PORT CLINTON — Lake Erie is a great place to spend a day fishing, even if the worm at the end of the hook gets nothing but wet.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), about 723,000 Ohioans have fishing licenses, and another 89,000 nonresidents buy licenses to fish in Ohio waters.
Well over half of those who hold Ohio licenses fish in Lake Erie, according to the ODNR.
Even when I don’t catch anything — and given my angling “skills” that happens as often as not — I always feel lucky when I’m fishing in Lake Erie.
The lake shore near Port Clinton and Sandusky is beautiful, and the region offers plenty of things to see and do, even for the non-angler.
Visitors who are interested in reeling in some big ones will find plenty of public fishing spots along the lakeshore. One of the best resources for finding those spots is Ohio’s Lake Erie Public Access Guidebook, a free publication from the ODNR. The book is available at several locations in the area, including the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/refuge/ottawa) visitors center west of Port Clinton. (The refuge is also one of the best birdwatching sites in the country, especially during spring migration.)
The Guidebook steers visitors to public boat launches, fishing access and piers, restrooms, beaches and hiking trails and includes myriad other useful details for anglers and non-anglers alike.
The same information is available online at www.ohiodnr.gov/discover-and-learn/land-water/lake-erie-watershed, which also offers links to other valuable guidance for beginners and old hands alike, including rules and regulations, water conditions and how-to tips for catching the sportfish species found in the lake.
Visitors who’d rather fish on the water — and who don’t have a ride of their own — can find many charter fishing boats at anchor in and around Port Clinton.
Charter boats serve groups of anglers who reserve the whole boat for a partial or full day of fishing, accompanied by the captain and usually a first mate.
Another option is a so-called “head boat” that charges per person or “by the head” and takes out groups of anglers who show up to fish that day.
Expect to pay $75 to $150 per spot for a private charter boat or around $75 per person for head boat fishing, depending on the season, size of the group and size of the boat, plus amenities and extras such as rental poles and tackle, bait and boxed lunches.
Peg VanVleet, owner of Blue Sky Charters (www.blueskycharters.net) in Port Clinton, is a vice president with the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association (www.lecba.com) and was voted the association’s Captain of the Year in 2016.
After a tough go during the pandemic, most of the lake’s charter captains have seen business return to previous levels and even beyond, VanVleet said
VanVleet, one of only a handful of female charter captains on the lake, said she loves all her customers, but especially families with younger children who are just learning the joys of fishing in Lake Erie, as she first did at age 5, more than 60 years ago.
VanVleet said the season for her charters ends Oct. 1, although some charter captains offer trips deeper into the fall.
Many charters will clean the fish caught during an outing. For those fishing on their own, several companies along the lake offer fish-cleaning services.
And ODNR is currently constructing three new modern public fish-cleaning stations along the lake that will be equipped with industrial grinders to properly dispose of fish waste after cleaning.
The stations will be located at the Mazurik public fishing access west of Lakeside in Ottawa County, Huron public fishing access in Erie County, and Avon Lake Fishing Access in Lorain County. The Mazurik station will also have new restroom facilities.
The Shores & Islands Welcome Center (www.shoresandislands.com) on Ohio Route 53 near Port Clinton is also a great place to pick up maps, guidebooks and other information at the beginning of a fishing trip — or any visit to the Lake Erie shore.
Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at email@example.com.