SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES ON LAKE ERIE|
It's “springtime in the rockies” for bass anglers on the Ohio waters of Lake Erie. Spring bass anglers on this southern-most Great Lake know that where there is rocky structure there are lunker smallmouth bass ready to turn on.
It is no coincidence that the “Bass Islands” of western Lake Erie are so-named. The rocky shorelines and drop-offs around the islands were historically known for quality smallmouth fishing, but the 1990’s exploded with a whole new wave of smallmouth mania, says the ODNR Division of Wildlife. Lake Erie’s entire waters are teaming with smallmouth bass. Smallies are taken around all the Western Basin islands, Western Basin reefs, along rocky shorelines across the entire mainland, nearshore areas and breakwalls from Huron to Conneaut, and the open water.
The third most sought after species in Lake Erie, smallmouth bass is gaining ground on walleye and yellow perch as more and more anglers discover the joys of pursuing these high-jumping, feisty fish. Last year the popular In-Fisherman Magazine named Lake Erie "the World's Best Smallmouth Bite."
As Lake Erie’s water temperatures exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit in spring, bass anglers from across the country travel to Ohio to get a piece of the action. The procession of vehicles towing bass boats continues through October with the peak smallmouth fishing in May, June, August, and September. One or more bass tournaments, many on the national level, are held on the lake and Sandusky Bay almost any given weekend throughout the season.
It is ironic that these feisty fish are often nicknamed "smallies" because on Lake Erie they are not only plentiful, they are big! Catches currently average 14 to 17 inches, with many larger fish in the 18- to 20-inch range also caught. Ohio’s state record for smallmouth bass caught in the Bass Islands area in June 1993 weighed in at 9.5 pounds and was 23.5 inches in length.
Good spawning success in the 1990s, good numbers of forage fish eaten by bass, and catch-and-release practices by bass anglers have helped Lake Erie’s smallmouth population to thrive. (Angler interviews indicate that more than 80 percent of the bass caught on Lake Erie are released back into the lake.) Still, angling pressure for these fun-to-catch fighters increased five-fold during the 1990s. To help conserve the smallmouth bass population, the Division last year decreased the legal daily bag limit for smallmouth bass from eight to five with a minimum size length of 14 inches.
To get a better handle on Lake Erie's smallmouth bass population, the Division of Wildlife is conducting studies to better determine harvest, smallmouth bass movements, habitat use, stock composition, spawning habitats, early life history, and biological factors that are affecting the bass population. This, in turn, will help determine appropriate management strategies and regulations for this popular species.
Division biologists have been tagging smallmouth bass in areas off Middle Bass, South Bass, and North Bass islands. Lake Erie anglers who catch a smallmouth bass bearing a metal jaw tag, are encouraged to report it to the Ohio Division of Wildlife at (419) 625-8062.
Besides the tagging studies, the Division is sponsoring research being conducted by The Ohio State University. Researchers are using scuba gear for underwater observations to document spawning habits and interactions between smallmouth bass and exotic species, particularly round gobies. Gobies, those plentiful, little, bait-stealing invader species that entered the Great Lakes in 1990, have been observed preying on eggs and fry of smallmouth bass.
The Division of Wildlife predicts that fishing for smallmouth bass on Lake Erie should remain good to excellent during 2001 and beyond. Bass anglers can expect to land smallies from spawns of 1995, 1996, and 1997 now ranging in size from 14 to 17 inches. Hot spots should include the Bass and Kelleys islands areas, Western Basin reef complex, Sandusky Bay, Ruggles Reef, artificial reefs in the Lorain/Cleveland area, and harbor breakwalls from Cleveland to Conneaut.
Anglers can find out more about smallmouth bass fishing on Lake Erie by requesting a Lake Erie Fishing Guide by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE (1-800-945-3543). The guide also includes information on launching facilities and who to contact for lodging and charter fishing information. A recorded Lake Erie fishing report is available by calling 1-888-HOOK FISH (1-888-466-5347).