It’s certainly not the biggest of the great lakes, but make no mistake about it, Lake Erie is BIG water. It is 241 miles long, 57 miles wide, and has an average depth of 62 ft. Erie has 799 miles of shoreline, plus another 72 miles if you count the 31 islands. All this makes it the 11th largest lake in the world by surface area. The fact that it is also the shallowest of the Great Lakes means it can be very mean. The lake was named by Native Americans that lived along its southern shore. The name means “long tail”.
Erie's primary inlet is the Detroit River, and its confluence with Erie is one of iBass360 member, tournament angler, and fishing guide Ryan Said’s favorite places to fish. Although he guides primarily on Lake St. Clair, he actually considers Erie his home lake, as it is where he learned how to fish big water, as well as learned the disciplines of practicing and fishing big
tournaments. It's where he learned to structure fish- deep and shallow- and most importantly, where he learned to drive a bass boat in big water. Fishing Erie offered Ryan the opportunity to learn how to power fish with crankbaits, and finesse fish with dropshots, two very productive techniques for smallmouth. The main natural outflow from the lake is the Niagara River, which provides hydroelectric power to Canada and the USA from the huge turbines near Niagara Falls
The lake was carved by glaciers out of a large lowland drainage basin with an eastern flowing river that existed well before the ice ages. This ancient drainage system was destroyed by the first major glacier that deepened and enlarged the lowland, allowing water to settle and form a lake. Over the ice ages, three glaciers advanced and retreated over this area.
Native peoples lived off this land for generations until, in 1669, Frenchman Louis Jolliet became the first European to see Lake Erie- the last Great Lake to be explored by Europeans. Previously attempted exploration was thwarted by warring tribes, and resulted in explorers using rivers out of Lake Ontario and portages to move directly into Lake Huron. As Europeans and colonial
settlers moved into the region, they established trading in furs and pelts, as well as commercial fisheries. By the 1850s, railways sprouted, and Maritime traffic picked up and what were outpost forts started to become thriving port cities along the lake.
Predictions that the Lake would be over-fished by 1895 turned out to be premature, but by the middle of the 20th century, industrial pollution, caused by a boom in manufacturing and shipping, resulted in concern over water quality, again leading to concerns that the fishery was at risk. Lake Erie became polluted in the 1960s and 70s as a result of discharges from the heavy industry situated along its shores. This led to increasing levels of phosphorus in both the water and bottom sediments and high nitrogen levels in the water causing eutrophication, resulting in algal blooms and fish kills. There were even incidents of oily surfaces of tributary rivers catching fire.
By 1975 the popular blue pike had been declared extinct. Since then, due to all out awareness efforts to protect the lake, the Great Lakes bordering States and Canadian Provinces adopted the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Compact which sets standards for use, protection and conservation of the Great Lakes waterways. Environmental regulations have led to a significant increase in water quality and improvement in populations of important fish species such as walleye, perch, musky and smallmouth bass. However, invasive species have also increased. It is estimated that up to 180 different invasive species have entered the lake. This invasion has also had silver lining as Zebra mussels and gobies have been credited with improved water clarity and an increase in the population and size of smallmouth
bass. Nevertheless, eutrophication and cyano-bacteria blooms from nutrient (fertilizers), human and animal waste run-off continue to cause concerns. Theses blooms result from a toxic blue-green algae that the zebra mussels don't eat.
Lake Erie is home to one of the world's largest freshwater commercial fisheries, making up an estimated 50% of the fish inhabiting the Great Lakes. This is due, in large part, to the lake's plentiful supply of plankton. Recreational fishermen enjoy fishing steelhead, walleye, smallmouth bass, perch, salmon, whitefish and smelt. The biggest fish in Lake Erie is the sturgeon but it is an endangered species. Estimates vary on the economic value of the Great Lakes fishing market but a reliable source has pegged the combined value of the fishing industry at more than
Tourism along the lake has increased in recent years, and includes such varied activities as board sailing, ice fishing and shipwreck diving. Lake Erie is a favorite for divers as there are up to 270 confirmed shipwreck locations, some considered to be world class. The finding of the well-preserved British warship Caledonia, sunk during the War of 1812, is one of the more significant. Finally, something observed by most fisherman out on the water, the lake is a "bustling thoroughfare" for commercial ships. With ship traffic on Lake Erie being the highest across the Great Lakes, and with Erie being the roughest of the lakes it is not surprising that it has the highest number of known shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.