That's because it takes two years for walleye and perch to grow big enough to be caught and kept by anglers.
There are still plenty of good-sized fish from better years, said Jeff Tyson, fisheries biologist supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"There's a good chance of catching a big fish," he said.
Walleye and perch are among the most popular sport fish in the lake, and they help draw thousands of anglers to the towns along Lake Erie's Ohio coast. Fishing in Ohio brings in an estimated $1.1 billion through the equipment, fuel, food and hotels.
The economy and the lake's algae blooms, though, have made it tough for charter fishing businesses in recent years.
Wildlife officials continue to study what makes a good hatch, Tyson said. Ice cover during the winter, a gradual spring warming and rain are thought to help. Heavy winds aren't good because they can blow fish eggs off the reefs where the fish spawn.
"Last year, we didn't have any ice cover. It was a relatively dry spring as well," Tyson said.
Walleye spawn in March and April, and perch spawn in April and May.
The Division of Wildlife found last year's average after conducting checks for juvenile fish in Lake Erie's western and central basins in August, he said. The fishing outlook in the lake is helped by strong walleye and perch hatches from earlier years and should help make up for the down year in the future.
The 2003 walleye hatch was the best on record.
"That was a whopper," he said. "That's what's kind of driving the big fish bite."
Those walleye are now at least 30 inches long, and could be found around the lake another decade. Walleye have been known to live more than 20 years, Tyson said.
"They're a fairly long-lived fish," he said.