Get after those big Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Everyone must have a best day of fishing for Lake Erie smallmouth bass. Mine began with launching the late Worth Hammond’s 14-foot boat at Barcelona. We turned left out of the harbor, westward toward Pennsylvania. There is no sign or line to mark the border, but since we always had both New York and Pennsylvania fishing licenses it did not matter.

We found very few other bass anglers in this section of the lake in those years before 2000. Yet it might be the ‘bassiest’ section in the region. There are long drop-offs, humps, depressions and long stretches of rock rubble bottom. Even in flat shale bottoms, there were drop-offs where broken rock accumulated and smallmouth bass was plentiful.

We went farther than usual this day because we recognized the opportunity. The water was exceptionally clear. When we found a great structure we could see our jigs on bottom at a depth of 38 feet. And we could clearly see the structure.

The stand-out structure was along a long drop-off on a rock rubble bottom. This particular place stood out because it was a stark contrast. Generally, the top of this drop-off was about 20 feet deep and the bottom about 35 feet. At the spot we found the drop-off swung away from shore at a hump where the depth was just 12 feet and the bottom dipped almost vertically to 38 feet. Any jig lowered to the bottom of that hump attracted attention almost immediately.

We caught a few bass there casting from a distance where we could not see the structure. Then when we used the electric motor to get right over the structure. I lowered a blade bait to the bottom, jigged once and the smallest of three bass that came to the lure gabbed it first. When I set the hook, the fish immediately swam straight to the surface, finishing the move by jumping a couple of feet. Released without netting, I guessed it to weigh about 5-1/2 pounds. The smallest of the three, the biggest must have been 8 pounds.

We did not catch any 8-pound smallmouth bass that day, but we did get a few that were well over 6 pounds. We caught bass from the time we found the structure irregularity, and the fish were still hitting when it was time to leave.

My only regret was that neither of us brought our hand-held GPS units. That was before sonar units were equipped with GPS.

That was an early fishing trip. Water temperature was in the low-40s. All metal jigs tend to be effective when the smallmouth bass first start hitting in spring. Silver with either blue tape or green tape is excellent color patterns. This happens when you find a surface temperature of about 40 degrees in relatively shallow water. Shallow may meany any water from about 35 feet deep to 5 feet deep.

Smallmouth bass at Lake Erie tends to be in depths of 5 feet to 10 feet when the water has some color. Otherwise, it is mostly while they are spawning when they are so shallow. There are, of course, exceptions.

By the time the water temperature rises into the high-40s, soft plastic bodies on jig heads tend to be more effective than all metal jigs. The more effective jigs have drab color patterns resembling gobie with a little glitter to add flash. Carry jigs heads from 1/16 ounce to 3/8 ounce. Probably your most often used jigs sizes will be 1/8 ounce and 1/4 ounce.

Dragging a jig behind a boat while drifting slowly can be highly effective. This is especially useful when the fish are scattered. Also when anglers are feeling lazy.

Stick to the east side of Erie for smallmouth bass fishing. North East Marina is a good place to start. There is excellent structure near the mouth of SixteenMile Creek. The bottom is largely rock rubble on both sides of the Marina. Also, check for large boulders just west from the mouth of TwentyMile Creek. Farther to the west, look for a stretch of shoreline called the W’s, so named because small drainage cuts on the steep bank form W’s.