A little science goes a long way for anglers |  News, sports, jobs

A little science goes a long way for anglers | News, sports, jobs

Little applied science can go a long way for anglers who want to improve their chances of finding and catching their favorite fish.

Cleveland Metropark’s fish biologist Michael Durkalec knows a thing or two about fishing behavior. As a scientist, Durkalec has studied fish in classrooms, textbooks, laboratories and in the field. As an angler, he has gained considerable practical experience in reading sonar, locating bait and game fish and tempting them to bite his hook.

His vast knowledge bubbled to the surface recently as he and I discussed his success in limiting out on Lake Erie’s famous yellow perch. It is safe to say that Mike and his wife Elizabeth will enjoy a lot of perch dinners this winter, even while many lament that there is a shortage of perch in Erie’s central basin.

“Autumn fishing in the central basin is a trophy season,” Durkalec said. “If trophy-sized perch appeal to you, there’s no better time to get them on Lake Erie than fall and early winter.”

He sailed several 12- to 14-inch perch over the past two months from the central basin water, but acknowledged that anglers who want to fill a cooler will not experience the rapid action as in the old days, when days of 100 fish were possible.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife agrees. A recent press release reported that by 2021 Lake Erie yellow perch hatch was below average in the central basin. Bad hatches mean that the total stock from Huron to Ashtabula is low and the sack boundaries are reduced.

Durkalec noted that while the number is low, the individual fish are large.

“Ten jumbo drills are a lot of meat and I don’t have to burn a ton of fuel to get to them because the jumbo are within half a mile of the estuary late in the season,” he said.

In fact, one of Erie’s best Ohio perch ever was the 15-inch, 2-pound specimen Elizabeth Durkalec rolled up in October 2020.

“It’s time for big fish when the water starts to get colder,” he said. “The large schools of perch in the central basin do not happen. Instead, I find mini schools, usually in 30 to 37 feet of water, off the mouths of rivers like Cuyahoga, Black and Rocky.”

He said the funnel created by the large breach walls off Cleveland, Lorain and Huron – and further east from Painesville, Ashtabula and Conneaut – channels the current in a way that makes the perch prefer accessible and vulnerable.

When Durkalec finds baitfish, his scientist sets his mind in motion.

“I want to see bait down there, but not too much. I’ve learned that when the screen shows a massive shoal of bait, the perch is not interested in my two little minnows.”

He does not get upset when he fails to draw perch within the bait schools. “In the cold water, they are usually on the bottom, so they are hard to see on sonar.”

Durkalec rigs two rods – usually lightweight baitcasters – with 10-pound braid and lightweight monofilament conductors. He makes his own crappie rigs with two hooks and frees the lured hooks to the bottom, where he gives a soft jigging action to lure bites.

Emerald shiners are his favorite bait. He often uses small shiners, but will also size up to larger minnows. “Jumbo perch are not afraid of larger shiners.”

Durkalec said perch are “flexible feeders.” His analysis of the stomach contents shows that the perch eats emerald-shiny, small shade, thorny water fleas, zooplankton, midge larvae and cuttlefish. He knows of a belly of perch that included the tail of a cocktail shrimp.

The jumbo obviously not only tastes good, they also have good taste.

Jack Wollitz’s book, “The Ordinary Angler,” explores the thrills and chills that make fishing fun. He likes emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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