Time to get after Lake Erie smallmouth bass

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Smallmouth bass starts getting very active once the water temperature rises into the 40s. May should be an exciting time to fish for smallmouth bass, and there is no better place to do it than at Lake Erie. It even can be done in small boats when the weather is cooperative. And a shore angler can get a good taste of it by casting into the lake near creek mouths and the lower pools of larger tributaries. Elk Creek gets an annual run that got started in late April and continues through May.

The better lake fishing for bass anglers happens through May then into early June. If there is any single factor that is responsible for making this time period great it is that the smallmouth is in relatively shallow water. They find good feeding conditions in the warmer, nearshore areas where they soon will spawn.

Smallmouth bass is adaptable to eating whatever is available. During spring while the bass is in depths of 35 feet to about 5 feet they typically feed on gobie, emerald shiner, and rainbow smelt. They will readily inhale a darter or crayfish.

Many smallmouth bass anglers prefer to use bait, primarily emerald shiners, crayfish, and nightcrawlers. Use a hook with a wide gap and an offset point, such as the Eagle Claw No. 42. Your hooking percentage with the offset point will be surprisingly good. Make absolutely certain the hook point is needle sharp.

My own terminal rig adds only a split shot or multiple split shot. Three, even more, smaller split shot in close succession will resist snags better than a single, larger split shot. If snags become too much of a problem, tie a good swivel into the line about 24 inches from the hook. Then tie a dropper leader about 8 inches in length from the rod tip ring of the swivel. This drop leader should be about half the strength of the main line. Pinch the split shot onto this dropper leader.

This terminal rig for bait can be cast and retrieved. Leave the spinning reel bait open so the bait sinks straight down. Flip the bail when the bait hits the water surface and the bait swings back toward the rod tip like a pendulum.

Move the bait occasionally, but do not be in any hurry. Smallmouth bass should like everything about your bait. Give them plenty of time to examine it. Then give the bait a short pull and the bass will have it.

Among the Lake Erie, favorite spring smallmouth bass lures include blade baits such as the Sonar, the Swedish Pimple, tube baits, and when the water is shallow enough, deep-diving crank baits. Try a Flicker Shad or a Shad Rap.

Tube baits, I think, look to smallmouth like gobie, so use gobie-like colors.

Blade baits and jigging spoons probably look like the flash of a shiner.

Along the Pennsylvania shoreline, bottom usually is either sand, flat shale or rocky rubble. Find rocky rubble and you should be able to catch some very nice smallmouth bass.

Find irregular bottom structure on a rock rubble bottom and you may have a bronze mine.

Several years ago while fishing out of Barcelona, the late Worth Hammond and I found a hump that rose out of 17-foot depths on the inside to 12 feet on top of the hump, then dropped into 38 feet on the outside. Right at the bottom of the drop from 12 feet to 38 feet, several larger boulders had accumulated, and around those boulders were enough big smallmouth bass to keep us busy all day. The water was that clear.

At one point I watched the smaller of two bass grab my jig. That ‘smaller’ bass weighed just a couple ounces shy of 7 pounds. Oh my, did I try to catch that bigger bass using a few different jigs before it disappeared?

Any bottom irregularity, the bigger the better to some point, is likely to congregate smallmouth bass during May. Long drop-offs are excellent. On another trip out of Barcelona, Hammond and I found a drop-off on a long line where one sheet of shale dropped several feet below the body of shale that had been connected. Pieces of the broken shale made a line of rubble along the bottom of the drop-off. This was a real gem.

But as was the way of all of the great smallmouth bass hot spots we found during the 1990s, it has been years since finding any of them again. We did not have GPS. That is a mistake we will not make again.


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