and bluish-brassy overcast on the sides; the belly is milky white. It has a large clouded eye and a dark blotch on the webbing between the last three spines of the first dorsal fin. Also has numerous sharp teeth. Similar in appearance to a sauger or saugeye. 

FISHING TIPS: Jigging lures tipped with shiners while ice fishing, bottom bouncing lures or casting weight forward spinner tipped with a nightcrawler, and flatline and controlled depth trolling are all very popular methods for catching walleye. Pre-dawn, dusk and cloudy days are the best times to fish. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 14-22 inches and weigh 2-4 pounds. May reach 36 inches and weigh over 16 pounds.

FOOD: Walleye feed mostly on emerald shiners, gizzard shad, alewifes, and rainbow smelt 

SPAWNING: Lake Erie walleyes spawn throughout April when water temperature is 40-50°F. Eggs are scattered over gravel or reef areas of Lake Erie or in the riffle areas of tributary streams. Females can lay as many as 400,000 eggs. The eggs hatch in about 10 days. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Naturally occurs in Lake Erie, the Ohio River, and is stocked into several inland reservoirs in Ohio. Prefers clear to slightly turbid waters with reefs, gravel shoals, bedrock, and other firm bottoms.

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch

IDENTIFICATION: Sides are golden yellow to brassy green with 6 to 8 broad, dark vertical bands and a white to yellow belly. Many small teeth, but no large canines.

FISHING TIPS: Best angling occurs in spring near shore and in the fall through winter at various depths using spreaders with minnows, shiners, worms, or cut bait fished near the bottom. Ice fishing often produces some of the best catch rates for yellow perch. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 5-12 inches and weigh 1/4 - 1 pound; can exceed 2 pounds FOOD: Adult aquatic insects and larvae, and small fishes 

SPAWNING: Occurs from mid-April to early May. Eggs are deposited in adhesive bands over vegetation or on the bottom with no care given by the parents. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Native to Ohio, yellow perch are found in Lake Erie and impoundments, ponds and slow moving rivers throughout Ohio. Yellow perch prefer clear water with moderate vegetation and sand or gravel on the bottom.

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

IDENTIFICATION: Channel catfish are scale-less and have slender bodies, deeply forked tails, barbells around the mouth, and curved anal fins with 24-30 rays. Color varies, but is generally bluish-silver on the upper half of the body and silver to white on the lower half. Most young fish have spots on the body. They have sharp spines in the dorsal and pectoral fins. Some anglers mistakenly call channel catfish with few or no spots blue catfish, but blue catfish are found only in the Ohio River. 

FISHING TIPS: Channel catfish feed on or near the bottom. Nightcrawlers, shrimp, crayfish, chicken livers, and minnows are effective. Spinning or casting tackle with a sinker heavy enough to keep the bait on the bottom is commonly used. A good time to catch channel catfish is after a hard rain when the water is on the rise.   

ADULT SIZE: Most range from 12-14 inches. Can reach 10 pounds or more, especially in large river systems and productive lakes. FOOD: Insect larvae, crayfish, mollusks, and small fish SPAWNING: Begins when water temperatures reach the mid-70s. Nests are secluded in natural cavities, banks, and burrows. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Channel catfish are common in most large streams and lakes throughout Ohio. They are found in greatest numbers in areas with deep water, clean gravel and boulder substrates, and low to moderate current.

Sheephead (Freshwater Drum)

Sheephead (Freshwater Drum)

IDENTIFICATION: Silver-gray in color and rounded tail 

FISHING TIPS: Frequently taken by anglers fishing for other species with both artificial and live baits. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 12-30 inches; can reach 20 pounds or more 

FOOD: Larval insects, crayfish, small fish, snails, and zebra mussels 

SPAWNING: In spring to late summer; usually peaks in July when water temperatures reach 70°F. Eggs are buoyant and float near the surface of the water. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Large shallow lakes and big rivers. Most abundant in Lake Erie. In rivers they normally inhabit deeper pools.



IDENTIFICATION: Has an adipose fin, squarish to rounded tail, black spots throughout. Rainbow trout have 10-12 anal rays and a white mouth and gums (coho and chinook salmon, occasionally found in Lake Erie, have gray or black gums, more anal rays, and forked tails). Lake Erie steelhead are generally bright silver with a bright pink band. Males develop a hooked jaw known as a “kype” during the spawning season. 

FISHING TIPS: Most steelhead trout caught in Lake Erie are caught while trolling deep running crankbaits and spoons for walleye. In the early fall, however, shore anglers east of Cleveland begin catching steelhead using spoons or jigs tipped with maggots. After fish begin moving upstream later in the fall, spawn bags, salmon eggs, flies, minnows, and worms can be productive. The best locations for steelhead are pools with deep water (2 feet or more) with some current. Steelhead prefer slower moving water in the winter, but move into shallower, swifter water in the spring where they are often caught on flies, spinners, minnow shaped crankbaits, and jigs with maggots. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 20-23 inches, but can grow to 36 inches and 19 pounds 

FOOD: Small fish and aquatic insects 

SPAWNING: Natural reproduction is rare in Ohio. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Not native to Ohio, but introduced throughout coldwater locations in the state. Prefers coldwater streams with cobble, boulders, deep pools, and overhead cover. In Ohio, rainbow trout stocked into coldwater streams move to Lake Erie for a year or two then return to that stream in the fall through spring months. These fish are referred to as steelhead trout

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass

IDENTIFICATION: When mouth is closed, the lower part of the jaw does not extend beyond the rear of the eye. Color varies from yellow-green to olive-green with bronze iridescence. Adults have prominent dark vertical bars along their sides. 

FISHING TIPS: Fly-fishing, bait casting, and spin casting with a variety of lures are all popular ways of taking smallmouth bass. Live baits such as hellgrammites, soft craws, and minnows are also popular. May and June are the most productive months for smallmouth fishing in Ohio; however, late summer can be productive for Lake Erie smallmouth. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 12-15 inches and weigh 1-2 pounds 

FOOD: Aquatic insects, crayfish, and small fish 

SPAWNING: Occurs in May to early June when water temperature is 55-65°F. Nests are built in gravel or hard bottom substrates in 2 to 20 feet of water. The female lays between 2,000 to 15,000 eggs. The male guards the nest and the fry for a short time. Young smallmouth feed on zooplankton and insect larvae. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Thrive in streams with gravel or rock bottoms with a visible current. Abundant in the reef areas and rocky shorelines of Lake Erie. Often abundant in up ground reservoirs in northwest Ohio and in quarries.

White Bass

White Bass

IDENTIFICATION: Have an overall silvery color with steel-blue iridescence and a milk-white belly. The 2 dorsal fins are well separated and the spiny dorsal fin has 9 spines. There are 6 or more dark lateral lines on the sides and back. Closely resembles the white perch. 

FISHING TIPS: Still fish or drift fish minnows or cast small spinners or plugs. Best fishing in Lake Erie is in late April through May. White bass are often located by watching for circling gulls and terns that are feeding on the minnows driven to the surface by schooling white bass. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 10-14 inches 

FOOD: Small fish, aquatic insects 

SPAWNING: Usually occurs in late April into May when the fish move into the tributary streams or reef areas of Lake Erie and near shore in larger lakes. Females broadcast their eggs into the water where they are fertilized by the males and then settle to the bottom and adhere to hard surfaces. The eggs will hatch in approximately two weeks. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Widespread throughout Ohio, in larger lakes, Lake Erie, and the Ohio River. They prefer open clear water with a firm bottom and water depths of less than30 feet.

White Perch

White Perch

IDENTIFICATION: Olive to silver-gray in color with a bluish tint on the lower jaw. A lack of dark lines on its sides distinguishes it from the white bass. 

FISHING TIPS: The best angling occurs in spring near shore and in major tributaries. Good fall catches can occur at various water depths using spreaders with minnows, shiners, red worms, or cut bait fished near the bottom. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 7-12 inches and weigh 1/4 -1 pound 

FOOD: Larval insects, crayfish, small fish, and are known to feed extensively on the eggs of other species 

SPAWNING: White perch spawn in shallow tributary waters in April and May. Small adhesive eggs are randomly released in shallow riffle areas. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Originally found in brackish waters along the Atlantic Coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia, white perch are now present throughout Lake Erie. Recently found in the Ohio River. Prefers clear water with little preference for bottom type.



 IDENTIFICATION: A long, slender fish with a large mouth and numerous teeth. Scales on cheeks are found only on the upper half and gill cover. Muskies lack a spiny dorsal fin, but do have a soft-rayed fin and soft-rayed ventral fin, both just in front of the tail. Muskie have 7-11 sensory pores on the underside of each side of the lower jaw. 

FISHING TIPS: Bait casting and trolling large plugs, spoons, and spinner baits are the most popular ways to catch muskies. 

ADULT SIZE: Males typically range from 22-39 inches and weigh 3-21 pounds; females typically range from 22-50 inches and weigh from 3-40 pounds. 

FOOD: Soft-rayed fish such as suckers and gizzard shad 

SPAWNING: Usually in April when the water temperature reaches the low 50s. Eggs are dropped on soft shallow bottoms where they adhere to vegetation and other debris. Females will drop as many as 200,000 eggs. Reproduction in Ohio is limited to non-existent. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Historically abundant in Lake Erie and larger streams in the Ohio River drainage. Today found primarily in lakes where they have been stocked and occasionally in Lake Erie and Ohio River tributaries. Ideal habitat is heavily vegetated with submerged stumps, brush, and logs and water 3-4 feet deep 

Northern Pike

Northern Pike

IDENTIFICATION: Lower half of the gill cover is scale-less with a fully scaled cheek. Northern pike usually have fewer than 7 sensory pores on the underside of each side of the lower jaw. 

FISHING TIPS: Large minnows or chubs seem to be more productive than artificial lures. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 20-32 inches and weigh 2-10 pounds 

FOOD: Soft-rayed fish such as shad and suckers but will take nearly anything they can fit in their mouth, including frogs, muskrats, and small ducks. 

SPAWNING: Soon after the ice-out in late February or early March, Northern pike move in tributary streams to spawn. Natural reproduction in Ohio outside of Lake Erie is limited. Females spread between 15,000 to 75,000 eggs freely into vegetated areas. As the eggs settle they adhere to vegetation, rocks, sticks and other debris until they hatch in about two weeks. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Once abundant in Lake Erie, Northern pike are now primarily limited to the marshes and bays of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

Lake Trouth

Lake Trouth

IDENTIFICATION: Color ranges from brown to gold on back with a cream to slate-colored belly. Have black, yellow, gray, or occasionally red spots surrounded by a white halo. The adipose fin between dorsal and caudal fin is prominent with spots. There are no spots on squarish tail or wavy markings on back region. 

FISHING TIPS: Fishing is most successful in the fall through late spring, or during early and late hours during the summer. Brown trout are usually pursued with fly fishing equipment, with patterns that match local hatches or nymphs of caddisfly, stonefly, or mayfly. Fly patterns of ants, crickets, grasshoppers, and “wooly buggers” also produce nice catches. Live bait such as nightcrawlers, leeches, crayfish, minnows, and maggots can also be productive. 

FOOD: Small fish and insects 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 10-13 inches; maximum of 29 inches 

SPAWNING: Brown trout do not naturally reproduce in Ohio. Division of Wildlife hatcheries rear brown trout for roughly one year before stocking them. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Native to Europe. The Ohio Division of Wildlife currently stocks brown trout in selected streams. Preferred habitat includes cold-water streams with boulders, cobble, logs, root wads, and overhead cover.

Lake Sturgeon (ENDANGERD)

Lake Sturgeon (ENDANGERD)

IDENTIFICATION: Numerous body plates on its back, sides, and belly. Coarse textured skin is scale-less. Four long barbells on its snout. 

ADULT SIZE: Can exceed 6 feet and 200 pounds. Lake sturgeon can live as long as 150 years. 


FOOD: Larval insects, crayfish, some fish, and plant material

SPAWNING: In April or May. Requires river or lake habitats with clean cobble to boulder substrates for spawning. Preferred spawning depth is between 2 and 15 feet. Females reach sexual maturity at 20 to 25 years of age and carry 4,000 to 5,000 eggs per pound of body weight. Individuals will only spawn once every four to seven years. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Historically found in large rivers and lakes. In Ohio, it is classified as a state endangered species. Present in Lake Erie, but probably extirpated in the Ohio River drainage after that system was impounded in 1916.

ENDANGERED s p e c i e s

ATTENTION: Because this is a state endangered species, if you catch one, you must release it.

Blue Gill

Blue Gill

IDENTIFICATION: A deep slab-sided fish with a small mouth and a long pectoral fin. Colors vary, however the ear flap is always black and bluegills often have a black blotch near the end of the soft dorsal fin. 

FISHING TIPS: Live or natural bait such as red worms, insects, or wax worms on a small (#8 or #10) hook are productive. Fly fishing is also popular. 

ADULT SIZE: Normally 6-10 inches, depending on habitat and population 

FOOD: Insects, insect larvae, small fish, and fish eggs,. 

SPAWNING: Peak spawning in Ohio occurs in mid-May to mid-June, when water temperatures are 65-70°F. Nests are usually built in water 1-4 feet deep on sand or gravel bottoms, or on other bottom substrates, even in heavily vegetated areas. Bluegill typically build nests in large groups, or beds. Males select an area and sweep out a saucer shaped nest with their tails. The females then lay between 10,000 to 60,000 eggs in the nest which are guarded by the male. The eggs usually hatch in about five days. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Common throughout Ohio, but they prefer clear ponds and lakes with rooted vegetation.

Black Crappie

Black Crappie

IDENTIFICATION: Black crappie closely resemble white crappie, but have deeper bodies. Furthermore, their head, back and sides are mottled with dusky or black blotches. These blotches do not form vertical bands as on white crappie. The most reliable characteristic, however, is that black crappie have seven or eight dorsal spines. 

FISHING TIPS: Black crappie bite best on live minnows, small jigs, and spinners. The spring spawning season is the best time to fish for black crappie. Anglers should concentrate on areas with brush, stumps, and docks. During summer and early fall crappie are usually found in deeper water along creek channels, roadbeds and submerged points. Late fall can be another hot time for crappie as they move inshore again for a short time. 

ADULT SIZE: average 8 to 12 inches 

FOOD: After hatching, crappie feed on zooplankton and insect larvae. As they grow, crappie switch primarily to a diet of small fish. 

SPAWNING: Black crappie spawn during May and June in Ohio. They nest on the bottom in and around brush, rocks, or vegetation in water between 1 and 5 feet deep. Males construct a nest by fanning out small depressions. Females then lay 5,000 to 30,000 eggs in the nest. 

RANGE AND HABITAT: Found throughout the state preferring clear water containing aquatic vegetation. They are less tolerant of silt and turbidity than white crappie.

Coho Salmon

Coho Salmon

Beautiful Coho salmons (Oncorhynchus kisutch) are identified by their silver sides that have a bluish tint. The back is darker with spots and there are also spots on the upper portion of the caudal fin. There are visible white gums in the lower jaw.  

Coho are native to the Pacific Northwest. Coho salmon were introduced in Ohio around 1876. There were more introductions between 1930 and 1934. In 1933, 130,000 Coho and chinook salmon were stocked in Lake Erie. Introductions resumed between 1968 and 1970. These last attempts appeared to be quite successful. Ohio's population is restricted to Lake Erie, from Conneaut to Toledo. They are also found in the lake's tributary streams, especially the Chagrin and Huron rivers.  

Coho's live for three years. The salmon are anadromous. In the fall, Ohio Coho's migrate to Lake Erie's tributary streams to spawn when water temperature are 45 - 50 F. Females produce 5,000 to 10,000 eggs. As soon as spawning is complete, the adults die. Coho salmons do not reproduce well in Ohio, because of this the Ohio Department of Natural Resources maintains a stocking program to help support salmon fishing in the state.  

The record Coho was taken from the Huron River in 1982 and weighed 13.63 pounds.