“Crazy Good!” Fishing in Lake Erie

By Bill Hilts, Jr.

Published on | Last Updated

The Buffalo region is blessed with an abundance of freshwater and a fishery that’s considered world class. It all starts with Lake Erie, a massive body of water that can be found in the shadow of the city of Buffalo, where walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and trout all flourish. The fishing isn’t just good – it’s crazy good!

Without a doubt, the featured fish on Lake Erie is the walleye. Local walleye populations have seen strong natural reproduction in area waters in six of the last eight years and estimates from 2023 put the walleye population in excess of 93 million fish in the western and central portions of the lake. Competitors at the National Walleye Tour championships held out of nearby Dunkirk in 2022 were shaking their heads in awe at the quality and quantity of fish.

The best way to take advantage of this incredible sport fishery is through the local legion of U.S. Coast Guard-licensed charter captains that are readily available for hire. Let them do all the work and provide the necessary gear (including bait when necessary) to be successful. Your only job, should you decide to accept, is to reel the fish in! Tasty walleyes make for delicious table fare, too. For a look at a long list of professional skippers, check out https://www.easternlakeeriecharters.com/.

Western New York also has one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries in the world. Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) releases a “100 Best Bass Lakes” list every year and once again in 2023, the waters of the Eastern Basin of Lake Erie near Buffalo (including the Upper Niagara River) cracked the prestigious list of “Top 10 Bass Lakes in the Country.”

For the better part of 15 years, representatives of Bassmaster magazine have been visiting the area to sample the fishing. These visits have resulted in some phenomenal numbers of smallmouth bass caught by these experts. In fact, James Hall, current editor of Bassmaster Magazine, proclaimed that “this fishery not only deserves its ranking, but should be a priority on every bass angler’s bucket list.”

There is a special trophy bass season in the lake that runs from Dec. 1 through June 14, when the rest of the state has a catch and release option. Anglers are allowed keep one 20-inch bass per day if an angler catches what appears to be a potential state record.

Another popular table fare is Lake Erie’s popular yellow perch in the spring and fall. Some of the best perch fishing on the entire lake can be found right here in the Buffalo region. Not only are they fun to catch, but they are fun to eat, too! If you have your own boat, try hiring a charter captain for a day to learn the ropes and the areas to fish to help make your experience that much more enjoyable.

The tributary and inland stream fishing in Western New York offers some of the most prolific trout fisheries available in the world. You can fish for lake trout and steelhead/domestic rainbow trout in the lake spring through fall. However, the best fishing for steelhead and domestic rainbows is from September to April in the streams. For more information, visit the New York State Outdoor Guides Association at www.nysoga.org.

Gary Laidman with his 51 inch musky with 27 inch girth

To find out more information on the state’s angling resources in the area, check out the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s website at www.dec.ny.gov for regulations and general information about fishing. If you are 16 years of age or older, a fishing license is required (which can be purchased online).

For a weekly fishing report on the area’s waters, call (716) 855-FISH (3474) that is produced by DEC’s Region 9. You can find the same report on the DEC website.

If you have your own boat and decide to bring it along for fishing and general boating opportunities, keep in mind that there are boating rules in place during certain times of the year. As of Jan. 1, 2025, all motorboat operators must have completed and passed a boater safety class, even if you are from out of state. Safe boating classes from other states are accepted in New York.

For general information on the boating safety classes, you can email boating@parks.ny.gov or you can call the main line at (518) 474-0445. The boating section of the NY Parks website is www.wearitnewyork.com.

Yes, fishing is crazy good here. We invite you to come and get hooked!

Bill Hilts, Jr. headshot

Bill Hilts, Jr.

Bill Hilts, Jr. of Lockport, an award-winning writer and photographer, is currently the outdoor writer for the Buffalo News and New York Outdoor News.