Where and How to Fish for Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass|
Knowing the habits of smallmouth bass is important to maximizing your fishing efforts. Smallmouth bass have relatively small home ranges and do not move great distances in Lake Erie like walleye. Smallmouth bass associate with bottom structure, preferring rock, rubble, gravel and sand substrates.
As water temperatures exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring, adult smallmouth move from deep water wintering sites to shallow spawning areas. Spawning occurs at depths of 4 to 20 feet at water temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, usually in May. After spawning, adult smallmouth move to summer foraging areas at water temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, usually by July. The depth of their summering area depends on water clarity, available forage, and weather. As water temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they move to deeper waters in their home zone, where they remain in a semidormant condition during the winter months.
Structure is the key. Look for rocky structures: gravel bottoms, rocky ledges, shelves, drop-offs, humps, shoals, reefs, breakwalls, piers, rocky and rip rap shorelines, and rocky bottoms in open water areas.
Boat anglers have more of an advantage by drifting and moving from spot to spot, but shore anglers catch their share of smallies from rocky shorelines, piers, breakwalls and docks, all popular haunts of smallmouth.
Many anglers use jigs, plastic worms, or scented baits fished over rocky bottoms in 8 to 20 feet of water. Live baits generally provide the best success with crayfish and shiner minnows the preferred live baits. A traditional presentation still successful today is a lead headed jig tipped with a piece of nightcrawler, or plastic worm, grub, or tube bait. Anglers also cast artificial baits, including crankbaits, spinners, and blades. Baits and lures are worked along shallow reef bottoms, shoals and ledges, and near bottom along rocky shorelines in the spring and fall. Anglers generally find better success in mid-summer by fishing along rocky bottoms in open water and nearshore areas.
Most bass anglers practice catch and release, but for those who prefer to keep their catch, Ohio law requires that smallmouth bass less than 12 inches caught in Lake Erie be released back into the lake. There is a daily bag limit of eight fish per angler.
Some smallmouth hot spots in the Western Basin include the Bass Islands, Kelleys Island, and as well as the other small islands, near shore reef complex west of Port Clinton, Sandusky Bay, and nearshore areas, shorelines, and piers along Marblehead, Catawba and Sandusky.
Excellent Central Basin smallmouth territory include Ruggles Reef off Vermilion, the artificial reefs off Lorain and Cleveland, breakwalls at Huron, Vermilion, Lorain, Fairport Harbor, Conneaut and Ashtabula, Perry Nuclear Plant east of Fairport Harbor, and nearshore areas from Fairport Harbor to Conneaut.