Article Posted: April 24, 2002

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COLUMBUS, OH -- Spring bass anglers on the southern-most Great Lake know that where there is rocky structure, there are lunker smallmouth bass ready to slam their lures.
It is no coincidence that the “Bass Islands” of western Lake Erie are so-named. Their rocky shorelines and drop-offs were historically known for quality smallmouth fishing, but the 1990’s exploded with a whole new wave of smallmouth mania. And today, says the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife, Lake Erie’s waters are teeming with smallmouth bass.
These plentiful fish are taken around all the western basin islands, western basin reefs, along rocky shorelines across the entire mainland, near-shore areas and breakwalls from Huron to Conneaut and in the open water.
The third most sought after species in Lake Erie, smallmouth bass are gaining ground on walleye and yellow perch as more and more anglers discover the joys of pursuing these high-jumping, feisty fish. Anglers come from near and far and spend 400,000 angler hours each year in pursuit of Erie's smallmouth bass.
As Lake Erie’s water temperatures exceed 50 degrees 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 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. Ohio’s state record smallmouth bass was caught in the Bass Islands area in June 1993, weighing in at 9.5 pounds and 23.5 inches in length.
Good spawning success in the 1990s, a healthy aquatic habitat and catch-and-release practices by bass anglers, have helped Lake Erie’s smallmouth population thrive. Angler interviews indicate 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, ODNR decreased the legal daily bag limit for smallmouth bass from eight to five, with a minimum length of 14 inches.
To better understand Lake Erie's smallmouth bass population, the Division of Wildlife is conducting studies to determine harvest, smallmouth bass movements, habitat use, stock composition, spawning habitats, early life history and biological factors that affect the bass population. This will help fisheries biologists determine appropriate management strategies and regulations for the smallmouth bass. Lake Erie anglers catching a smallmouth bass bearing a metal jaw tag should report it to the Division of Wildlife at 419-625-8062.
The Division of Wildlife predicts that fishing for smallmouth bass on Lake Erie should remain good to excellent during 2002 and beyond. Bass anglers can expect to land smallies spawned from 1995-1998, which are now ranging in size from 14 to 18 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.

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